In a nutshell, the application process for the State Department is thorough; not necessarily difficult or overwhelming, but definitely and most certainly long.
As a result, timing is important to keep in mind. For all terms (fall/spring/summer), the application window opens and closes some eight months before the start of the internship itself, so deciding whether to apply requires significant planning in advance. The internships are unpaid, there is no stipend, and applicants are responsible for housing arrangements. Further, as positions are conditional on receiving a security clearance, a possibility exists in which the State Department does not provide a security clearance in time and the position falls through. Before making the decision to apply, I recommend taking into account some of the realities and making certain that an internship at the State Department is the right fit for you.
With that said, in order to not miss the application deadline, the State Department offers an email subscription for notifications on openings. As the application initially starts with USAJOBS, one way to get a step ahead is to create a profile before the application opens. Becoming familiar with the platform beforehand is one less thing to worry about. Once the application opens, both the USAJOBS and the State Department portal portions are fairly straightforward to navigate. The application is not on a rolling basis, so there is no need to submit as early as possible.
Setting aside experience in class or on your resume, the two most important elements of the application process are the statement of interest and the selection of two bureaus of interest, both integrally connected to each other. While you can’t change much about your work experiences or courses, you can certainly optimize your statement of interest and think long and hard about which two bureaus are most suitable. The statement of interest is a symbiotic dance between the abilities and experience of the applicant and the work of the bureaus. As a result, the final product should answer both why does the applicant want to work in the bureaus and why should the bureaus of choice want to hire the applicant. Ultimately, a well-written statement of interest should align the interests of the bureau with the interests of the applicant.
Since the applications always use the same prompt, I recommend at least browsing through the list of bureaus at the State Department and getting a rough idea of potential overlaps between your interests and abilities and the work of the bureaus. Ideally, and not in my case, a rough draft can be complete before the application even opens. As usual, getting a pair of other eyes on a draft is also greatly beneficial. For the entire process, staying on top of timing is critical. Make sure to get all the straightforward items out of the way as quickly as possible and devote the most time to the consideration of bureaus and the statement of interest.