The SMART scholarship

Thread Starter

Comrade Pingu

Joined Aug 30, 2018
So, to make a long story short, I don't really have the money to keep going to college as-is. My parents announced to me, a month before I headed off to college, that they don't have the money to help out in the slightest with payment, so I'm pretty deep in the hole with debt already. (Not that I'm ungrateful for what my parents have helped me with already—I couldn't afford insulin and other medical supplies without my dad's insurance.)

Most scholarships I can take are absolute jokes. They require an inordinate amount of work for anywhere between $500–$1,500; the disability scholarship at my uni only allows for students to get about $5,000 over their entire academic career. While free money is, indeed, free money, writing a five page essay on how my diabetes has helped me overcome adversity—only for the chance at getting $1,000—isn't really worth it.

But then there's the SMART scholarship offered by the DoD. It gives you full tuition, no matter how much it is, a $25,000 stipend, $1,200 worth of health insurance, and an allowance for books—the catch is that, if you get the scholarship, you're essentially a DoD employee. For every year you spend doing the scholarship, you have to work one year at a sponsoring DoD facility—where you work, and what you work on, is ultimately determined by the DoD; if you accept the program for more than one year, you have to do at least one internship at a sponsoring facility; failure to do all this will result in you having to pay every single penny back to the DoD. Permanent employment at a sponsoring facility is almost guaranteed.

From a career and finance perspective, it's a great deal: You get paid to go to college, get a job in the DoD which—aside from the bureaucracy—is pretty cushy, and pretty damn stable considering how much money they can throw around.

There's a major problem for me here though: from an ethical standpoint, I don't know if I can work in the military—especially if it pertains to weapon systems. Even the most peaceful research you could do in the SMART program—photovoltaics, nanoscience, etc.—could swiftly be put to some sort of tactical use. I don't know what the DoD would want me to work on, but it makes me feel genuinely ill what they could make me work on—nukes, missiles, experimental warcrime machines, and more. (The best bets for me in terms of not making warcrimes are currently the AFRL Kirkland space vehicles directorate, and the ARL DEVCOM sensors and electron devices lab.)

With all that in mind, I'm torn on what to do. If I want to put food on the table, I'll need to be pragmatic; if I want to not help contribute to a mounting list of new military atrocities, I don't know what the hell to do. And moreover, what if I work on something really cool and can't talk about it because of security clearances and all that jazz?

The only real justification I can think of is that my taxes go towards the military, so I might as well use them. (The problem is, of course, there's a difference between being forced to pay some money to them every year versus active participation.)

Sorry if I come across as whiny in this thread. I'm just really torn on what to do.


Joined Mar 30, 2015
So, to make a long story short, I don't really have the money to keep going to college as-is. My parents announced to me, a month before I headed off to college, that they don't have the money to help out in the slightest with payment, so I'm pretty deep in the hole with debt already.
What country are you in?

In the US, the government required me to pay 10's of thousands of dollars per year for my two children and I didn't have any choice in the matter. I wasn't working most of those years because I had to retire early due to an auto accident and it didn't make a difference that I was on a fixed income.

I borrowed money for my first year of college. It scared the crap out of me owing thousands of dollars to someone, so I transferred to a less expensive school and worked to pay my way.


Joined Jul 24, 2018
What country are you in?
If the TS is considering the SMART scholarship, the scholarship stipulates you work for the DoD for as many years as you get the scholarship, so TS probably lives in the US and is a US citizen.

To the TS: you have a little flexibility with the base you choose, if it helps. I am currently in phase II of the scholarship (actually working for the DoD), but when I applied, I had to find several possible bases I would prefer to work at. AFRL, for example, does a significant amount of work in far more areas than just weapons systems, as you've discovered - sensors, RF, semiconductors, photonics, quantum stuff (I don't exactly know because I'm not at AFRL, but a different base), advanced packaging, "trusted and assured microelectronics," and more. And if you find you don't like a specific aspect of the particular job you're in, if you do this, there's plenty of room to move around. At least in the base I work in, I can move to another group, or potentially even transfer to another base if absolutely necessary, if I find I'm really not liking the work.

In regards to the thing about security, that is a very valid concern. It can be very difficult to be on a project and not be able to talk about it beyond what would be considered "vague," so if you're someone who's easily excited about projects you're on, that is definitely something that would be frustrating.

Obviously, I'm not trying to pressure you into applying for SMART; just trying to give a little "reassurance" that not everything the DoD does is weapons systems. The job of the DoD is to "prepare and equip the warfighter" - whether that means developing weapons systems, communications systems, sensors, computational resources, early warning systems, vehicles, armor, applied mathematics/physics/chemistry/biology, or logistics. The only advice I can really give is to think on it, do some research on what bases around the nation do, and determine if you think you could stomach what they work on. AFRL is, in my opinion, a good choice (they were one of the bases I put down on my "preferred bases" list), but ultimately, it's up to you.

Don't be hasty in your decision, but don't delay too long either. It's a good scholarship and, despite the inevitable, painful bureaucracy, the job itself isn't bad either. But if you are facing a moral/ethical quandry regarding it, I personally would definitely stick with my gut if I were you; it's better to not oppose your conscious than to do something that will make you hate yourself.

I don't know if this post helps you at all, but in any case, I wish you good luck!


Joined Dec 2, 2017
If you are "torn" then you are obviously not totally committed to your pacifist philosophy.

Once you work that out, your decision will be easy.


Joined Jun 22, 2022
Hey, I don't know if you'll see this but I had the same thought while working through the SMART application. I'm majoring in nuclear engineering and I really did not want to be doing anything with weapons. I went into my major wanting to focus on the power aspect of the field. I got the scholarship and my SF has been super open about what I will be doing (counterproliferation, thank god). They will give a description of what you'll be working on and if you are comfortable, you can accept it. If not then you can decline. The last thing I thought I would be doing was working for the military, but considering how expensive tuition is, I think it's worth it for me.