1. What is the Scholarship For Service (SFS) program?
It is the Federal Government's response to deal with the threat to our information technology infrastructure by strengthening the cadre of cybersecurity / information assurance professionals who protect it. Through this program, the National Science Foundation partnered with Department of Homeland Security issues selected 4-year colleges and universities scholarship grants to attract students to the cybersecurtiy /information assurance fields. The U.S. Office of Personnel Management administers the operational aspects of the program. Questions about the program may be addressed to the SFS Program Office at firstname.lastname@example.org (757-441-3186) OR Kathy Roberson, SFS Program Manager (405-259-8277). Both are available by e-mail at email@example.com.
2. What schools have been issued scholarship grants under the Scholarship For Service (SFS) program?
You may access a list of contacts and institutions by selecting Participating Institutions on our website's Contacts page.
3. What are the student eligibility requirements for me to participate?
The student must meet all of the following:
-- be a full-time student pursing a bachelor’s or master’s degree in a coherent formal program that is focused on cyber security at an awardee institution, or research-based doctoral student.
-- be a citizen or a lawful permanent resident of the United States;
-- meet criteria for Federal employment; and
-- be able to obtain a security clearance, if required.
4. I meet the eligibility criteria how do I apply for the scholarship?
Each participating university manages their own application/selection process. If you are interested in applying for the scholarship and willing to transfer to a participating university, you should first decide which university you would be willing to attend and then contact them directly for application/selection procedures. The list of participating institutions along with contact information for each may be found at https://www.sfs.opm.gov/ContactsPI.aspx?p=st
5. I am attending one of the institutions listed and meet the eligibility criteria. What do I need to do to participate?
The scholarships are awarded on a merit-based basis and each participating university manages their own application/selection process. You should contact the program's Principal Investigator (coordinator) at your institution to obtain details. The list of participating institutions along with contact information for each may be found at http://www.sfs.opm.gov/ContactsPI.aspx.
6. What costs do the SFS program scholarships cover?
Typically, the scholarships provide academic year stipends of up to $22,500 per year for undergraduate students and up to $34,000 for graduate students. In addition, SFS scholarships may cover expenses normally incurred by full-time students in the institution, including tuition, and education-related fees (does not include items such as meal plans, housing or parking), a health insurance reimbursement allowance up to $3,000 per year; a professional development allowance of $4,000 for the SFS Job Fair and other travel, professional certification, etc., and a book allowance of $2,000 per academic year. Each participating institution manages their SFS grant. The actual amounts of the scholarship and what is covered will vary by institution. For specific information at a particular institution you must contact the Principal Investigator (PI) at that institution.
7. When, and for how long, can I get a scholarship?
This can vary by university depending on the program. Typically the scholarship can be awarded for three years of a bachelor’s- or master’s-level program; three years of study where the student is receiving both the bachelor’s and the master’s degree; three years in combined bachelor’s and master’s degree (“five year”) programs; or for the three years of research-based doctoral-level study.
8. What is the shortest period for which I may be funded?
The shortest period for which a scholarship may be granted is one semester. However, upon completion of degree requirements, students funded for less than two years must have an information assurance academic background equivalent to that of the typical graduate funded for two years. For example, in order to enroll in the SFS at the beginning of his or her senior year, a student must have been pursuing information assurance studies during his or her junior year.
9. If I am funded for less than a year, am I entitled to the full stipend?
No. You are entitled to a prorated amount. For example, if you receive a scholarship for only one semester, you are entitled to only half the stipend. If you receive a scholarship for only three semesters (one-and-a-half academic years), you are entitled to only half the stipend during the year you receive funds for only one semester.
10. Do I incur an obligation by receiving this scholarship?
Yes. In return for their scholarships, recipients must agree to work after graduation for a Government agency or, subject to approval of the NSF program office, for a State, Local, Tribal, or Territorial Government; or a Federally Funded Research and Development Center, in a position related to cybersecurity for a period equal to the length of the scholarship. An academic year (i.e., the fall and spring semesters) is equivalent to a calendar year of employment. If you are funded for three academic years, you must serve at a Federal, State, Local, Tribal or Territorial Government organization in a covered position for three calendar years. If you are funded for one academic year or less (e.g., only one semester), you must serve for one calendar year. The post graduate employment obligation must be fulltime employment.
