Essays - National Security & Careers in Public Service

The essays on the Boren Awards application are critical to the selection process for Boren Scholars and Fellows. The Boren Awards application process does not have a semi-finalist or interview phase, so everything an applicant would want the selection committee to know should be stated clearly in the essays and other application materials.

Before beginning drafts of the essays, Boren Awards applicants are advised to review the official selection criteria. These include both program design criteria explained in greater detail on the Selecting an Eligible Study Program section of the website, as well as forming the basis for the essay prompts discussed below.

In addition to reviewing the guidance below, applicants can boost their chances of success by watching Boren Awards webinars relevant to their proposed programs and working with their Boren Awards campus representatives early and often throughout the application cycle.

Contents

Essay 1 - National Security

Essay 2 - Motivation & Public Service Careers

Researching Federal Careers

Job Search Support for Boren Award Recipients

Study Plan Summary

Abstract & Methodology (Boren Fellows Only)

Letters of Recommendation

Essay 1 - National Security

The first essay on both the Boren Scholarships and Boren Fellowships applications has a maximum length of 800 words. The essay should be single-spaced, except where spaces are used to separate paragraphs (recommended). The prompt for the first essay is:

Explain the significance of your proposed country, region, and language to U.S. national security. The Boren Awards recognize a broad definition of national security, but you should make a specific, detailed, and focused argument.

The Boren Awards give preference to geographic areas, languages, and fields of study deemed critical to U.S. national security. Applicants proposing study programs that meet those preferences are encouraged to focus their first essay on specific topic(s) related to their academic interests and professional goals. The relevance of those topics to the national security of the United States should be made clear throughout the first essay.

The Boren Awards employ a broad definition of national security that encompasses not only the traditional concepts of national defense, diplomacy, and intelligence matters, but also any topics addressing the challenges facing global society. These include, but are not limited to:

  • Economic development
  • Democracy and governance
  • Environmental sustainability
  • Food security
  • Public health and disease prevention
  • Cybersecurity
  • Migration
  • Trade and commerce
  • Financial regulation
  • Transportation
  • Telecommunications
  • Energy
  • Natural disaster response

The bottom line of the first essay is to argue why U.S. policymakers should be concerned with the national security implications of the issue(s) discussed. Applicants should not feel compelled to make their arguments on topics outside the scope of their academic study. The essay should be written for an educated, generalist audience, avoiding unnecessary subject-specific jargon. Applicants are encouraged to employ persuasive facts and figures in their essay, but these should be easily verifiable. Lengthy quotations, footnotes, or parenthetical citations are not recommended or necessary.

Applicants may extend the scope of their national security argument beyond the country and language they are proposing to study. However, as stated in the prompt, the significance of that country, region, and language to the subject(s) of the essay needs to be stated clearly.

Applicants need not discuss their career plans or research methodology in detail in the first essay, as these are addressed elsewhere in the application. The national security argument made in the first essay should nevertheless complement, not contradict, the career plan described in the second essay.

Essay 2 - Motivation & Public Service Careers

The second essay has a maximum length of 800 words for the Boren Scholarships application, and 1000 words for Boren Fellowships application. The essay should be single-spaced, except where spaces are used to separate paragraphs (recommended). The prompt for the second essay is:

Please discuss the following points in one integrated essay, giving equal attention to each point. You can discuss the points in any order.

  • Think about a previous experience that has led to growth or a personal quality. Reflect upon it and describe how it will assist you in preparing to spend significant time overseas studying a critical foreign language and culture [+ for Fellows: and, if applicable, conducting your proposed research].
  • Explain how the country and language you selected will help you achieve your career goals, including your plans to fulfill the federal service requirement. Be specific. If appropriate, you may also include relevant past academic, extracurricular, volunteer, internship, and professional experiences.
  • As you will be committing to working for the federal government for at least one year, describe what makes you interested in federal service and what you will bring as a leader in the federal workforce.

The purpose of the second essay is twofold: it is an opportunity for applicants to describe their preparation for long-term, immersive overseas study, and to convince selection panelists of their motivation for and commitment to careers in public service.

Applicants will be familiar with essays reflecting on how a previous experience has led to personal growth from applications for degree programs and other scholarships/fellowships. When selecting an experience to highlight in the second essay of the Boren Awards application, applicants should seek to demonstrate their adaptability, resilience, and/or maturity. Although no prior international experience is required for the Boren Awards, the essay should assure selection panelists that the applicant is prepared for the challenges inherent to long-term study and life in a foreign context.

Preference in selection for the Boren Awards will be given to applicants who demonstrate a longer-term commitment to government service than the one-year federal service requirement. It is therefore critical that Boren Awards applicants research career opportunities relevant to their academic interests in the federal government to inform their second essay.

