Thomas R. Pickering Foreign Affairs Fellowship

Thomas R. Pickering Foreign Affairs Fellowship

Forging your path to a foreign service career with the U.S. State Department. 

If you have ever considered a career serving the United States' interests abroad, the Pickering Fellowship offers a truly unique opportunity to impact the world. Upon successful completion of the program, you will have the opportunity to work as a Foreign Service Officer based on the needs of the U.S. State Department, serving in Washington, DC or at a U.S. embassy, consulate and diplomatic mission around the globe.

Funded by the U.S. Department of State and administered by The Washington Center for Internships and Academic Seminars, the Thomas R. Pickering Fellowship Program provides graduate students with financial support, mentoring and professional development to prepare them academically and professionally for a career with the U.S. Department of State. Women, members of minority groups historically underrepresented in the Foreign Service, and students with financial need are encouraged to apply.

The Thomas R. Pickering Foreign Affairs Fellowship is named in honor of one of the most distinguished and capable American diplomats of the latter half of the 20th century.

Ambassador Pickering served as Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs (1997-2000) and as U.S. Ambassador to the Russian Federation, India, Israel, El Salvador, Nigeria, and Jordan. He also was the U.S. Ambassador and Representative to the United Nations in New York, where he led the U.S. effort to build a coalition in the UN Security Council during and after the first Gulf War. After retiring from the State Department in 2000, Ambassador Pickering joined The Boeing Company as Senior Vice President, International Relations and member of the Executive Council. He holds degrees from Bowdoin College, the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, and the University of Melbourne and speaks French, Spanish, and Swahili fluently in addition to Arabic, Hebrew and Russian.


This is a highly selective program. To be eligible to participate, you must meet the following criteria:

  • Be a U.S. citizen.
  • Seek admission to a U.S. graduate school beginning in fall 2018.
  • Enroll in a two-year, full-time, on-campus, master’s degree program at a U.S. based graduate institution in an academic field relevant to the work of the Foreign Service (public policy, international affairs, public administration, business, economics, political science, sociology, or foreign languages).
  • Have a cumulative grade point average of 3.2 or higher on a 4.0 scale at the time of application and this grade point average must be maintained throughout participation in the program
  • Be able to attend the June 2018 orientation in Washington, D.C. if selected.
  • Be available to fulfill the summer internship obligations (summer 2019 & summer 2020).
  • Pass medical, security and suitability clearance/screenings.
  • Be prepared to enter the Foreign Service in Summer 2020.

Program Components

During this two-year program, you will enroll in graduate school in the fall of your first year and work toward your master’s degree throughout your fellowship. Your two internships with the State Department—one in the U.S., the other overseas—will be in the summer between the first and second year of your graduate program and the summer after you finish. Throughout the program you will receive personalized mentoring and professional development opportunities.

Program Cost

The U.S. State Department provides academic funding so that you may focus on preparing yourself for a future career in the Foreign Service. As a selected Pickering Fellow, you receive financial support for tuition, room and board, books, mandatory fees and some travel expenses for a two-year master’s degree in a field related to the Foreign Service (up to $37,500 annually). You will also receive stipends, housing and travel allowances for the two internship experiences.

Some Fellows may receive additional benefits from their home institution. To see if you're eligible, please review our list of Additional Pickering Fellow Benefits.

Housing and Living

Moving and adjusting to new places is a normal part of a career in the Foreign Service. For most of the fellowship, you will live on or near your graduate school campus. During your summer internships, you will stay near the assigned site. Most domestic internships are in Washington, D.C. Those abroad are often at a U.S. embassy or consulate. We'll help you coordinate housing for each placement and help you adjust when you get there.

Academic Credit

The core of the Pickering Fellowship is completing a two-year master’s degree in a field relevant to the U.S. Foreign Service. You must remain in good academic standing (3.2+ cumulative GPA) throughout the Fellowship, graduate on time and be prepared to enter the Foreign Service upon completion.

How to Apply

The application deadline for the 2018 Thomas R. Pickering Foreign Affairs Fellowship has passed, and we are not currently accepting applications for 2019.

If you're not quite ready to apply or are interested in learning more about The Washing Center and programs we offer please submit a Request For Information below.

