The High School Work Study Program (HSWS) at the National Security Agency (NSA) offers high school students a chance to participate as a part-time NSA employee while continuing to attend their high school classes. This opportunity is designed for those students enrolled in computer, technical and/or business classes at their local high school who wish to jump start or excel in their future careers. The program begins and continues through the student’s senior year and requires no less than 20 hours a week and no more than 32 hours during the school year.
Most high schools in the local area (Maryland/DC/Virginia), participate in the HSWS; a simple phone call to the school’s guidance counselor can confirm their participation. Students selected for the program will be required to submit a formal application and undergo security clearance testing as part of their employment; this process can take up to ~12 months. Students interested in the HSWS, therefore, should think about applying early in their junior year of high school. The high schools and NSA work as partners to ensure coursework requirements are met simultaneously while achieving valuable employment experience, skill enhancement and professional development.
Students will participate in the HSWS for the school year (September – June), after which time they will apply for a full-time position at NSA (if they choose). Most students attend classes in the morning at their high schools (8-11AM perhaps and then work at the NSA from 12-4PM); there are limitations on the number of hours they can work in a day and the HSWS program manager will explain all of the details to include working additional hours on non-school days, weather days, etc. Students will be given the opportunity to work with a myriad of individuals to include: contractors, civilian and military personnel and on a wide range of subject areas, depending on their specialty skill set (cyber, engineering, language or administrative are a few examples).
As a HSWS program graduate myself, I can tell you that the program is extremely beneficial and serves as a fantastic jump to those looking for a career in the federal government and beyond. I was able to work with colleagues and gain experience in so many areas from security, computing, engineering, administration, training, marketing, etc. Most importantly, the opportunity gave me insight into the “working world” even while I was completing my senior year of high school. Once an NSA employee, students can explore a variety of programs, tasks, contracts, projects, etc. and volunteer for those they would like to participate in. HSWS participants are exposed to a variety of education and training opportunities as well, both internal and external to NSA. Some students also have an opportunity for travel in conjunction with their offices and mission sets and can also visit many of the intelligence community agencies to learn about their missions. Overall, tenured employees were very eager to assist a HSWS which makes the experience one of the best decisions I had made for my career; over 30 years later, I find myself consistently mentoring other HSWS employees.
The HSWS program is a valuable opportunity for those students seeking on-the-job training and expertise to sharpen their existing skill set and/or field. The successful HSWS program has proven time and time again to provide valuable work, socialization and skill experiences with NSA, all while earning a salary.
Those interested in the HSWS Program should expand their searches to additional agencies within the federal, state, and local governments as there are a myriad of opportunities in addition to those in the intelligence community. The Department of Energy, Federal Aviation Administration, and Defense Intelligence Agency, for example, have part-time student programs, and there are a host of others. Contact your high school’s guidance counselor to check on the availability of similar programs in your area and/or other opportunities in major metropolitan areas.
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