11. Where will the jobs be located?
Jobs will be located throughout the United States. However, the overwhelming majority will be in the Washington, DC, metropolitan area. Therefore, participants will be required to be available for placement nationwide.
12. At what grade level will I be appointed when I serve the internship and when I am placed after graduation?
The grade level at which you will be appointed depends on your qualifications at the time of appointment. In general, students with a bachelor's degree and superior academic achievement may be appointed at the GS-7 level. Master's degree recipients may be appointed at the GS-9 level. Recipients of a doctorate degree may be appointed at the GS-11 level. It is important to note that the pay rates for information technology professionals are higher than for other jobs.
13. Is the post-graduation employment commitment the only period of employment I am required to serve with the Government?
No. You are also required to serve an internship.
14. How long must the internship be?
The internship should be at least 10 weeks long when possible.
Doctoral students may substitute their summer internship with a research activity.
15. Can time spent in an internship beyond the required 10 weeks be credited toward my post-graduation employment commitment?
No, there are no provisions to credit any time served in an internship toward your post-graduation employment commitment.
16. Will I be paid moving expenses when I receive placement to fulfill my internship and employment commitment upon graduation?
The program does not contain provisions that provide for the payment of travel or lodging expenses associated with the internship, or moving expenses to the first post of duty. We suggest you ask prospective employers if they have the authority, flexibility, and funds to cover any such expenses.
17. How do I enroll in the program once I am selected by the Principal Investigator (coordinator) to participate?
The Principal Investigator nominates you. Your nomination is reviewed, and your participation approved by the Scholarship For Service Program Office, Mid-Atlantic Services Branch, U.S. Office of Personnel Management. After you are approved, you will be asked to sign a service agreement. This agreement stipulates the nature and conditions of the scholarship and the service obligation you will incur. Once the SFS Program Office receives your signed agreement, it will send you, via the Principal Investigator, instructions on how to register on the Scholarship for Service website.
18. I am interested. Can my college or university (or any college or university) participate?
Colleges and universities may vie for participation if they are certified by the National Security Agency as Centers of Academic Excellence for Information Assurance Education (CAE/IAE), or their information assurance programs are deemed "equivalent" to those of certified schools. Additional information may be found at www.nsf.gov.
19. Does the SFS program allow online degree programs?
NSF does not have a policy that expressly prohibits online programs. The program must be full-time and a student must be fully enrolled (not taking a course or two). In addition, the online program must be included in the NSA CAE certification and in the NSF funding request. Even if all of these conditions are met, the final decision must be made by the institution. Individual institution SFS programs often incorporate seminars, workshops and other resident activities for which the student must be present. An individual institution may decide that an online student cannot meet this demand.
20. What does registration entail and what happens after registration?
Once you have been awarded the scholarship you will be required to register on the SFS Program website and complete a resume on-line. Through the website, you are able to search for, and contact, participating agencies to explore internship and long-term placement opportunities; update your personal contact information; edit/update your resume as needed; track your job search activity; and report internship and post graduation commitments. as required by your service agreement. This is the official website used by the NSF to verify compliance of your service agreement.
In addition, Federal agencies are also able to register on this website and conduct student and resume searches. Agencies may contact directly those students they are interested in hiring for both internships and post-graduation employment.
21. In addition to registering on the SFS Program website, what responsibilities do I have to the program while I am still in school?
-- Attend the annual job fair/symposium until post graduate commitment is secured.
-- Search for internship and post-graduation opportunities.
-- Complete and submit a job search activity report to the program office quarterly.
-- View/edit resume and contact information quarterly.
-- Engage in other SFS related activities as directed by the Principal Investigator (PI) or program office.
22. Suppose I do not want to accept an offer I receive. What happens then?
If you decline an offer and do not find a position to meet your obligation you could be required to pay back the monies received under the scholarship.
23. What happens if I do not accept an offer made to me and I am not placed?
By accepting the SFS scholarship and signing the service agreement you are required to accept any offer that meets program requirements and is considered reasonable by the SFS Program Office. If you receive at least one, but fail to accept a placement offer, it will constitute a breach of the service agreement. In these situations, the National Science Foundation will seek the remedial action that best serves the objectives of the SFS program and the interests of the Government, including reimbursement of scholarship funds.
