One of the best ways to work for the federal government as a graduate student is completing an internship. These open positions are a great way to build networks, secure mentorships, and increase the practical knowledge needed for employment consideration.

Graduate internship roles both come with unique opportunities and challenges compared to undergraduate positions. To help you with your internship hunt as a graduate student, here are five quick tips to consider.

Start Early

As soon as you start school, or even the summer before your first year, search for internship opportunities. Several federal government summer internship applications are due in the fall semester, which gives you little time to pull your transcripts, write personal essays, answer questionnaires, and collect any other required documents needed to submit before the due date. If you start late, don’t panic–there will be additional internship positions that will hire throughout the year but it will be tougher to secure a summer internship that requires a security clearance.

Seek Graduate-Specific Positions

Certain federal government agencies, like the United States Trade and Development Agency and the Government Accountability Office, offer graduate-level internship opportunities. These positions typically allow the student to experience greater responsibility and a larger workload compared to undergraduate positions. Be sure to review job postings carefully and determine whether these opportunities are right for you. To view graduate-level specific internship opportunities, visit USAJobs.

Prepare to Be Examined

Many internships that deal with national security issues require students to obtain a security clearance. This can typically take four to six months, which is why several internship due dates are in the fall. If you apply to an internship with a security clearance requirement, fill out your security application (SF-86) as soon as your agency requires it. Make sure you provide extensive details and submit the form as soon as possible.

Reach out to Alumni

Using your school’s alumni network is a great way to get your foot in the door at a particular agency or a field of interest–especially for graduate students enrolled in professional programs like law, public policy, and business. Chances are that you’ll find someone who understands the path towards securing an internship and will help. Be sure to reach out to these contacts to learn more about an organization, hear their personal experience with the application process, get interviewing tips, or, if they’re willing, share your resume among their peers.

Have A Backup Plan

Unfortunately, sometimes securing an internship as a graduate student will not work out. It could because a student’s security clearance cannot be completed in the allotted time–whether they have spent a significant amount of time abroad, have family members or friends living abroad, or even having frequent address changes (all examples require more time and effort needed to review your history). Sometimes a student may outright fail the security clearance and some students just are not the right fit for a specific position. It’s best practice to continue applying for internships and, if possible, have a second or third option lined up as you await a decision.

Ultimately, graduate students have a much shorter time in school than undergrads, which means you really must hit the ground running as soon as possible. If you follow these tips, you can get started on the right path from day one!

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Brandon Osgood is a strategic communications and digital marketing professional based out of Raleigh, NC. Beyond being a passionate storyteller, Brandon is an avid classical musician with dreams of one day playing at Carnegie Hall. Interested in connecting? Email him at