Successful applicants make the case that they are qualified for federal employment with national security responsibilities by relating their relevant professional, academic, extracurricular, and volunteer experience to the duties required in their proposed federal career track. They also show that they understand the hiring processes and necessary qualifications for those positions; i.e. they should explain the short-, medium-, and long-term steps they will take to achieve their professional goals.

It is normal and acceptable for Boren Awards alumni to pursue advanced degrees necessary to their federal career plans prior to fulfilling the one-year federal service requirement. Internships, contract work, and volunteering during the pursuit of those degrees may receive full or partial service credit. Program alumni -- Boren Fellows in particular -- who are interested in pursuing careers in academia should explain how federal government service is integral to their long-term career plans. They should also research the myriad opportunities with federal agencies that require master’s or doctoral degrees, especially with the Department of Defense, Department of State, USAID, and the Intelligence Community. Many analyst, researcher, and instructor positions with the federal government are analogous to similar positions in academia.

ROTC cadets and midshipmen are already on track for federal careers, and will fulfill their commitment to the military and their Boren Awards service requirement concurrently. ROTC applicants for the Boren Scholarships should explain in clear, non-military-specific language how they intend to progress through their careers as officers and any subsequent federal careers they wish to seek. They should emphasize the opportunities they will have to make use of their knowledge of foreign languages and cultures acquired through their Boren Awards grant.

Veterans of the U.S. armed forces have demonstrated a strong commitment to public service and have a unique perspective on national security issues. They are encouraged to apply for Boren Awards, and selection preference will be given to veterans when other factors are equivalent.

Researching Federal Careers

Research on federal careers is critical to a competitive Boren Awards application. Departments and agencies of the federal government have websites devoted to promoting career opportunities to prospective applicants. These resources are written for the layperson and can provide Boren Awards applicants with much of the information they need for the second essay. The data below (derived from the latest NSEP annual report) show the entities of the U.S. government where 3,970 alumni of the National Security Education Program have fulfilled their required federal service. These include positions with the executive, legislative, and judicial branches of government. Links to several of the careers pages of these agencies are embedded in the list below. Additional information on these careers and specific U.S. government programs and initiatives can be found through reputable media outlets and targeted web searches.

When discussing career plans in the second essay, a few additional considerations will help applicants convince selection panelists of their commitment to federal service:

  • Focus on Priority Agencies: Any position with the four priority agencies -- the Department of Defense (civilian or military), the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of State (including USAID), or any element of the Intelligence Community -- will fulfill the Boren Awards service requirement. Other positions with the federal government may fulfill the federal service requirement, but must be approved on a case-by-case basis. Therefore, a career plan that includes consideration of the priority agencies will help to demonstrate the seriousness of an applicant’s commitment to public service.
  • Consider the Odds: Many of the agencies listed below are quite small and specialized, and job openings there are seldom and highly competitive. Larger agencies will post more entry-level positions more often, and are therefore more realistic options to begin a career in public service. Applicants with highly-specialized career ambitions should consider how they may enter federal service, gain a security clearance, and build the experience necessary to achieve those goals.
  • Location Matters: Boren Awards alumni work at locations around the United States and around the world. Many positions are based in one location, but some require frequent travel or even extended overseas postings/deployments. Although alumni may always redirect their career search later, applicants should consider whether they are willing and able to relocate as part of their career. The Washington, DC metro area will have the greatest range of possible employers. Applicants interested in staying near home should research the positions that exist in their local area. The Department of Defense, with its network of military installations, and the Department of Homeland Security, present at every border, airport, and seaport, will offer the greatest range of locations.

Agency

Office

Total by Office

Total by Agency

 

Agricultural Marketing Service

4

 
 

Agriculture Research Service

1

 
 

Economic Research Service

1

 
 

Food Safety and Inspection Service

2

 
 

Foreign Agricultural Service

11

 
 

Forest Service

7

 
 

Natural Resources and Conservation Service

1

 
 

Other: Department of Agriculture

16

 
 

Bureau of Economic Analysis

6

 
 

Bureau of Industry and Security

4

 
 

International Trade Administration

70

 
 

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

13

 
 

Other: Department of Commerce

28

 
 

Combatant Commands

26

 
 

Contractor

335

 
 

Defense Information Systems Agency

2

 
 

Defense Intelligence Agency

108

 
 

Defense Human Resources Activity

19

 
 

Defense Language Institute

12

 
 

Department of the Air Force

54

 
 

Department of the Army

131

 
 

Department of the Navy

124

 
 

Federal Voting Assistance Program

4

 
 

National Defense University

75

 
 

National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency

31

 
 

National Ground Intelligence Center

19

 
 

National Security Agency

63

 
 

Office of the Secretary of Defense

56

 
 

U.S. Marine Corps

21

 
 

