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10 Best Degrees for Diplomats What to study for a career in diplomacy

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A diplomat maintains international relations regarding matters of trade and economics, peace and war, the environment, and human rights. Additionally, diplomats negotiate international agreements and treaties before politicians officially endorse them.

International law recognizes four ranks of diplomats. These ranks are ambassadors, envoys, ministers, and charge d’affaires.

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Skills for Diplomacy

Diplomats have clear-cut personalities; many tend to be enterprising people, which means they are confident, ambitious, optimistic, energetic, extroverted, assertive, adventurous, and enthusiastic. Additionally, they are motivational, persuasive, and dominant. Some may even be artistic, meaning they are expressive, sensitive, articulate, intuitive, and creative.

There are specific skills that every diplomat needs. While many other careers also require these skills, they are crucial for diplomats.

The following nine diplomacy skills fall into one of three categories: informational, relational, or operational.

Informational skills help a diplomat think about how to approach a crisis:

  • Analysis: Think critically about and study situations.
  • Awareness: Respect international customs and cultures. Understand when circumstances are changing and adapt. Have a grasp on what you don’t know or understand.
  • Communication: Determine where interests overlap and articulate your position. Listen openly to positions other than your own. Confirm others’ positions and use appropriate language to prevent cultural misunderstandings.

Relational skills are how a diplomat works with others:

  • Collaboration: Incorporate others’ ideas and identify common ground. Take cues from other people when making proposals and formulating a response.
  • Composure: Work with others in a professional capacity. Calmly handle a broad range of behaviors and attitudes exhibits by adversaries, difficult partners, and counterparts.
  • Leadership: Make decisions with the information you have. Remember the big picture. Take steps to improve your country and fill in gaps.

Operational skills are how diplomats execute plans:

  • Advocacy: Speak on behalf of your country and pursue its missions and goals. Advocacy also means speaking up for those whose voices may be silenced.
  • Innovation: Be flexible in unanticipated circumstances. Come up with alternatives.
  • Management: Use your team’s strengths. Know what resources you have to meet your country’s agenda or goals.

Choosing the right college degree will prepare you for a career in diplomacy by training you in these nine skills.

10 Best Degrees for Diplomats

Becoming a diplomat is a challenging endeavor; most professionals in this field have master’s degrees or higher in political science or international relations. Choosing one of these degrees is an excellent first step.

1. Political Science

Prospective college students who want to make a difference as a diplomat should undoubtedly consider a political science degree. With this major, you’ll study justice, ethics, and democracy, learn about political behavior and government systems, and apply theory to real-life political events.

Political science is also a traditional choice for those interested in law school.

What You’ll Study

In a political science program, you’ll deal directly with the theory and practice of political systems. While colleges divide the subject in different ways, most poli sci studies have four subfields:

  • Political Theory: Students study citizen behavior, human nature, and the moral purpose of government, learning from a mix of modern political theorists and ancient Greek philosophers.
  • Comparative Politics: Students assess the development and efficiency of various political systems. They will also consider how each system can provide for its systems while supporting values like freedom and order. This subfield also dives deep into how systems diverge and align to discover theories and laws.
  • International Relations: Students analyze how international actors, including corporations, states, and organizations like the United Nations, interact with one another. This subfield covers many global topics, including development, trade, finance, war, and national security.
  • American Government and Politics: Students study the American political system and its unique courts, congress, presidency, and state politics. Additionally, they look into American political ideas and study the role of mass media.

Over the last decade, data analysis has become more critical, leading to the emergence of a fifth subfield in Political Methodology.

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2. International Relations

An international relations student studies how the world works and how economics, culture, and politics affect everything. Many programs require students to choose a specialization, ranging from human rights to global security, and in a selected part of the world. Graduates should have an extensive knowledge base that reflects these emphases by the end of the program.

After graduating, international relations students will substantially understand the cultural, economic, historical, political, and legal factors that influence global affairs. They should also have the ability to analyze current international events and effectively communicate their conclusions in written and oral forms.

What You’ll Study

Although your experience at a specific college may vary, most international relations degree programs include a broad range of introductory courses, including cross-cultural communication, world politics, a history of the global system, and plenty of liberal arts and humanities classes.

Moving on into their second or third year, students often choose a specific regional and international relations emphasis, choosing their upper division classes based on those themes and regional focuses. Examples of themes that a student might specialize in include:

  • Peace
  • Justice, ethics, and human rights
  • Foreign policy and national security
  • Environmental sustainability and global health
  • Global economy

Regional focus examples include the Western Hemisphere, South and Central Asia, Africa, Middle East and North Africa, Europe and Eurasia, and East Asia and the Pacific.

Many international relations programs also encourage students to spend a semester abroad to develop cultural literacy. In addition, students must study a foreign language to graduate.

