In the case of the executive branch, there is an incredible difference between what someone needs to do/be to become president "on paper" (I.e, Being 35, being a natural-born citizen that has lived in the country for at least 14 years, filling out the Federal Election Committee, and winning the general election.) compared to what a president actually has to do to have a reasonable shot at becoming president. (Like, managing party politics, getting donations from key supporters, having allies in the media, getting support from fellow party members, etc.)

In a similar vein, and certainly not as discussed to the same degree as the president, how does an average joe actually become a congressmen? What would be the actual, general step-by-step process for a recent college graduate to serve a term in the House or Senate?

  • 1
    There are 535 different routes that senators and representatives have taken. But much is the same: prove compentancy, build support within the party, raise money. Try going on Wikipedia and reading some of their biographies
    – James K
    Feb 13 at 6:56
  • 1
    Step 1: get rich (or be born into a rich family). Feb 13 at 15:01
  • upvoted, good question
    – Sayaman
    Feb 14 at 1:39

1 Answer 1


The bare minimum
At a bare minimum, one must pass the restrictions levied by the US Constitution. Representatives must be at least 25 years old, US citizens for at least seven years, and residents of the state at the time of election. Senators must be at least 30 years old, US citizens for at least nine years, and residents of the state at the time of election. It's also a good idea to not have participated in an insurrection. Other good ideas are to not partake in illegal drugs, not get arrested for drunk driving, or not have random hook ups with those of ill repute. If someone lights up at a party and passes the joint around, do not partake but do pass the joint to the person sitting next to you.

Note well: A "recent college graduate" is typically in the early 20s, which means they likely do not meet the bare minimum.

The road commonly traveled
The road commonly traveled is to get oneself on the primary ballot for one of the two major parties, win the primary, and then win the general election. This requires a lot of legwork. Starting shortly after one graduates from college is a good idea. Volunteer to help the party of ones preference. That might mean going door to door, stuffing envelopes, speaking on behalf of candidates, etc. Name recognition, both within the party and with the public, are critical to getting elected.

Once one passes the bare minimum, there may be filing fees and/or petitions that must be fulfilled. Different states and different parties have different rules. Getting familiar with those rules is part of the legwork. Having donors ("name recognition") or personal wealth is critical. The party typically will help with campaign costs once one wins the primary.

The roads less frequently traveled
There are multiple paths that avoid at least some of the complexities of campaigning to win a major party's primary election and then campaigning to win the general election. One can find a district that is poorly represented by Republicans or Democrats. Pay the filing fees and/or get enough qualified signatures to run as the sole primary candidate for that party for that district. The party may be desperate enough to help such a candidate win the general election.

Another path is to run as a third party candidate. Third parties oftentimes do not hold primary elections. Schmoozing, filing fees, and signatures are still needed to get on the general election ballot and then to win. Yet another path is to run as an independent. A final path is to run as a write-in candidate. This has actually worked, even for Senate (this happened twice: Strom Thurmond in 1954 and Lisa Murkowski in 2010. )Yet again, schmoozing, filing fees, and signatures are still needed to get on the general election ballot and then to win.

  • The bit about volunteering with campaigns and going door-to-door is important. Voters in the US skew older, and older people aren't sitting on Tiktok 6-8 hours a day, so having 15 million social media followers isn't necessarily going to translate into name recognition related to voting.
    – shoover
    Feb 13 at 18:38
  • 1
    "Other good ideas" include refraining from engaging an in insurrection that could disqualify you from office.
    – ohwilleke
    Feb 13 at 19:17
  • Also avoid conviction under 18 USC 2071 b)
    – DJohnM
    Feb 13 at 20:58
  • upvoted, great answer.
    – Sayaman
    Feb 14 at 1:39
  • 1
    @ohwilleke I think this is only if you've already been elected or otherwise sworn in. Recent college graduate who's never been sworn in to support the constitution can do insurrection before their first election no problem. Or run for President, apparently that's a thing too.
    – littleadv
    Feb 14 at 18:17

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .