National Security Internships: How to Find Them

A smiling intern carries a binder in a conference room.

Whether analyzing intelligence to identify terrorist threats abroad or securing the country’s borders, national security professionals are crucial to safeguarding the nation. Vying successfully for highly competitive opportunities in this important field means standing out among thousands of job applicants. A great way for students to start gaining experience while still in school is through national security internships.

Students participating in national security internships can gain hands-on experience, learn new skills, find a mentor and get insights into what a future career in national security might look like. Ultimately, internships — especially when they’re paired with an advanced education — can put students on the path to a rewarding career in various national security jobs.

Students can reap these benefits when they find national security internship opportunities. Aspiring national security professionals can explore a range of internship opportunities to identify which ones seem like the best fit for their professional goals.

Government Agencies With National Security Internships

Many government agencies are involved in national security, including the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the National Security Agency (NSA) and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI). Below are examples and relevant information on the types of internships as well as fellowships and other training opportunities they offer.

U.S. Department of Homeland Security

Opportunities with DHS give students the ability to contribute to its broad national security mission. Students can learn about topics related to their area of study, such as acquisition and procurement, cybersecurity, intelligence and analysis, and law enforcement.

For example, students enrolled in a cybersecurity-related program can benefit from hands-on exposure to cybersecurity work as part of the Secretary’s Honors Program Cyber Student Intern Program. Students in this program learn about incident response, forensics (digital) and network diagnostics. For students seeking a career in areas such as intelligence analysis, intelligence operations and mission readiness, the Office of Intelligence and Analysis (I&A) Internship Program matches student interest and skill level with relevant internship openings. I&A may offer students opportunities to rotate across different areas.

As for what students will learn, typical work assignments will vary by area of focus. For example, students interning as part of the Acquisition and Procurement group will get to serve on a team specializing in cost estimating, requirements planning and overseeing contractor performance. To qualify for internships with DHS, an individual must:

  • Be an undergraduate or a graduate student enrolled at an accredited university
  • Maintain a cumulative GPA of 3.0 or higher
  • Be a U.S. citizen capable of obtaining and maintaining top secret/sensitive compartmented information (TS/SCI) clearance
  • Register with the Selective Service System

National Security Agency

Through various internships, scholarships and programs, students can gain hands-on experience in helping NSA solve critical national security challenges. Opportunities for students span various areas of focus, including national security, mathematics, computer science, engineering and workforce support. Options are available for students across all majors and different levels of education, from high school to doctoral candidates. Some programs require students to focus on a specific area of study. For example, the Graduate Mathematics Program (GMP) typically prefers mathematics and statistics majors.

For students in other majors, opportunities exist in intelligence analysis, privacy and transparency, counterintelligence, and more. For instance, students who want to learn about security investigations, adjudications, physical security, access control, anti-terrorism or counterintelligence can apply to the Security and Counterintelligence Summer Intern Program. The 12-week program is open to undergraduate sophomores, juniors and graduate students.

Typical work assignments for students differ from program to program. Activities for student interns in the Analysis programs, for example, include conducting independent and original research, documenting results, and applying their judgment to intelligence evaluations. Qualifications for NSA internships may vary, but general requirements include the following:

  • U.S. citizenship or dual citizenship
  • Completion of NSA’s suitability process, including security and psychological processing

Office of the Director of National Intelligence

Created shortly after the 911 attacks, ODNI is responsible for better integrating U.S. intelligence capabilities. Students interested in national security internships with ODNI may have opportunities to work in any of the 17 executive branch intelligence agencies that it heads.

Students who are U.S. citizens can get exposure to the inner workings of the U.S. Intelligence Community through its student programs. The Presidential Management Fellows Program, for instance, enables students from diverse academic disciplines to participate in a two-year fellowship that may ultimately lead to a national security job with the agency, such as intelligence officer.

Typical work assignments for students vary depending on the intelligence agency. An intern at the Office of General Counsel, for example, may assist attorneys in providing oral and written advice to senior officials, preparing legal and policy memorandums, and making presentations on various topics. General requirements for internships with ODNI include the following:

  • Having at least a 3.0 GPA
  • Passing a background check (including drug screening)
  • Passing a counterintelligence polygraph test

Sometimes, security clearance is required depending on the role and agency.

National Security Internships in the Private Sector

America’s adversaries understand the interconnectedness of the federal government with private industry and infrastructure. Because of the potential vulnerability this represents, consulting firms; companies that work in analytics, technology, engineering and cybersecurity; and scientific research institutions must join forces with national security agencies. This means that national security internships are also available in the private sector.

For example, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, a research laboratory focused on solving science and technology challenges, offers opportunities to students through its National Security Internship Program. Interns in the program can work across one of four national security divisions: Artificial Intelligence and Data Analytics; Cybersecurity, Protection, and Analysis; Nuclear, Chemistry, and Biosciences; and Physical Detection Systems and Deployment.

Interns can benefit from various professional development and networking opportunities offered through the program, including research seminars and workshops.

Prepare for a Career in National Security

National security jobs are highly competitive. Students with national security internship experience have an upper hand when they begin their job search.

Students can choose from many national security career paths, but early planning is crucial. National security internships in both the public and private sectors are among the most competitive and typically require security clearances, a potentially yearlong process. Once a student lands an internship, opportunities can open up for rewarding national security jobs in the future.

With a focus on preparing students ― from civilians to veterans looking for civilian jobs ― for the unpredictable and unexpected, Virginia Commonwealth University’s Master of Arts in Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness program covers topics such as Intelligence, Cybersecurity Law and Policy, and Terrorism. Program graduates gain key decision-making, leadership and policymaking skills to help protect communities and the nation.

Discover how VCU can prepare you for a rewarding career in national security.