The Secret to Getting Into NASA's Internship Program

The Secret to Getting Into NASA's Internship Program

Do you dream about what life would be like on Mars and want to sneak into the Ames Research Center? Or have a Hubble Telescope picture of some distant galaxy as your wallpaper? I talked to previous NASA interns and scoured forums for advice on what it takes to get an internship at NASA.

The Inside Scoop on the NASA Internship Program

NASA interns are placed directly onto active teams, working on impactful projects for the company. NASA focuses on giving interns real career experience, as well as a strong foundation in research. Although it seems high pressure, interns don't go in alone: each intern is paired with a mentor involved in their specific research or mission project, who will be their main touchpoint throughout their NASA internship. A former NASA intern I talked to said they really connected with their mentor, who they saw often through daily-standups. At the end of the program, interns present what they've learned and discuss how they have furthered NASA’s mission.

Professional growth is a huge focus of this program. NASA wants their interns to continue developing as leaders and career professionals outside of their internship project. To guide that development, individual NASA facilities provide networking opportunities, lectures, and career advice. Some previous interns learned about laser propulsion and planet imaging. NASA’s JPL outlines their approach, which I’ve found to be representative of most NASA internships, especially interns who are current high school or undergraduate students.

In short, NASA internships are filled with educational opportunities. You’ll be directly working on current missions and projects, and have access to extra learning opportunities if you have the time to attend!

What Opportunities NASA Offers

Undergraduate opportunities

NASA offers internship opportunities for high school students, undergraduates, and graduate students. High school students and undergraduates can apply for traditional internships, which run during the fall, spring, and summer. While it varies by NASA center, NASA lists its internships about six to nine months in advance. For example, summer internships begin popping up in September or October the year before.

In all, around 75% of NASA internships are technical. However, there are internship opportunities for non-engineers as well, which are primarily business or humanities-focused. NASA is looking for interns that can help with communications, education, and legal work. There is also demand for other science domains. This former intern used her skills in biology during her internship.

Some Extra Advice: NASA formerly used a website called OSSI, but this has now turned it into Always use this site for the most up-to-date information about available internships.

Graduate opportunities

Fellowships are a whole ‘nother class of work-experience at NASA. NASA’s fellowships are focused on graduate students pursuing unique NASA-related research. NASA fellowships are also more likely to result in a full-time offer, given the relationship graduate students form with their research and degree-related tasks. For more information, check out NASA’s specific page for fellowship and scholarship information here.

International students

International students, you can apply! You also don't need to be a U.S. Citizen to work for NASA. NASA centers collaborate with different agencies and countries around the world, including countries like Canada, Australia, the UAE, among others. For an updated list, refer to NASA's website. It is encouraged that you attend an accredited college, but this is unnecessary if you have equivalent experience.

Preparing the Perfect NASA Application

Understand the process

There are a lot of eligibility requirements listed in the application. You’ll need to have your GPA and academic transcript ready for upload, and have a letter of recommendation on hand before you can even see what internships are available.

Once you submit your application and get an interview, expect a similar structure to what exists at other high-tech companies. Various NASA career professionals will conduct an initial behavioral phone screen first, followed by a more technical interview with a project manager if you make the second round.

Include the right keywords on your resume

Due to the high volume of applications they receive, NASA recruiters don't have time to read every single one. Therefore, they use software to scrape resumes for certain keywords. This former intern on Reddit suggests directly copying language from the internship description.

Catch the recruiter's attention

In your application and interviews, make sure to showcase how different parts of your personality help you overcome challenges. This is especially important if you’re a high school or undergraduate applicant! The people I talked to all mentioned these three tips:
  • Focus on growth. Don't list all of your competitive awards or the operational experience you have. Instead, talk about the process of achieving and the lessons you’ve learned from successes and failures. This is especially important if you’re a high school or early college applicant and don’t have previous work experience to leverage.
  • Show that you’re ready to improvise. Inventing the future is bound to bring you unexpected challenges, and NASA interviewers ask questions that look for this skill.
  • Talk about your leadership skills, and how you continue to improve them. Since you’ll likely be working on a project with a lengthy timeline, NASA may give you a return offer. They want to see how you can potentially lead the team in the future. This former intern on Quora thinks that older managers are also looking for possible replacements in their interns.
“GPA and experience will get you through the door, grit and improvisation will get you the internship.” Gabrielle Murphy.

You Got The Interview! Now What?

Congrats! You followed the guide and have your first interview with NASA. According to past intern reviews, the process is relatively laid-back. If they chose to speak with you, they probably love your resume and are confident that your background would suit the role.

However, that doesn't mean you shouldn't prepare! Here are a few tips that will help you interview like a pro.

Research the company and role

Understand what you'll be doing, why you want to be there, and how your experiences and values make you a strong asset (to both the position and the culture).

Understanding the culture also means understanding your mission. Everyone has personal beliefs and goals-- what are yours, and how do they align with those of the space agency? Expressing this during the interview will help you stand out from other applicants and paint a full picture of your priorities.

Be personable and enthusiastic

On top of the technical and soft skills you're expected to possess, be sure to develop a rapport with your interviewer. Show them you want to be there and that you're striving to develop personal connections, even before you're employed.

Prepare for a resume deep-dive

NASA is notorious for asking plenty of resume and experience-related questions. Know your resume, including past internships, academic projects, leadership positions, and more in thorough detail. Be ready to talk about how you've attained these experiences and what you learned from them.

Practice, practice, practice

Here are a few questions to get started with:
  • Which is more important: completing a project correctly or on time? Why?
  • Tell me about a time when you were successful in a team environment.
  • Tell me about a time when you used your leadership skills to resolve a conflict.
  • What value would you bring to the team?
  • How does this program fit into your long-term goals?
  • Why do you want to work for NASA?
Geoffrey Nevine — IT Services and IT Consulting

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