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Everything You Need to Know About the DoD Smart Scholarship

Interested in a career in STEM, but don’t want the stress of having to find a job after graduation? Then, the DOD Smart Scholarship might be the perfect opportunity for you! Not only does the DOD Smart Scholarship cover your college costs, but it also guarantees you a job in the Department of Defense upon graduation.

Keep on reading to learn more about the DOD Smart Scholarship, including what it is, eligibility criteria, how to apply, and more!

Also see: Top STEM scholarships

What is the DoD Smart Scholarship?

Great question! Essentially, the DoD SMART Scholarship-for-Service Program provides chosen STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) students full-ride scholarships to a participating university and guarantees them a job with the Department of Defense (DoD) upon graduation. For each year a student receives full funding for school, they commit to an extra year working for the DoD.

After graduating, SMART Scholars will enter these well-paying DoD jobs, and once they finish their required years of working for the DoD (based on how many years you received funding), they have the option to continue working for the DoD or can pursue opportunities elsewhere.

Check out their “About” page or this detailed and illustrated video of a SMART Scholar’s journey to find out more about the program! Okay, now let’s talk eligibility! 

Eligibility criteria

The list of requirements below might seem like a lot, but we assure you it’s really not too bad. Keep in mind that some of the things below only apply to certain groups of students. Be sure to identify whether you are a graduate student applying to this, an undergrad applying for one year of funding or an undergrad applying for multiple years of funding. 

To apply for the DOD SMART Scholarship, applicants must:

  • Be a citizen of the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, or the United Kingdom at the time of application
  • Be 18 years or older as of August 1, 2024
  • Request at least 1 year of degree funding prior to graduation (which starts at the program start date)
  • Be able to maintain a security clearance (If you do not have security clearance, that is okay and will be something you obtain)
  • Complete at least one summer internship at a DoD facility (multi-year scholars only)
  • Commit to employment with the DoD after graduation
  • Be pursuing a technical undergraduate or graduate degree in one of the 24 approved STEM disciplines (see “What kind of STEM?” below for specifics)
  • Have a minimum cumulative 3.0 GPA on a 4.0 scale
  • Be enrolled at a regionally accredited U.S. college or university at the time of application (if a college undergraduate)
  • If a graduate student, be accepted and enrolled at a regionally accredited U.S. college or university by the start of the program

And that’s it – everything you need to be eligible for a DOD SMART Scholarship. Before we move on, though, what kind of STEM can you study to be eligible?

What kind of STEM?

These are the 24 STEM disciplines you can study to be eligible for a SMART Scholarship:

  • Aeronautical and Astronautical Engineering
  • Biosciences
  • Biomedical Engineering
  • Chemical Engineering
  • Chemistry
  • Civil Engineering
  • Cognitive, Neural, and Behavioral Sciences
  • Computer Science and Engineering
  • Cybersecurity
  • Data Science and Analytics
  • Electrical Engineering
  • Environmental Sciences
  • Geosciences
  • Industrial and Systems Engineering 
  • Information Sciences
  • Materials Science and Engineering
  • Mathematics
  • Mechanical Engineering
  • Naval Architecture and Ocean Engineering
  • Nuclear Engineering
  • Oceanography
  • Operations Research
  • Physics 
  • Software engineering

Now that we’ve got the basics covered, let’s get to the most important part – applying!

How do I apply for the DOD Smart Scholarship?

The application for a SMART Scholarship is a little extensive. So, to make it as easy as possible, we’ve laid out some important things to know – including the application timeline (when the application window is open) and what materials you’ll need to submit. 

Let’s get into it!

Application timeline 

No matter what year you’re planning on applying for the SMART Scholarship, it’s important to know that the application window is open from August to December every year. Thus, all required materials must be submitted and all supporting materials (like reference letters) received by December 1st at 5 pm EST.

After this, selection committees will review and rank applications within each STEM field. Those chosen as semi-finalists will receive notice of this in February, and applications will be reviewed once again to determine finalists. Then, if selected to be a SMART Scholar, you will be notified the following spring (usually in April).

Before you get to this step, though, you’ll need to know what materials to submit.

Required materials

Before you turn in anything, though, let’s go over what you’ll need to apply. Here’s what needs to be submitted to successfully apply for the DOD SMART Scholarship (keep in mind that most of these are to be completed on the application itself):

  • References (min of 2, max of 5) – you can list your references on your application and they’ll be able to submit their reference letters directly
  • Resume 
  • Transcripts 
  • Personal Statement
  • And, of course, remember to finish all sections of your application!

For more details on each application section and what you’ll need to submit, check out the scholarship page.

How to plan for a Smart Scholarship

Although you may have already received a SMART Scholarship, there are a few things you should keep in mind (so that you don’t lose your funding!).

One of the major eligibility criteria for the scholarship is that applicants are full-time students at a regionally accredited universities within the U.S.. Remember, it is important that you keep this status throughout your time in college!

