The Science and Mathematics Access to Retain Talent (SMART) Grant is a federally funded grant program based on both need and merit. It is something of a contradiction in terms, as grants are typically awarded based solely on financial need. However, the SMART program is unique: it motivates students with financial needs to look further into the future at a career after graduation by pursuing rigorous academic programs, studying high-demand subjects like mathematics or engineering, and maintaining a high GPA while in school.

How SMART Grants Work

As part of the National Defense Education Program, the concept behind the SMART grant is to incentivize an education in STEM disciplines for college students in their third or fourth year of a higher learning program. Among the country’s most comprehensive awards packages, SMART Grant recipients earn benefits across three phases of the education, post-graduation, and service experience. While the grant does not have to be paid back, awardees are committed to working within the Department of Defense (DoD) after graduation as a contingent of the SMART Grant arrangement. This unique agreement is designed to ultimately serve both the student and the DoD by providing financial incentives and advanced training to college candidates to qualify them for lucrative employment in a sustainable field.

There are three distinct phases of the SMART Grant program:

  1. Recipients complete their degree with the help of the grant;
  2. They work with the Department of Defense after graduating; and
  3. They undergo a 10-year monitoring period to track employment.

For national SMART Grant recipients, phase one not only pays for full tuition and fees, but also provides additional support for books and partial health insurance coverage, as well as a monthly stipend for other expenses while completing a degree. Also during phase one, SMART scholars take part in immersive internships for the DoD during summer semesters. College graduation kicks off phase two, signifying both the “payback” period of years of service to the DoD as well as the start of the SMART scholar’s professional experience.

SMART scholars are guaranteed employment with the DoD in their field of expertise. Students begin their careers assigned to a relevant lab, and must work for the DoD one year for every year they were in school. In some cases, the DoD will further invest in students who choose to go back to school and pursue an advanced degree. Phase three involves 10 years of employment tracking by the DoD to monitor progress.

Apply for a SMART Grant

The first step in applying to the SMART Grant program is to research which divisions within the DoD you might be interested in. National SMART Grants support 19 STEM-related programs spanning the Army, Navy, Air Force, and other DoD facilities. As employment placement after graduation is a primary benefit of the SMART program, candidates must pursue a major in a specific field, such as mathematics, science, technology, engineering, or foreign languages relevant to international business and national security, at a sponsoring facility. The Department of Defense and SMART Grant offer an online listing of available programs arranged by service, by state, or by STEM field of interest.

Eligibility Requirements

Basic eligibility requirements for all national SMART Grant applicants are as follows:

Concentrations

Pursuing a graduate or undergraduate degree in one of these STEM disciplines.

Citizenship

Be a citizen of the United States, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, or United Kingdom.

Age

18 years or older as of August 1, 2017.

GPA/Grades

Be a student in good standing with a cumulative GPA of at least 3.0 out of 4.0 at the time of award.

Summer Availability

Available to participate in summer internships at DoD laboratories.

Post-Graduation Employment

Willing to accept employment placement with the DoD after graduation.

Students must be eligible for the need-based Pell Grant in order to qualify for national SMART Grants, as well as maintain at least a 3.0 GPA as they pursue and document progress in an eligible program. Additional eligibility requirements may vary slightly from one institution to the next. Once awarded, recipients are required to attend a two-day site visit, before the grant’s start date of August 1, at their sponsoring facility.