Internships are one of the best ways to grow your career network, learn about your industry, and land a full-time job after graduation. Just ask me – I considered myself a professional intern in college, often building my course schedule around my planned internships and even using a lecture I attended at one internship to introduce me to a post-college internship that launched my career as a Department of Army civilian (through none other than the Department of Army Internship program).

The one downside to pursuing internships, whether you’re in college or have already graduated, is the significant cost burden. With many federal government internship opportunities located in the Washington metro, and the pay often barely enough to cover rent, the prospect of flying from Indianapolis to Washington for a three-month internship may be a financial bridge too far.

For students interested in federal service but not interested (or able) to come to Washington, there’s another option: the State Department’s Virtual Student Federal Service program. The VSFS program allows students to intern from anywhere they have a broadband connection – from their dorm room to their local coffee shop.

How the eInternship Works

For students who don’t want to spend their internship fetching coffee or making copies, the VSFS program offers a tangible alternative. Students apply for specific projects with real impact on topics as significant as counterterrorism and human trafficking. Applicants have the option to select their top three projects, and government sponsors may contact students for virtual interviews, or to get examples of their work. Interns who are selected then spend approximately 10 hours each week, September through May, on their eInternship projects.

The VSFS program is one example of how the government is innovating to attract the workforce of the future. Its critical draw – flexibility – is one quality craved by millennials and generation Z, yet often not attributed to federal service. eInternships display government careers at the cutting edge of flexibility and mission impact. Projects supported by VSFS aren’t just with the State Department, either – more than 40 different government agencies have submitted programs, including the CIA, Customs and Border Patrol, and Department of Defense.

This sounds amazing – how do I become a virtual intern for the government?

Students can apply to their top three VSFS programs from July 1 – July 31. Applications are reviewed in August, and those selected are notified in September. It’s a dream apply to hire timeline for federal government applicants. Because the opportunities are as diverse as the missions of the federal government, students across a range of disciplines are encouraged to check out the programs and see if there is an opportunity where they can make an impact. For applicants with an interest in the intelligence community, the VSFS program offers a unique look into what intelligence careers are truly like.

The Office of the Director of National intelligence participated in the program for the first time during the 2017-18 academic year.  Each of the students who participated in the program described it as a valuable learning experience, solidifying their desire to work in the IC. It isn’t just interns who benefit from the program, however – agencies get assistance with critical projects from research papers and country profiles to internal communications. Opening the door to the important work – without requiring a relocation or clearance investigation – helps the IC open its doors, and expand opportunities to a new range of applicants.

“The nature of our work in the Intelligence Community means that it is hard to share with others,” said Deputy Transparency Officer Michael Thomas with ODNI’s Office of Civil Liberties, Privacy, and Transparency . “In particular, the security clearance requirements for our physical spaces can be daunting. The virtual intern program provides an opportunity to work with students from all over the country, to give them a sense of how we operate and to contribute to our national security mission, no matter what their field of study.”

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Lindy Kyzer is the editor of ClearanceJobs.com. She loves the NISPPAC, social media, and the U.S. military. Have a conference, tip, or story idea to share? Email lindy.kyzer@clearancejobs.com. Interested in writing for ClearanceJobs.com? Learn more here.