Other: Department of Defense

150

 
 

DOE National Laboratory

16

 
 

Energy Information Administration

2

 
 

Federal Energy Regulatory Commission

3

 
 

National Nuclear Security Administration

10

 
 

National Renewable Energy Laboratory

2

 
 

Office of Environmental Management

1

 
 

Office of Intelligence and Counterintelligence

2

 
 

Other: Department of Energy

19

 
 

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

29

 
 

Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services

1

 
 

Contractor

7

 
 

Food and Drug Administration

1

 
 

Indian Health Service

2

 
 

National Institutes of Health

6

 
 

Office of Global Health Affairs

2

 
 

Other: Department of Human Services

22

 
 

U.S. Customs and Border Protection

27

 
 

Federal Emergency Management Agency

49

 
 

Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties

2

 
 

Office of Intelligence and Analysis

3

 
 

Office of Policy

23

 
 

National Protection and Programs Directorate

6

 
 

Secret Service

2

 
 

Transportation Security Administration

27

 
 

U.S. Coast Guard

5

 
 

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services

191

 
 

Other: Department of Homeland Security

54

 
 

Civil Rights Division

2

 
 

Contractor

4

 
 

Drug Enforcement Administration

5

 
 

Federal Bureau of Investigation

30

 
 

Executive Office for Immigration Review

7

 
 

National Security Division

2

 
 

Office of International Affairs

2

 
 

U.S. District Courts

3

 
 

Other: Department of Justice

24

 
 

International Labor Affairs Bureau

6

 
 

Occupational Safety and Health Administration

1

 
 

Other: Department of Labor

5

 
 

Bureau of Administration

10

 
 

Bureau of Conflict and Stabilization Operations

5

 
 

Bureau of Consular Affairs

53

 
 

Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor

17

 
 

Bureau of Diplomatic Security

18

 
 

Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs

33

 
 

Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs

32

 
 

Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs

31

 
 

Bureau of Information Resource Management

1

 
 

Bureau of Intelligence and Research

24

 
 

Bureau of International Information Programs

5

 
 

Bureau for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs

9

 
 

Bureau of International Security and Nonproliferation

9

 
 

Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs

46

 
 

Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs

3

 
 

Bureau of Political-Military Affairs

15

 
 

Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration

12

 
 

Bureau of Public Affairs

10

 
 

Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs

6

 
 

Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs

15

 
 

Contractor

167

 
 

Foreign Service

241

 
 

Bureau of Economic, Energy, and Business Affairs

7

 
 

Office of the Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs

3

 
 

U.S. Mission to the United Nations

6

 
 

Other: State Department

181

 
 

Financial Management Service

1

 
 

Internal Revenue Service

6

 
 

Office of Financial Research

2

 
 

Office of Intelligence and Analysis

7

 
 

Office of International Affairs

7

 
 

Office of the Comptroller of the Currency

2

 
 

Office of Terrorism and Financial Intelligence

2

 
 

Other: Department of Treasury

19

 
 

Office of Management and Budget

7

 
 

National Security Council

3

 
 

Office of the U.S. Trade Representative

4

 
 

Office of the Special Envoy to the Americas

1

 
 

Other: Executive Office

5

 
 

U.S. Court of Appeals

5

 
 

U.S. District Courts

29

 
 

Other : Federal Judiciary

2

 
 

Congressional Budget Office

4

 
 

U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Comm.

3

 
 

Government Accountability Office

10

 
 

Library of Congress (incl. Congressional Research Service)

8

 
 

U.S. House of Representatives

33

 
 

U.S. Senate

35

 
 

Other: Congress

4

 

TOTAL

 

3,970

Job Search Support for Boren Award Recipients

Since 1994, thousands of undergraduate and graduate students have been awarded Boren Scholarships and Fellowships that have launched their careers into the federal workforce. Boren Scholars and Fellows have highly sought-after linguistic and cultural knowledge, as well as subject-matter knowledge, enhanced by their experience overseas. The Boren Awards selection criteria emphasize the importance of commitment to public service because it is ultimately the responsibility of the NSEP award recipient to secure federal employment.