If you plan on either interning or doing research off-campus, or studying abroad during your time in college, there are a few things to remember. First, for all of these opportunities, you must first receive written approval from the SMART program.

Additionally, in the case of interning or researching off-campus, you must stay officially enrolled at your college. As you earn academic credit through your internship or research, you cannot be paid. 

Alternatively, if you’re thinking of studying abroad, your program must meet the following criteria:

  • The curriculum must contribute to the completion of your degree requirements
  • Your participation in the program must not interfere with your graduation date or post-graduate employment start date
  • The program must not interfere with your ability to complete a DoD internship or post-graduation employment
  • You must maintain full-time enrollment status while studying abroad
  • Tuition for your study abroad program must be paid to your U.S. institution where you are already received funds (from the SMART Scholarship)
  • The program must not impact your eligibility to keep the security clearance required for the DOD internship or post-graduation employment 

Although this may all seem like a lot, the DOD Smart Scholarship is a great opportunity. Thus, we highly recommend you don’t lose your chance to participate in the program by losing your full-time enrollment status during college (or otherwise failing to meet the eligibility criteria).

If you have not yet applied for the scholarship, but are planning on doing any of the things listed above (interning/researching off-campus or studying abroad), just keep in mind that you may have to be flexible and be open to the possibility that your plans will change. However, we hope that you will be able to keep the scholarship all while staying true to your college plans.

Available awards

Now, for something more positive, let’s talk about the scholarship benefits/awards! The DOD Smart Scholarship is an incredibly prestigious scholarship, and thus, the awards are quite generous. 

If you are chosen as a SMART Scholar, here are the awards you will receive:

  • Payment of your full tuition + room and board costs at your university (no matter the cost!)
  • A stipend costing between $30,000 – $46,000 per year (varies by degree level)
  • Summer internship(s) lasting 8 – 12 weeks (Multi-year students only)
  • Health insurance allowance
  • Book allowance 
  • An experienced mentor at a DoD facility
  • Employment at a DoD facility upon graduation

Profile of accepted students (2023)

Those awards sound great, right? So, curious about your chances of becoming a SMART Scholar? While we can’t give you your exact chances, we can provide you some insight on what stats normally get students chosen.

Here’s some useful data on chosen students for the program from 2023:

  • 15% of applicants received the SMART Scholarship
  • Average GPA: 3.74
  • Of those chosen: 51% were pursuing a Bachelor’s degree, 12% were pursuing a joint Bachelor’s-Master’s, 14% were Master’s students, and 23% were making progress toward a Ph.D

While we did not list average test scores, keep in mind that SAT/ACT scores may or may not be required every year (e.g. they were not required in 2020 due to limited testing capacity), so we recommend checking. However, if you feel that you did well on the exams, it can never hurt to send them in anyway.

As for the GRE, it is completely optional to submit and choosing not to will not impact the evaluation of your application. 

Learn more: What is a high SAT score?

Ronald V. Dellums Memorial SMART Scholarship

Before we wrap up, we want to tell you about the newest addition to the DoD SMART Scholarship family. The Ronald V. Dellums Memorial SMART Scholarship is similar to the SMART Scholarship, however the difference is that the Dellums scholarship is intended for highschool seniors to apply to. In particular, this scholarship aims to support underrepresented students. Students interested in this scholarship should begin applying and researching the application materials sooner rather than later, as the application process can be quite time consuming and begins a year before you’ll be using the funding. 

Additional resources

If you have any additional questions about the DOD Smart Scholarship, we recommend checking out these useful sources:

And with that, we’re done! We hope that this has all helped you get a better overview of what the DOD SMART Scholarship is, and we wish you good luck if you plan on applying!

Keep reading: How to write a winning scholarship essay

Key Takeaways

Key Takeaways

  • The DoD SMART Scholarship is a highly competitive award for students majoring in STEM fields
  • This program provides students with full tuition coverage and other benefits in exchange for a work commitment after they graduate
  • The application for this program should be completed roughly a year before you’ll actually use the funding. If you want to be a part of this program, you need to apply in the fall for funding the following year
  • If you are in highschool, you should look into the Dellums Scholarship, as you will be able to apply through that program right out of highschool
Key Takeaways

Frequently asked questions about the DoD SMART Scholarship

How many people get the SMART Scholarship?

The number of people awarded the SMART Scholarship changes each year based on the needs of the Department of Defense. In 2023, there were 468 students that received awards. Because the number of awards given can change each year, some years may be more competitive than others.

Is the SMART scholarship legit?

The SMART scholarship may seem too good to be true, but it is one hundred percent legit. Being chosen as a SMART scholar is a huge honor. This scholarship is not just an award amount that you receive. It’s also a future job and offers priceless experiences for your future!

What GPA do you need for the SMART scholarship?

The application pool changes slightly each year for the SMART scholarship, which means the average GPA will also slightly fluctuate. In 2023, the average GPA was 3.74, and in 2022, the average was 3.75. In general, you should plan on trying to keep your GPA as high as possible. Once you’re in the program, you will have to maintain at least a 3.0.