The security clearance process raises a lot of questions. As the determining factor in who gets access to the government’s secrets, it’s a process filled with its own degree of mystery. Here are three common myths about getting a security clearance.

1. If your background disqualifies you for a Top Secret clearance, you can still get a Secret.

This is a common misunderstanding. But in fact, the only real difference between clearance levels is the intensity of the background investigation. The same criteria will be applied to judge your fitness for a clearance no matter what level it is. If your Top Secret clearance was denied because of a criminal record, excessive debt, or another issue, a Secret clearance would be denied, too.

2. The government will listen to your phone calls and read your emails as part of your background investigation process.

This is 100% myth. The government does need personal information, like what’s listed on your SF-86 form, to decide if you can be trusted with privileged information. But that information is given willingly by applicants.

3. If something wasn’t a problem for another clearance holder, it won’t be a problem for you.

Fortunately, the government doesn’t approve or deny security clearances based on one issue. They look at the “whole person” when evaluating if someone should be granted a clearance. But that means that no two cases are exactly alike. Just because two applicants have the same amount of debt or both smoked marijuana in college doesn’t mean they’ll have the same outcome. The agency they’re applying to, the circumstances around the debt, their age, or other behavior all help decide who’s granted a clearance – and who isn’t.

Don’t let common misconceptions throw your security clearance off track.

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Caroline's background is in public policy, non-profit fundraising, and - oddly enough - park rangering. Though she once dreamed of serving America secretly in the CIA, she's grateful she's gotten to serve America publicly - both through the National Park Service and right here at ClearanceJobs.