3. History

Students can engage in a rigorous exploration of the past, moving through time to gain a nuanced understanding of cultures and societies through a history major. A history major trains students to become adept critical thinkers and writers, both of which are crucial skills for anyone eager to consider diverse perspectives and make sense of complex stories, such as aspiring diplomats.

History majors build an appreciation for the vast scope of the field by taking classes that span different periods and entire regions. These degrees are also usually flexible; most schools have minimal requirements that give students room to choose the eras and topics that interest them the most. As students complete their degrees, they’ll develop the tools they need to understand the links between the past and present. Additionally, history majors can pursue original research and apply what they’ve learned to their chosen project.

What You’ll Study

Aspiring diplomats who pursue a degree in history will learn about many parts of the world. In addition, students at some schools must complete a seminar that engages them in building a solid foundation for historical thinking. These classes will teach them how to engage with primary sources, content with competing perspectives, and analyze historical writings. Course offerings may also include surveys that provide students with intensive overviews over specific periods or large geographic areas within the department.

Many programs also include geographic and chronological course criteria, requiring students to familiarize themselves with the premodern period and several regions. Aspiring diplomats who study history may also need to write a significant research paper in a senior capstone course.

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4. Foreign Language

Aspiring diplomats can major in a foreign language to learn how to communicate effectively in both spoken and written forms. Students will also absorb knowledge to understand the world better, respect cultural differences, and identify commonalities. They’ll also get a more robust understanding of politics, history, literature, and the arts. Students who graduate with a major in a foreign language will have the skills a diplomat needs to succeed.

What You’ll Study

Taking four years of classes studying a foreign language helps students develop a core set of skills that will carry them well into their path to becoming a diplomat. These skills are increasingly valuable in an interdependent world, and some languages are in greater demand than others. For example, Arabic speakers are sought out for areas of international relations, government, and national security.

Students will gain a broad range of skills in this course of study, including the following.

Critical thinking skills:

  • Research skills
  • Assessing cultural differences
  • Offering diverse perspectives
  • Comparing and contrasting interpretations
  • Synthesizing themes
  • Analyzing cultures, information, and complex problems
  • Thinking collaboratively

Effective communication skills:

  • Linguistic sophistication
  • Reading critically
  • Writing effectively
  • Cross-cultural communication
  • Presenting information logically
  • Multilingualism

Human relations skills:

  • Ability to adjust to new environments
  • Flexibility in thinking and learning
  • Understanding cultural differences
  • Appreciation of cultural history, music, literature, and politics

5. Public Administration

Public administration refers to supportive services that meet community needs and benefit society. Some students who graduate with a degree in public administration work for government agencies and other institutions serving the public.

What You’ll Study

Students majoring in public administration take courses like quantitative methods, introduction to public administration, and resource development for nonprofits. They’ll also learn about managing projects in government agencies.

Aspiring diplomats can learn valuable networking skills by pursuing public administration; many learners have access to internship opportunities to gain real-world experience.

Degree tracks in public administration help graduates hone in on desired career goals. For example, an aspiring diplomat might choose a bachelor of arts to gain soft skills like critical thinking, communication proficiencies, and intercultural awareness.

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6. Sociology

Sociology majors study human behavior and the world they live in. Sociology analyzes human interactions, so aspiring diplomats in this field can learn about individuals, communities, cultures, and societies. Students also focus on cultures and societies throughout history, including present-day communities.

Sociology students learn how to ask essential questions, perform research, and gather data to analyze. Finally, they’ll draw conclusions and apply them to address issues they’ve discovered in an attempt to improve key social processes. These issues might include health care inequity, international conflict, and religious discrimination.

What You’ll Study

Required sociology coursework typically starts with an introduction to the basic principles of analyses. Then, students delve into societies throughout history and examine their journey, evaluating what went wrong and what went right. Aspiring diplomats can build methods of observation and learn how to establish questionnaires.

Once students develop a foundation of research methods and analysis, they can apply their resources to study a chosen population. For example, students in this major often take classes on sex and gender, drugs and crime in society, international relations, race and ethnic relations, and the aging population and retirement. They may also study the difference between city and suburban living, the impact of religious and cultural beliefs, and the effects of media on society.

Students take these courses and develop the ability to formulate thoughts, taking informed actions based on their observations and research. Some schools may require students to choose a specialization, such as world development.

7. Cultural Anthropology

Aspiring diplomats who study anthropology will learn about humanity and how linguistics, history, biology, and culture shape human diversity. This degree arms students with much-needed problem-solving and critical thinking skills. Students in this field learn to pick up complex ideas and communicate them in a digestible way. Because of these benefits, an anthropology major equips aspiring diplomats with a broad range of applicable skills.

