Personal Development

SMART Scholarship: How I was paid $25k a year to go to college

The SMART scholarship changed my life. Prior to winning I was flipping cars just to pay my way through college. The scholarship paid for my full tuition. On top of that, I received $25k/year which was paid out in monthly checks of $2,083. It also guaranteed a job for me at the Department of Defense(DoD) after I graduated.

What’s the Catch?
  • Requires that you be currently enrolled in college pursuing a STEM(Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) major
  • Must be a US Citizen
  • Must have at least a 3.0 GPA
  • For every year you accept the award, you must work a year at a DoD facility after graduating. This is a full time paid position as a federal civilian employee.
Acceptable Majors for the Scholarship
  • $25,000/year if pursuing undergraduate degree
  • $33,000/year if pursuing masters degree
  • $38,000/year if pursuing PhD
  • Pays for full tuition (does not include room&board)
  • $1,000/year for textbooks
  • $1200/year towards health insurance
  • Pays an extra $1000/week for summer internships on top of the $2083 monthly stipend
  • Guarantees employment at a safe federal job after graduation

The benefits to this program are simply phenomenal and it definitely accelerated my path towards financial freedom. A lot of people view the mandatory work at a DoD facility(100’s of facilities across the country) as a negative point, but I always saw it as a positive requirement. While my fellow classmates were all worrying about finding jobs. I had no worries, knowing exactly where I would be working after graduation.

Sure, at the start, you don’t make as much money as most private sector positions, but three years out and I was already making $80,000 a year as a civilian mechanical engineer working at the Army Armament Research and Development Engineering Center in Picatinny Arsenal, NJ.

Why I Love My Job
  • Work 40 hours a week, period
  • Get 20 vacation days and 13 sick days a year
  • My workplace is a very family friendly environment where family comes first
  • Don’t have to dress up for work
  • Get to support the Warfighter and the United States of America
  • Work on really cool projects
  • My workplace has a full gym, with a full basketball court in my building
  • My workplace has an 18 hole golf course and a water park
  • My workplace offers a subsidized vanpool service, so I commute to work for free and nap my way to and from work
  • They are very liberal with their snow days – which is awesome!
  • Eligiblility for the AFVclub, where I can reserve 3 bedroom resort stays worldwide for as low as $27/night
  • The federal government will payoff my federal student loans as I work for them
  • Federal Government will match 5% of salary towards retirement TSP (401k)
  • Get a pension and healthcare when I retire
  • Don’t have to worry about being laid off
  • I enjoy what I do and believe in the mission I support

To give you an example of what I do, please watch the video below. I am the Lead Project Officer for this project where we 3D Printed a Grenade Launcher and Fired it. Yea, my job is pretty cool.

My First Published Article.


Article went viral and was republished to well over 300 news sources.
How Competitive is it?

As scholarships go, I think the SMART Scholarship is very obtainable. During my year, 4000 people applied and 300 were awarded the scholarship. That’s about 10% of applicants, which is pretty good. Don’t forget, you can apply every year. I may just have smart friends, but each one of them who has applied for the scholarship, got it.

So, definitely go for it! It is a lengthy application, but absolutely worth it.

Presenting at the Defense Manufacturing Conference 2016

I highly recommend going for this scholarship and I highly recommend working for the government. I love my job and the financial awards from the scholarship definitely accelerated my path towards financial independence, I graduated college with very low student loans(from my first two years without the scholarship) and an overall positive net worth. During summers internships, the scholarship’s $2083/month stipend check is still ongoing in addition to the weekly $1000 payment in internship support. Those two income sources combined is ~$6,000 or $73,000.year salary rate. Not bad for a college intern!

If you do win this scholarship, don’t go buying yourself a fancy car like so many others did, but invest it! With the SMART scholarship funds, I started investing in the stock market, which I then used as seed money for my Real Estate Investing. It’s a great opportunity- and I encourage all who are eligible to apply! Good luck and Godspeed.

For more information and detailed inquiries, check out a forum specifically for the SMART Scholarship at

6 thoughts on “SMART Scholarship: How I was paid $25k a year to go to college

  1. Hi,

    I applied for the scholarship this year and was wondering if you could answer some questions about it. I chose my #1 SF as Picatinny… is all the stuff you talked about related to this center in general or just your specific sector? Are there physicists that work there (I’m majoring in physics and applied math) or is it mainly just engineers? I’m very happy to read such a positive review of the scholarship, congrats!

  2. I know for a fact that physicists do work there as I had a friend who is a physics major win the smart scholarship last year and he’ll start working at Picatinny this summer. Not sure about applied math, but I’m sure with 4,000+ workers at Picatinny, there would be some need for applied math.
    Everything I spoke about speaks to the Scholarship in general. Although in the “why I love my job” section some of that is specific to where I work. As a whole I believe federal employees start with 13 regular days off and 13 sick days off a year; after 3 years, its 20days and 13 sick. After 15 years, its 26 days and 13 sick a year.
    If you come out for a site visit, feel free to message me. I wish you the best of luck, Godspeed.

  3. I really like your post. It sounds like you have really excelled through SMART. Does the DOD always start paying off the Federal loans, or is that only for certain employees and their fields of expertise? Your publication is very interesting. I commend you for your service for our country.

  4. Hi,
    I’m going to be applying for SMART for the next application cycle. What kind of work/professional experiences did you have before that you think gave you an advantage?

    1. Well I actually had already had interned at my sponsoring facility prior to applying for SMART. I also was a Machinist-Apprentice at my Work-Study job on Campus. I think the internship really helped, and I’m sure the Machining Experience was a plus too.
      Although I just had a friend get accepted and all he had was research lab experience.

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