Key Considerations

While you are not required to know a foreign language to become a Foreign Service Officer, proficiency in one or more languages will enhance your competitiveness for selection.

If you claim a working knowledge of a language(s) that is identified as a Super Critical Needs Language (Arabic (Modern Standard, Egyptian, and Iraqi), Chinese (Mandarin), Dari, Farsi, Hindi, and Urdu), you will, upon passing the Foreign Service Officer Test, be asked to schedule quickly a telephonic language test with the Foreign Service Institute. Receiving a “pass”, i.e., at least a speaking-level “2″ on our 5-point scale, will enhance your candidacy in the review by the Qualifications Evaluation Panel. You may test in a Super Critical Needs Language once per Qualifications Evaluation Panel review. If you do not pass the language test at that time, you will have the opportunity to test again if you pass the Oral Assessment and every six months thereafter as long as you remain on the Register.

If you claim a working knowledge of a Critical Needs Language (Arabic (forms other than Modern Standard, Egyptian, and Iraqi), Azerbaijani, Bengali, Chinese (Cantonese), Kazakh, Korean, Kurdish, Kyrgyz, Nepali, Pashto, Punjabi, Russian, Tajik, Turkish, Turkmen, and Uzbek) or some other language, you may schedule a telephone test with the Foreign Service Institute once you pass the Foreign Service Oral Assessment.

For information to help you assess your own speaking level, visit and click on “Speaking” under the skill level descriptions for a general description of the expected proficiency. The speaking self-assessment tool, available on the same site, will also help you estimate your language proficiency.

If you receive a score of S-2 or higher in the Foreign Service Institute-conducted telephone test in any one of the Super Critical Needs Languages or Critical Needs Languages, you will receive 0.4 additional points (0.5 for Arabic) that will raise your ranking on the Register. Candidates who score successfully in other languages will receive 0.17 additional points on the Register; click here (88kb, PDF) to determine the level of proficiency required to earn 0.17 additional points. Successful candidates who take advantage of the language bonus provision for knowledge of Super Critical or Critical Needs Languages will be required to serve in a country where that language is spoken at least twice in their careers: once during their first two tours and again after being promoted to the mid-levels of the Foreign Service.

Candidates with Disabilities

The State Department welcomes candidates who have special needs. In accordance with the Federal law they will  provide reasonable accommodation to enable qualified applicants with disabilities to take the Foreign Service Officer Test and to candidates who are invited to the Oral Assessment.

Candidates needing accommodation should note this in their application form (part of the on-line registration process). Requests for accommodation must include complete, current (within the last five years) supporting documentation along with a copy of the on-line confirmation that the candidate’s registration has been accepted. ACT, the private testing firm which prepares and administers the test for the Department of State, must receive these at least three weeks prior to the requested test date — preferably earlier — so that ACT has as much time as possible to make necessary arrangements. Requests for accommodation and complete supporting documentation should be sent to:

ACT, Inc.,
Foreign Service Officer Test (82)
P.O. Box 4070
Iowa City, IA 52243-4070.

Requests that are incomplete or are not supported by appropriate documentation by the registration deadline may not be approved. ACT cannot guarantee that the accommodation can be in place if requests are not received at least three weeks prior to the test date. In that case, ACT will ask you to schedule for the following window.

Those receiving accommodation will receive a letter from ACT confirming the accommodation to be provided. If your request is incomplete or does not support the accommodation request, ACT will notify you in writing. You may then provide complete or updated documents prior to the deadline. Every effort will be made to provide accommodation at your chosen test center. However, be aware that some test centers may be unable to provide certain types of accommodation.

For a comprehensive description of accommodation requirements, please see the Guide to the Foreign Service Officer Selection Process (193kb, PDF).

For those who are invited to take the Oral Assessment, reasonable accommodations are also available for those who may need them.

Veteran’s Preference

Candidates who can document creditable veteran’s service by submitting form DD 214 will be given additional points on the Register: 0.175 for a five point standing and 0.35 for a 10 point standing.

Commitment to Foreign Service Work

Anyone applying to be a Foreign Service Officer must be willing to accept the following three commitments of Foreign Service work:

  • First: Flexibility. This means that the candidate is willing to perform duties outside his/her functional field should the need arise.
  • Second: Public support of U.S. government policies regardless of the candidate’s personal views.
  • Third: Worldwide availability. Even though the Department attempts to work with each employee’s individual and family needs, each employee must be willing to serve anywhere the Department determines is necessary. This can mean in extreme climates, in isolated, potentially unhealthful and unfriendly environments, and/or where the candidate may not have training in the local language. The Department also has unaccompanied tours, where the candidate would not be able to take his/her family. There may also be tours where local conditions may force the evacuation of families back to the United States while the candidate must remain at post.

Candidates who receive a Conditional Offer of employment must reaffirm orally their acceptance of these three commitments at the end of the oral assessment and in writing once a job offer has been accepted in order to continue the application process.

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  1. [...] drawn to it for purely aesthetic reasons. Beyond the beauty, Persian is also considered a Super Critical Needs Language by the U.S. Department of State, meaning there is a large demand for speakers and a small supply. [...]

  2. [...] were studying Persian (source). This is surprising given that both Arabic and Farsi are considered Super Critical Needs Languages by the U.S. Department of State (aka, jobs!), and Farsi takes significantly less time to learn [...]

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