Washington Program: Security Clearances
Some internships, such as those at the Departments of Defense, Justice, and State, may require applicants to submit to a thorough background examination or security clearance. Security clearances can produce months of delay before an agency or organization can allow a student to intern. While our students almost always pass this type of examination, the ensuing delay can ultimately make an internship an impractical match for the Program. Students cannot begin the Washington Program with only a promise that their clearance will be forthcoming. In order to minimize the risk of depending upon a security clearance that is slow to materialize, we recommend that students take the following steps:
- You must meet the Department of State deadline, which is months before the Washington Program application deadline. The deadline for application for fall internships at the Department of State is March 1, while the deadline for spring internships is July 1 of the previous year. It is also recommended that you submit your security clearance application well in advance of the Department of State deadline.
- Never apply solely to internships requiring a security clearance. Pursue other attractive alternatives and keep them open as options until the security process is complete.
- Give the organization requiring a clearance a deadline beyond which you are no longer able to take the internship. This should, of course, be a reasonable one. One week before the beginning of the semester (i.e. two weeks before the internship begins) is not an unreasonable deadline for a security clearance to be completed. If an organization cannot accept this, there is a very good chance that the clearance will not be completed in a timely manner.
- Return immediately all materials related to a security clearance and send them by express mail with verification of receipt. Also, keep a log of all conversations with the organization related to your security clearance. This log should record with whom you spoke, the substance of the conversation, and the date.
- NEVER cancel or reschedule an appointment for your security interview (not all clearances requires this interview). This will effectively rule out the possibility that the clearance process can be completed by the time you arrive in Washington.
A note from Chris Vieira, a recent intern at the U.S. Department of State:
"The process was pretty painless and not too difficult."
- The process is separate from the internship application process. Only students who are selected as primary and alternate interns will be asked to turn in security paperwork.
- At the State Department, once the internship application is turned in, they don't want you to follow-up; it is impossible to get through the bureaucracy even if you wanted to do so. They also seem to be consistently late in getting back to people. I was told they would get back with an offer in about a month; mine took over 1.5 months.
- The security forms are long and complicated. Plenty of time is necessary to complete them. Students also need to have their fingerprints taken and participate in a security interview which is at least an hour long.
- I was never told that my clearance was granted. When I called my internship coordinator in late November to find out about my status, they finally informed me. The clearance had been granted 1.5 or 2 months earlier. Earlier follow-up would have saved me from turning in other applications. That would have been a good piece of advice.