Are you interested in working for the U.S. government remotely to open up doors to potential federal, state, or local career opportunities in the future? ABPA Institute has a partnership with Virtual Student Federal Services (VSFS) to place students into internships.
VSFS is the federal government’s largest ‘eInternship’ program and the largest digital internship in the world that connects U.S. college students to the work of the federal government, with 55+ agencies and offices participating.
How VSFS works
Each year, federal employees submit project requests between May 1 and June 10. U.S. students apply to their top three VSFS projects from July 1-31 on USAJOBS.gov. VSFS supervisors review applications between August 1-31 and may contact VSFS candidates for a virtual interview. As part of the interview, candidates may be asked to show examples of their expertise and work.
All candidates hear by early September if they have been offered a position.
Students work remotely on projects up to 10 hours per week from September to May and can have a flexible schedule during the school year. Some eInterns work with their academic institutions to receive course credit for their participation with VSFS. Students and mentors typically meet at least once a week to check in, review work and set deadlines.
Virtual Intern duties and responsibilities vary according to the needs of the sponsoring office. Projects may be research-based, focused on human rights, economics or the environment, or they may be technology-oriented, focused on designing web pages or coding. You can work as an infographic designer, a data visualizer, app developer, digital diplomat, press and public outreach liaison, local tutor, translator, social media specialist, blogger and more. There may be an internship opportunity awaiting you as a VSFS e-Intern so you can work on projects that advance the work of government on multiple fronts.
For more details, please review VSFS’ Student and Mentor FAQs.
During the 2018-2019 program, 38 agencies participated, with 590 projects available, 2,800 applicants, and 1,200 eInterns. “It’s an open program that recruits a lot of diverse candidates,” said Bridgett Roddy, a former VSFS coordinator and current Director of Digital Communication (ECA/PASC) at the U.S. Department of State, during a Virtual Student Federal Services Info Session. “Students can work any time, anywhere. We’re seeing that remote work is the way of the future,” said Roddy. “I really, really encourage you to interview because it’s really important to find that right fit.”
“The future of work is virtual, and we can all see that now’s the time to build the virtual capacity of every team,” Nora Dempsey, the State Department’s senior adviser for innovation told the Federal News Network.
“Students have midterms exams and breaks, and mentors have vacations, meetings and other responsibilities. And so flexibly, mentors and students work with each other to make sure they both are really satisfied with some concrete results […] There’s a lot more communication and structure when you’re working virtually than you need to have when you’re working in-person,” Dempsey said.
Agencies such as the Department of Health and Human Services and NASA have seen e-interns apply for jobs after graduating. In addition, at least three employees in each recent Foreign Service class brought into the State Department have been VSFS alumni, or about 10% of each incoming class, according to Dempsey.
Kylie Aoki at VSFS
Kylie Aoki is currently a Virtual Student Federal Service (VSFS) Intern with EducationUSA Armenia and an undergraduate student attending Seton Hall University on the Presidential Scholarship, majoring in Political Science and Philosophy with a minor in Asian Studies. Kylie currently serves as President of Seton Hall University’s Rotaract Club and as the Political Science Academic Ambassador with the Seton Hall University Office of Undergraduate Admission. She is also a Peer-to-Peer facilitator with the Inclusion Alliance, where she is able to teach classes for first-year students and facilitate discussions and understanding of diversity at Seton Hall.
We asked Kylie some questions about her internship experience at VSFS thus far.
How did you find out about VSFS? What is your overall impression of the organization now and its place in the industry/sector?
I found out about VSFS when I was looking for federal government internships and started looking closely at Department of State internships. Overall, I was really surprised that I had never heard of it before and impressed with the amount of positions, projects, and areas of interest that the VSFS covers. Instead of a single internship opportunity, it offered around 400 opportunities, many of which requiring more than one intern. This year, it has only expanded, with over 650 projects which have positions for 1 to 50 interns. This is a great way to get involved and gain experience for students of all levels and interests. It was very overwhelming when I first applied because I wanted to do so many different projects. This program acts as a gateway of sorts to internships in public service that are wide ranging in subject, especially when government internships can be scarce and extremely competitive. Especially in the age of COVID-19, where many in-person internships have been cancelled, this virtual internship experience is an amazing way to gain experience and confidence working virtually.
What is an average day like as an intern?
Each VSFS intern, no matter which project they are chosen by, works around 10 hours a week. I appreciated this because this commitment offers me so many learning opportunities, as well as the flexibility to still focus on my studies, be involved on campus, and even have a part-time job since this is an unpaid internship. An average day for an intern will look different depending on what project you get hired into. When applying for the Virtual Student Federal Service program, you apply to up to 3 projects. This year, prospective interns choose 3 projects out of around 650 projects from different disciplines, government agencies, and with different required skills.
The project I am an intern for is EducationUSA Armenia under the Department of State. We work with high school and undergraduate students who are looking to attend American universities and graduate programs. I taught virtual lessons on writing college admissions essays, interview skills, researching colleges, as well as book discussions. I found my position very flexible and was able to find topics to teach that I was passionate about and spent the majority of time during my internship writing my lessons, creating homework assignments, and holding office hours for students. Because this is a virtual position, emails and virtual meetings were quite common as well. Each project is overseen by an advisor and this helps to shape each internship, and my advisor was an excellent source of structure amid the freedom and flexibility of the job.
Is there anything you find interesting about VSFS that maybe an outsider or someone who isn’t familiar should know? Or maybe an interesting experience you’ve had where you gained insight or awareness?
The main thing that people should be aware of is that VSFS is a range of opportunities, not a single project, and that they offer positions for undergraduate and graduate students. No matter where one is in their educational journey, or what their major is, or what they are interested in, there is probably a project for them. The VSFS offers a unique experience as a virtual internship within the government that helps to grow virtual abilities and skill sets that will only be more in demand with our current crisis.
The chance to work with EducationUSA helped me to build skills and apply them all the way around the world while reinforcing the value and importance of education. The opportunity to advise such smart, passionate students on the next step in their education has been a joy and has reminded me of how similar we all are in the end. Also, I have gained insight into a global work environment that has instilled the skills of being flexible when dealing with anything from a 10 – 14-hour time difference to presenting information virtually, as well as planning and corresponding with teammates online.
Do you have any advice you could give if someone were to get a job at VSFS?
Start early on the application and especially the statement of interest. Also, for me, one of the hardest parts of the application was narrowing down the projects till I decided on the three that I would be applying to. This takes time and one should be intentional about the reason why the projects interest them because it will lend itself to a better statement of interest.
Generally, I would recommend choosing three projects with a common theme. The first year I applied I was all over the place. One project about foreign policy, one about historical research, and the last about writing blog content. The differences between the three projects made writing a cohesive statement of interest challenging. Applying this year, I focused on my interest in education as common to all the projects I applied to. Even if the theme is not as straightforward as education, the motivation of the student towards each project should be similar in order to have application content that applies equally to each position/project of interest. Also, do research in advance for the projects or agencies that oversee the positions one is applying to. This will help inform an applicant’s writing and possible interview.
Finally, pay attention to the desired skills that accompany each project and try to showcase those skills throughout your application, in your statement of interest, and through anecdotes or descriptions in an interview.