It may sound like the secret agency at the center of the plot of next summer’s big sci-fi blockbuster, but CyberCorps is as real as it gets.
It’s no secret, either: Uncle Sam wants you to study information assurance for your country, and he’s willing to help foot the bill in return for your service.
The CyberCorps Scholarships for Service (SFS) program is designed to increase the pool of skilled information security professionals available to fill positions in government service. It is part of the larger Cybersecurity National Action Plan (CNAP) released in early 2016, which is comprised of a variety of programs to help shore up the country’s critical cybersecurity infrastructure.
It’s widely known that there’s a major shortage of skilled professionals in the U.S. to help protect both government and private information systems, and this is a major problem. So much so that the government has stepped in to offer a solution, offering incentives to get more candidates to enter degree programs in the field.
Through grants administered by the National Science Foundation (NSF), CyberCorps scholarships can offer qualified candidates:
- Up to 100 percent of tuition, fees, and other related educational expenses
- Stipends of up to:
- $22,500 for undergraduate students
- $34,000 for graduate students
In return, SFS participants commit to:
- Attending a school that offers an approved degree program
- Accepting a position in a government or government-approved cybersecurity job after graduation
- Remaining in that position for a term equal to the length of the scholarship funding
Considering the skills acquired, the costs covered, and the fact that a job will be waiting after graduation, it’s hard to see the downside to this program for students seriously interested in a solid cybersecurity education!
Getting Into the CyberCorps Scholarships for Service Program
The first thing you need to do is make sure that the school you plan to attend is on the list of participating institutions (you can find them on this page, listed below).
There are a number of requirements you will have to meet to be eligible.
- Be a full-time student pursuing a bachelor’s or master’s degree in a cybersecurity program
- Be a research-based doctoral student
- Be a citizen or lawful permanent resident of the United States
- Meet Federal employment criteria
- Be able to obtain a security clearance
Those are the minimum requirements established by the NSF. Each participating institution will have additional enrollment requirements; consult their websites for details and application information.
What Expenses SFS Covers
The scholarships provide annual stipends of up to $22,500 for undergraduate students and $34,000 for graduate students.
The scholarship of course covers tuition costs as well, but also takes care of a variety of other educational expenses, including:
- Health insurance reimbursement of up to $3,000 per year
- Textbook allowance of $2,000 per year
- Professional development and travel allowance of $4,000 per year
Not included are meal plans or housing expenses. Since each participating institution is responsible for managing the stipends, they might have other restrictions—consult their web pages for details.
The scholarship typically covers three years of study, but may be granted for as little as one semester. Grants are pro-rated for the actual term of study in such cases.
Fulfilling Your Obligation
The generous terms of the scholarship have a particular goal in mind, which is to help government agencies and other approved federally-funded programs staff up with qualified cybersecurity professionals. Accordingly, graduates are required to accept a cybersecurity position at a federal government agency for a term equal in duration to the term for which the scholarship was awarded: Four-year scholarship, means a minimum four-year job commitment.
Additionally, a 10-week internship is required of candidates who accept a scholarship for one year or more of their education. The positions may be located anywhere in the United States, so relocation may be necessary, and moving expenses are not covered. However, most jobs are expected to be in the vicinity of Washington D.C., so candidates may plan accordingly.
The process of fulfilling these obligations is straightforward. Once you have been awarded the scholarship through your institution, you are required to register on the SFS website with a resume. Attendance will be required at an annual SFS job fair. Candidates are expected to locate and pursue internship and job opportunities at qualified agencies independently—you will not be assigned a position arbitrarily.
Most graduates can expect to find positions at levels between GS-7 and GS-11, commensurate with their qualifications. Master’s recipients must find a position rated GS-9 or higher. For some positions, security clearances must be obtained. A reasonable offer, defined as one that is in line with your qualifications, must be accepted to meet your obligation.
If you decline a job offer and cannot find a qualified position, you could be on the hook to repay all or part of the scholarship award. However, the employment term may be deferred for up to two years after graduation if you are pursuing other educational objectives during that period.
Similarly, if you do not remain in the position for the full length of your commitment, you may be asked to pay back a portion of the scholarship after you depart.
CyberCorps for Service Participating Colleges and Universities by State
CyberCorps by State
- District of Columbia
- New Hampshire
- New Jersey
- New Mexico
- New York
- North Carolina
- North Dakota
- Rhode Island
- South Carolina
- South Dakota
- West Virginia