Anthropology is a unique interdisciplinary program that focuses on the whole of humanity. At its essence, anthropology is the study of people, including their origins, distribution, languages, customs, ecology, and religious and social beliefs. Typically, students study a broad range of topics like personality and human genetics, the traditions of ancient civilizations, preliterate tribes, and the languages of modern people. In other words, anthropology students study all parts of humanity at all times.

What You’ll Study

In addition to the standard fare of general education requirements, anthropology degrees typically start with an introductory anthropology course to give students a broad overview of the field. Students must also often take an archaeology class to learn about the tools and methods archaeologists use to discover more information about the past.

Anthropology majors usually broaden their horizons with a biological anthropology class to dive deeper into human evolution and how behavioral biology has changed. Finally, they might also take a linguistic anthropology class to learn about the origins of human languages and how culture affects humans. All of these classes have the potential to arm an aspiring diplomat with a wealth of skills and knowledge.

Some anthropology programs may conclude with a capstone project in which students present all they’ve learned over the past four years.

8. Communication

A communication major studies the ways people communicate in an increasingly digitally-connected world. Communication is an umbrella term that refers to a wide range of interdisciplinary courses that blend mass communication skills with the humanities and social sciences. For example, students interested in becoming foreign relations diplomats will want to study communication to learn how to disseminate information, analyze media culture, and tell a story.

Communication degree programs lay the groundwork for understanding audiences, learning fundamental communication theories, crafting messages, and working with new technologies. In addition, students in this major often explore the relationship between communication within society and culture. They may also need to learn about policy, ethics, and law related to communications and the digital landscape.

This major is one of the most diverse choices on this list; students and faculty both craft and spread messages, so criteria and mandatory courses will vary depending on the school. Therefore, aspiring diplomats can likely design a course load based on their desired career.

What You’ll Study

Although communications programs vary by school, most share a few standard courses. For example, most schools require communications students to take an introductory course on essential communication, research methods, writing for communication, and media and communication. Additionally, students may need to study introductory research courses to learn techniques for quantitative and qualitative social research methodologies; these skills are vital to have in a political career, including diplomacy.

Other courses that communications students may take include:

  • Ethics in communication
  • Peace communication
  • Censorship in the media
  • International communication
  • Media politics

9. Philosophy

Philosophy majors take classes to learn to contemplate ideas that humankind has wrestled with for centuries. Students confront questions related to consciousness, religion, morality, free will, and several other broad topics. An aspiring diplomat can study past approaches to significant subjects in philosophy while learning how to express their own opinion. With a degree in philosophy, a graduate will be in an excellent position to apply their newly-honed critical thinking skills in the government and abroad.

Studying philosophy means taking several humanities courses that challenge students to examine big questions that don’t have correct answers. As they become more familiar with diverse worldviews and notable thinkers in history, students will develop their ability to think critically, define and evaluate arguments, and engage in ethical and moral reasoning. An aspiring diplomat can learn historical and contemporary philosophy to develop the reading comprehension and analysis skills needed to understand philosophical writings throughout history.

What You’ll Study

Philosophy majors can expect their degree criteria to cover a few fundamental topics while leaving plenty of exploratory space to choose classes of interest. For example, they can take courses that survey the history of philosophy, explore the philosophy of language, or provide an introduction to logic. Students will also become familiar with a wide range of new vocabulary as they study specialized classes like value theory and metaphysics.

Regardless of the courses they choose, students studying philosophy will ponder arguments about the existence of God, the best ways for a person to live, and the relationship between body and mind. They may also work with faculty to study compelling topics of interest as a capstone project.

10. Economics

Finally, aspiring diplomats can opt to study economics in college to examine questions related to incentives and wealth, resource allocation, and related topics. In addition, economics is relevant to professional study and work in law and public affairs. Students typically begin their studies with a solid foundation in macroeconomics, microeconomics, and calculus; they bring these skills into more advanced coursework and research opportunities.

Students interested in economic policy applications and how they can impact international relations should choose courses that analyze real-world problems.

What You’ll Study

The first year of economic study usually includes a couple of classes that examine the basics of macro and microeconomics. These introductory courses cover concepts like market outcomes, financial modeling, and monetary and fiscal policy. Unfortunately, some schools allow students with particular Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate scores to bypass these initial courses.

After students meet the prerequisites, they can join classes covering narrower topics, such as game theory, international trade, and labor economics. Coursework in the economics major varies significantly depending on the student’s degree or track option. For example, some schools let students choose between a Bachelor of Arts or a Bachelor of Science; the science-based option often includes a stronger emphasis on quantitative skills.

Finally, aspiring diplomats studying economics can follow a policy or strategy track, depending on what their school offers.

Next Steps

Because there isn’t one correct path to becoming a diplomat, there is no definitive length of time it takes to do so. After completing a bachelor’s degree, aspiring diplomats often seek a graduate degree and a foreign service internship to maximize their chances of getting the job they want.

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