Request more Information

Dates and Deadlines

Application Deadlines

Specific dates for the 2019 Pickering Fellowship will be posted as they are determined. The program follows this general schedule:

  • Application Opens: Fall prior to cohort year
  • Application Closes: January of cohort year
  • In-person Interviews: Spring of cohort year
  • Orientation: June of cohort year
Program Dates
  • Program begins: Fall of cohort year (Fellows enter graduate program)
  • First Internship: Summer (between first and second years of graduate program)
  • Second Internship: Summer (after degree completion)
  • Employment Begins: Fall after degree completion (approximately three months post-graduation)

Application Documents

You need to submit the following documents along with your application:

  • Transcript: an unofficial copy of a transcript for all schools attended (must list your name, school name and most recent/final GPA).
  • Proof of U.S. citizenship: U.S. passport, birth certificate or naturalization papers
  • GRE/GMAT scores: even if your intended graduate programs do not require them, you must submit GRE/GMAT scores as a part of your Pickering Fellowship Application
  • A Personal Statement in response to this prompt (750 words max.):
    • Please review the thirteen dimensions of a Foreign Service Officer and explain why you want to pursue a career in the Foreign Service. Highlight your motivations, as well as your background, experiences and skills that will help you succeed. 
  • Resumé: Two pages max.
  • Most recent Financial Aid Award Letter: if you received financial aid during the most recent academic year, you are required to submit a Financial Aid Letter listing grants or loans
  • Most recent Student Aid Report (SAR): if you received financial aid during the most recent academic year, you are required to submit your SAR form. If you did not receive financial aid during the most recent academic year, you must complete the FAFSA to generate a SAR.
  • Statement of Financial Need in response to this prompt (400 words max.):
    • Prepare a short statement explaining your need for financial assistance, including assistance you received during your undergraduate studies, your overall education-related debt, and your ability/plans to pay for graduate school. 
  • Two Letters of Recommendation: select recommenders who can explain why you are uniquely qualified for the fellowship. If you were enrolled in a degree-granting program within the last two years, one letter must be from a professor or faculty member who knows you. The other letter may be from someone else familiar with your college, volunteer, work, or community activities.

Fellowship Recipient Obligations

Upon accepting the fellowship, you will sign a contract that clearly outlines your benefits and responsibilities as a Fellow. There are strict Foreign Service entry requirements including security, medical and suitability requirements which must be fulfilled and maintained to remain in the program. Also, there is a minimum five year service commitment in the Department of State's Foreign Service. The five year service commitment begins upon entry into the Foreign Service. Failure to meet the contractual obligations, including obtaining and maintaining required medical, security and suitability clearances may result in your disqualification from the fellowship program and repayment to the U.S. Government of financial assistance paid in connection with your education. Potential candidates who have any serious issues that may prevent them from receiving a clearance should give some thought to the likelihood of their being found ineligible before starting this process.

Below is a more detailed explanation of the clearances you must obtain and maintain in order to remain in the program. Please ensure to log onto the U.S. Department of State website for additional information on these required clearances.

Security Clearance Process

The security clearance determination process begins when finalists come to Washington, D.C. for selection interviews. At this time, finalists undergo fingerprinting by the Department's Bureau of Diplomatic Security as the first step in the security clearance process. As soon as individuals are selected for the fellowship, the Department of State requests that they complete and submit an application, within about two weeks, as part of the continuing security clearance determination process. The time needed for security clearance determination processing varies depending on a number of factors. The security clearance process involves a comprehensive background investigation, conducted by the U.S. Department of State in cooperation with other federal, state, and local agencies. This investigation provides the information necessary to determine a candidate's suitability for appointment to the Foreign Service and for a Top Secret security clearance. The process considers such factors as: failure to repay a U.S. Government guaranteed loan or meet tax obligations; failure to register for the Selective Service; past problems with credit or bankruptcy; unsatisfactory employment records; a criminal record or other violations of the law; drug or alcohol abuse; and less than honorable discharge from the armed forces.

Candidates who hold dual citizenship, have had extensive travel, education, residence and/or employment overseas, or who have foreign contacts, a foreign-born spouse, immediate family members or relatives who are not citizens of the United States, should be aware that the clearance process will take longer to complete. The background investigation includes interviews with current and previous contacts, supervisors and coworkers. Candidates who do not receive a security clearance are ineligible for the fellowship.

