Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Stokes Scholarhip: National Security Agency's Military Academy alternative

Stokes Scholarhip: National Security Agency's Military Academy alternative

Most people have probably heard of the two most popular ways to get the US government to pay for your college education. ROTC pays a partial scholarship in exchange for a number of years of service.

The service academies at West Point, Annapolis, and Air Force Academy and Coast Guard Academy are the other way. For Army, Navy and Air Force, you need a recommendation from a senator or congressman, and you need to sign up for a number of years in a job that may put you in harm's way, even if you're just saving people in the Coast Guard. They cover tuition, room, board, books and even give you a small salary.

But there's another way I never heard of until I saw a flier in a mail they send to students with very high math scores. There are other federal agencies competing for young talent, and one such agency that works with the military is the National Security Agency. While they're often called a super secret spy outfit, what they mostly do is work on keeping out communications secret from snoopers, and snoop on other people's internet and phone traffic to keep track of what any bad guys might be up to, using lots of technology and computers. They have a Stokes Scholarship program that pretty much offers the same deal as the military academies: they cover full tuition, room and board, books, fees, plus a year-round salary. On top of that, they give you a 12 week summer internship, transportation paid at their headquarters in Maryland.

Instead of having to to learn how to salute, march and fire an M-16 rifle, or run a sailing ship to become a military officer, you can evidently go to any college that you can manage to get into, be it your state university or Stanford without having to take any "military" or "naval" science courses or drills. However, you'll need to promise to sign up with NSA for 6 years for a four year degree. If you leave NSA employment earlier, you must reimburse the government for your tuition and book costs. You'll be working at a high, high, high security facility in Maryland instead of on a ship, tank or airplane stationed in anywhere, planet earth.

High school seniors can major in Computer Science or Computer/Electrical Engineering. They can expect to work on applications programming, computer security and graphics, or the design and implementation of software involving database management systems, real-time systems, networking, and distributed processing systems. Research could be pure or applied, design, development, and testing or project management and systems analysis. Typical projects focus on communications systems, computer security and networking, microprocessor applications, software engineering, and optics.

College sophomores in Mathematics or majors related to Intelligence Analysis including some languages are also invited. To qualify, you must be a U.S. citizen, eligible for a security clearance, a high school senior. You'll need a moderately high SAT/College Board score of 1600 (1100 Critical Reading and Math, 500 in Writing), or ACT of 25 (that's about the level of a better public university such as the University of Washington or Cal Poly San Luis Obispo), and a GPA better than a B, and demonstrated leadership abilities. They take applications from September 1st to November 30th, which is about the same as most early admission deadlines.

Unlike the usual college application, they ask that you submit a resume online rather than a common application. Then on paper, you'll need to send a Letter of Recommendation from a teacher/counselor/advisor, a one-page essay "I want a career at NSA because…", your high school transcript, and a photocopy of your SAT/ACT scores.

If you're a senior with great math scores, and don't mind you or your kid getting into the intelligence business and helping track down international bad guys, this is a deal that's hard to beat.

Here's a link to the PBS Nova program on how the ultra secret NSA was on the trail of Bin Laden, even getting the number to his satellite phone before 9/11 but failed to put the whole picture together in time.

Here's the official NSA page with full directions:

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