24. Why is it important that I begin my job search early?
It is very important that you begin your job search immediately for a variety of reasons. Students who receive scholarship funds for more than one academic year are required to serve an internship performing information assurance-related work. Internships are intended to enhance the students' information assurance knowledge by exposing them to field-related work experiences. If an internship is not secured early, it may jeopardize the value of the experiences due to a lack of time in the position. Delaying to find opportunities may also cause the student to miss out on an internship altogether. For both internships and post-graduation commitment, most positions will require some type of security clearance and these along with the Federal hiring process can sometime be very time consuming.
25. May I contact agencies with which I would like to serve the internship or be placed to fulfill my post-graduation employment commitment?
Yes. In fact, students are required to find placement opportunities on their own. The program office provides many tools and resources to assist that include contact information for agencies interested in hiring Information Assurance Specialists, website link to current IA announcements, and an annual job fair.
26. What positions are open to me?
Students can apply for any position that includes duties in Cybersecurity / Information Assurance at a Federal, State, Local,Tribal or Territorial Government organization, Independent Agency, Government Corporation, Commission, or Quasi-Official Agency. Positions may be secured to meet obligations at a National Laboratory, a Federally Funded Research Development Center (http://www.nsf.gov/statistics/ffrdclist/), or other approved organization on a limited basis. If a student is unsure if a particular position meets program requirement they should contact the SFS Program Office at firstname.lastname@example.org for verification.
27. What constitutes a reasonable offer?
A reasonable offer is one where the grade level (salary) is equivalent to the student’s qualifications based on education at the time of placement. In general, students with a bachelor's degree and superior academic achievement must accept a GS-7 (or equivalent) or higher. Master's degree recipients must accept a GS-9 (or equivalent) or higher. Recipients of a doctorate degree may be appointed at the GS-11 level. If a student is unsure if a position is reasonable they should contact the SFS Program Office at email@example.com for verification.
28. Do I have to serve the internship at the government agency that will employ me upon graduation?
No. You may serve the internship at another Federal, State, Local, Tribal or Territorial Government organization as long as the nature of the work assignments meet program requirements. However, it is highly beneficial that the internship be served at the agency that will ultimately hire you. The internship provides you the opportunity to meet and work with the agency's cybersecurity professionals and become familiar with their needs and programs. It also gives the student a chance to create a bond with the employer. Additionally, the internship should be an integral part of a mentoring process that should span throughout the entire academic and employment phases of the program. You should also keep in mind that agencies make significant investments in their interns in terms of effort, time, and resources. Therefore, if you plan on seeking post-graduation employment with an agency other than where you serve your internship, you are encouraged to inform them of your plans.
29. Am I guaranteed permanent placement with a government agency?
No. Students are responsible for their own job search. The SFS Program Office makes several tools available to assist students in their job search efforts. These tools include the SFS program website, resume posting, dedicated job fairs, and job activity logs.
30. Can I defer my employment commitment to further my education?
Yes, under certain circumstances you may defer your service for up to two years to continue your education. The additional education must enhance your marketability as an Information Assurance Professional. This deferment must be approved by the Program Office, the continued education cannot be funded by the SFS program, and you must continue to fulfill SFS participant responsibilities as indicated in an addendum to your Service Agreement.
31. Can I meet my employment commitment by working as a contractor for the Federal Government?
No, your commitment must be in the Federal Executive Branch at a Federal, Agency, Independent Agency, Government Corporation, Commission, or Quasi-Official Agency, a State, Local, or Tribal Government organization, a National Laboratory or Federally Funded Research Development Center (on a limited basis), or other approved organization.
32. Do I have to claim the funds (tuition, books, room & board, stipend, etc.) I receive for the scholarship as income when I file my taxes?
Portions of the SFS scholarship may be taxable. Which portions will depend on how the University disbursed them to you. For guidance on what is or is not taxable you should contact your University and seek the advice of a tax professional.
33. What happens if I leave my Federal position before I serve the required period?
You must repay a prorated amount equivalent to the length of the period not served. For example, if you receive funds for two years and serves for one-and-a-half years, you must repay 25% of the funds received.