Medical Clearance Process

Pickering Fellows must obtain and maintain medical clearances in order to remain in the program. They do medical exams at the State Department during the orientation period and receive decisions on their medical clearances from the State Department. These clearances often take a couple of weeks, although the process can be longer depending on the situation. The Office of Medical Services of the Department of State determines a candidate's medical fitness and ability to serve overseas. Many Foreign Service posts are located in remote areas with extremely limited medical support. Each fellow, therefore, must meet rigorous medical standards in order to qualify for the required worldwide medical clearance. Medical clearance determination by Medical Services is based on its thorough review of each fellow's medical history and a physical examination, including an individual assessment of his/her specific medical needs and the medical capabilities of Foreign Service posts to meet those needs.

The Department's Office of Medical Services determines whether a candidate is medically eligible for assignment to all Department of State posts worldwide. While a candidate may effectively manage a chronic health condition or limitation within the United States or in specific areas outside of the U.S., the Office of Medical Services might well determine that the same individual is not eligible for a worldwide ("Class One") medical clearance. Such clearances may only be issued to candidates whom the Office of Medical Services deems able to serve at the most isolated and restricted overseas posts.

Some posts could face extreme isolation due to limited air and other transportation service, and unreliable Internet, telecommunications and postal and delivery systems. Any of these limitations can have a severe adverse impact on the availability of required medical services and supplies or delay timely medical evacuations. Some countries have inadequate infrastructure such as a poor or negligible public health care system, poor sanitation, unreliable electricity and a lack of potable water. There may also be infectious and communicable diseases, such as malaria, dengue fever, typhoid, tuberculosis, rabies, encephalitis and gastrointestinal diseases. There may be no health unit at the post and next to no local medical facilities. The local emergency room, for example, might be completely inadequate, without ventilators, defibrillators, x-ray capabilities, etc. There are often no blood banks or limited medical supplies and medications available locally. Due to political instability, security could be a concern. Fellows should be aware that these posts are neither few in number nor confined to a specific geographic region. There are numerous posts where conditions appear similar to that of the U.S. but which also suffer from some of these restrictive characteristics. As a result, stress levels among employees may be very high. Given these concerns, Fellows must be able to obtain and maintain the required medical clearance to remain in the program.

Suitability Review Clearance Process

Upon completion of the background investigation and medical examination, a State Department Suitability Review Panel will examine your file (minus any privileged medical information) to determine your suitability for employment with the Foreign Service.

The attainment of U.S. foreign policy objectives depends substantially on the confidence of the public (both American and foreign) in the individuals selected to serve in the Foreign Service. The Department of State, therefore, requires the highest standards of conduct by employees of the Foreign Service, including an especially high degree of integrity, reliability, and prudence. Given the representational nature of employment in the Foreign Service, employees must observe proper standards at all times. The purpose of the suitability review is to determine, from the candidate's total record, whether the candidate is indeed suitable to represent the United States. The Suitability Review Panel has the authority to terminate a candidacy.

In evaluating suitability, the Suitability Review Panel takes into consideration the following factors:

  • Misconduct in prior employment, including marginal performance or inability to interact effectively with others.
  • Criminal, dishonest, or disgraceful conduct.
  • Misrepresentation, including deception or fraud, in the application process.
  • Repeated or habitual use to excess of intoxicating beverages affecting the ability to perform the duties and responsibilities of the employee's position.
  • Trafficking in or abuse of narcotics or controlled substances.
  • Reasonable doubt as to loyalty to the U.S. Government.
  • Conduct which clearly shows poor judgment and or lack of discretion which may reasonably affect an individual or the agency's ability to carry out its responsibilities or mission.
  • Financial irresponsibility, including a history of not meeting financial obligations or an inability to satisfy debts.

About the Foreign Service of the U.S. Department of State

The mission of a U.S. diplomat in the Foreign Service is to promote peace, support prosperity and foster conditions for stability and progress for the benefit of the American people and people everywhere.

If you are passionate about public service and want to represent the U.S. around the world, a challenging and rewarding career is waiting for you. The opportunity to work and experience cultures, customs and people of different nations is truly a career unlike any other.

The work you will do will have an impact on the world. You will be asked to serve at one of any of the more than 270 embassies, consulates and other diplomatic missions in The Americas, Africa, Europe and Eurasia, East Asia and Pacific, Middle East and North Africa, and South Asia.

Explore a career in the Foreign Service and start your journey with the Department today. Start by looking at where we work, or taking the quiz to find out if the Foreign Service is right for you, or what career track is the best fit. Learn more by visiting the U.S. Department of State's website at


You can view TWC's Internship Policies here, which includes information on student conduct, billing, grades, and much more. All students will be expected to follow these policies so we encourage you to review them.