Federal and State Officials


Education and Training Requirements

High School

Courses in government, civics, and history will give you an understanding of the structure of state and federal governments. English classes are important because you need good writing skills to be able to communicate effectively with constituents and other government officials. Math and accounting courses help you to develop the analytical skills needed for examining statistics and demographics. You should take science courses because you'll be making decisions concerning health, medicine, and technological advances. Journalism classes will help you learn about the print, electronic, and broadcast media and the role they play in politics. Take public speaking classes because communicating verbally is fundamental to a career as a public official. A foreign language (especially Spanish) will come in handy when interacting with constituents who do not speak English.

Postsecondary Training

State and federal legislators come from all walks of life. Some hold master's degrees and doctorates, while others have only a high school education. Although a majority of government officials hold law degrees, others have undergraduate or graduate degrees in areas such as journalism, economics, business, political science, history, and English. Regardless of your major as an undergraduate, it is important to take classes in English literature, statistics, foreign language, Western civilization, and economics. Graduate studies can focus more on one area of study; some prospective government officials pursue master's degrees in public administration or international affairs. Consider participating in an internship program that will involve you with local and state officials. Contact the offices of your state legislators and of your state's members of Congress to apply for internships.

Other Education or Training

The Council of State Governments provides free webinars on such topics as communicating with constituents and tax policy reform. It also offers formal programs to legislators to help them develop their leadership skills, make informed decisions, and become strong policy analysts. The National Conference of State Legislatures provides webinars, conference seminars, and other continuing education opportunities on topics that are of interest to state legislatures and their staffs. Recent webinars included Courteous and Effective Communication: Social Media and Email, How to Be an Effective Legislator, and Report Writing. Contact these organizations for more information.

Certification, Licensing, and Special Requirements

Certification or Licensing

There is no certification or licensing available for federal and state officials.

Other Requirements

Some offices have special requirements. The president, for example, must be a U.S. citizen and at least 35 years old, while U.S. senators must be at least age 30 and U.S. representatives age 25. Requirements for governors and other offices vary by state.

Experience, Skills, and Personality Traits

Many federal and state officials have prior experience in local government, the military, journalism, academics, and business.

Federal and state officials must have deep concern for their constituents. They should be good listeners and be able to relate to people from all walks of life and understand their concerns. This attention to the needs of communities should be of foremost importance to anyone pursuing a government office. Although historically some politicians have had questionable purposes in their campaigns for office, most successful politicians are devoted to making positive changes and improvements. Good people skills will help you make connections, get elected, and make things happen once in office. You should also enjoy public speaking, argument, debate, and opposition—you'll get a lot of it as you attempt to get laws passed. A good temperament in such situations will earn you the respect of your colleagues. Strong character and a good background will help you to avoid the personal attacks that occasionally accompany government office.