The Boren Awards, an initiative of the National Security Education Program (NSEP), is invested in the professional success of its award recipients. Boren Scholars and Fellows receive numerous advantages in their federal job search, including:

  • NSEP Service Team Support: NSEP has staff members (all former Borens) dedicated to assisting award recipients in identifying and securing national security-related positions in the federal government that take advantage of their linguistic and cultural knowledge, specialized experience, and academic credentials. This support includes resume reviews, career fairs, a mentorship program, and advocacy on behalf of Boren Awards recipients to human resources and hiring officials at U.S. government agencies.
  • Government Job Listings: Boren award recipients gain access to NSEPnet, a special jobs site that includes hundreds of exclusive listings and featured positions in federal government agencies.
  • Non-Competitive Eligibility: Until they fulfill the federal service requirement in full, Boren award recipients are eligible for non-competitive appointments to many federal positions. This allows Boren award recipients to circumvent the standard government hiring process.
  • Federal Employment Seminar: NSEP hosts an annual Federal Employment Seminar for returned Boren award recipients. Over two days in Washington, DC, award recipients receive training on the federal hiring process and network with senior officials from dozens of federal agencies and contractors.
  • Alumni Networking: NSEP does not endorse or sanction the activities of non-Federal organizations. Former award recipients have joined the Boren Forum which is an NSEP alumni association. The Boren Forum connects alumni worldwide through online forums and hosts career fairs, lectures, and networking events in the Washington, DC area.

Study Plan Summary

All Boren Awards-funded programs must include language study as a core element for the duration of the grant. More information on preferred languages and program structure may be found on the Selecting an Eligible Study Program section of the website.

All Boren Awards applicants will have a maximum of 250 words for each segment of their proposed overseas program, as well as alternate-country programs to respond to the following prompts:

Boren Scholars: Describe the basic structure of your proposed Boren-funded program, with particular focus on language acquisition.

Boren Scholarships applicants should use this space to describe their plans for curricular and extracurricular language immersion, including hours per week of formal instruction.

Boren Fellows: Describe the basic structure of your proposed Boren-funded study, with particular focus on language acquisition.

Boren Fellowships applicants in traditional language programs should also describe curricular and extracurricular immersion. Program segments that involve language immersion as part of research, internships, or academic study should characterize how the language will be used, and whether supplemental language courses or tutoring will take place concurrently.

Abstract & Methodology(Boren Fellows Only)

Boren Fellowships are designed to give graduate students flexibility to pursue academic goals, including research related to their degrees, while abroad. The required language elements are described elsewhere, in the study plan summary section.

Only if they elect to include research as an element of their program proposals, Boren Fellowships applicants are encouraged to describe their research and its methodology in greater detail. These boxes are optional, but important to verifying the feasibility of the overseas study plan.

At the beginning of the essays section of the Boren Fellowships application, three boxes that they may use to describe their research:

  • Study Plan Title (25 words maximum)
  • Research Abstract (300 words maximum)
  • Research Methodology (300 words maximum) -- applicants should use this space to describe the institutional affiliations and/or official authorizations that will permit them to conduct their research

This section allows applicants to describe their research in more detail than is required in the first essay on national security or the second essay on public service. Information listed in this section of the application should complement, not contradict, those essays.

Letters of Recommendation

Letters of recommendation are an important element of Boren Awards applications. A well-selected recommender who understands an applicant’s proposed program can reassure selection panelists of their motivation, sincerity, and work ethic.

There are two types of letters of recommendation:

Language Proficiency Evaluation

This optional evaluation is part of the online application. It may be completed by a language instructor who can assess your level in the language you have chosen to study during your Boren-funded program. If you have not yet begun to study the proposed language, your application should not include the language proficiency form. The language professor should assess your language level based the LinguaFolio® Self-Assessment guide and will comment on:

  • Interpretive Listening
  • Interpretive Reading
  • Interpersonal Person-to-Person Communication
  • Presentations - Spoken Production
  • Presentations - Written Production

Letters of Recommendation

Applications for the Boren Scholarships require two standard letters of recommendation. (A third letter of recommendation is optional.)

Applications for the Boren Fellowships require three standard letters of recommendation. If a proposing a research component to their overseas study, at least one letter of recommendation should be from a research advisor at their U.S. institution.

Recommenders should be people who know you well -- this is far more important than their rank within their university/organization. Recommenders may be academic contacts who can speak to your academic, linguistic, and personal preparation for your overseas study or future career, or professional contacts from a job or internship relevant to your future career plans. They should not be family or friends.

Here are a few additional tips to securing the strongest possible recommendations:

  • Give the person adequate time to complete the letter. Recommenders who do not have ample time may neglect valuable details when writing the letter.
  • Explain what the Boren Awards are and why you have decided to apply.
  • Visit potential recommenders during office hours to discuss the award.
  • Provide a resume or short biography along with drafts of your application essays.
  • Send a friendly reminder about the competition to recommenders, if necessary, in order to ensure that letters are completed on time.

Recommendations must be submitted via the online application system. Recommenders are given the following prompts:

  1. How long and in what capacity have you known the applicant?
  2. Please comment on the applicant’s academic, linguistic, and personal preparation for the study abroad program, especially as they relate to Boren Scholarships objectives. If possible, comment on the applicant’s understanding of the relationship between his or her study abroad program and U.S. national security, broadly defined, as well as his or her career interests.
  3. Please add anything else that you think is relevant for the reviewers to know.

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