How to Get the US Government to Help Repay Federal Student Loans

A group of smiling student achievers


How to repay federal student loans is on the mind of most students. Every year around October, the federal government provides a 2-week window of opportunity for post-graduate students to apply for the Presidential Management Fellows (PMF) program. PMF is a 2-year opportunity to work for, be mentored, and receive invaluable training at a government agency. But PMF is not the only opportunity for students to work for and gain experience in the federal government. In this article, we will describe all of these programs and why you should watch for these opportunities like a hawk and jump on them.

Every year, thousands of high school, undergraduate, and graduate students apply to private sector companies to learn and gain professional experience to further their careers. President Obama’s Executive Order 13562, entitled “Recruiting and Hiring Students and Recent Graduates,” was designed to provide the government with an opportunity to benefit from this invaluable talent pool. The order also enabled the federal government to develop future generations of federal executives and leaders.

The federal job opportunities for students are even more attractive now, as the general economy is going through fluctuations and uncertainties. Our article on how to get a federal job through networking: The Ultimate Guide goes into more detail about the benefits and advantages of working for the federal government.

The following is a brief description of each of the Pathway programs that are exclusively dedicated to students.

Pathways Internship Program

This internship is a paid one designed to provide students enrolled in a variety of educational institutions, from high school to graduate school, with opportunities to work in an agency for up to one year. During this year, while they are still in school, they learn about federal careers. Within 120 days of the completion of the internship program, the student may be eligible to either become a permanent employee of the federal government or get a 1 to 4 year position. The eligibility and additional information is indicated as part of the job announcement on USAJobs.

Pathways Recent Grads

For students who are about to graduate or who have recently graduated, the Pathways Recent Grads program provides a 1-year full-time opportunity to join the federal government. This program also enables them to obtain at least 40 hours of additional mentoring and training that can help them develop a solid professional career in the federal government. The length of this program can exceed 1 year if the training for the position requires a longer period of time. You must apply within 2 years of completing your degree, although in some special circumstances, veterans may apply within 6 years of completing their service. During this program, the student is assigned a dedicated mentor and will follow a documented career development plan. Additional information about the Internship Program can be found at USAJobs.

Pathways Presidential Management Fellows (PMF) Program

The PMF Program is a federal government leadership development program at the entry level for advanced degree candidates. It is designed to attract to the federal service outstanding citizen scholars from a variety of academic disciplines and career paths. They must have a clear interest in, and commitment to, excellence in the leadership and management of public policies and programs.

In order to qualify for this program, you must have completed an advanced degree during the previous 2 years from the opening date of the program’s announcement date. These fellowships are full-time, paid positions lasting at least 2 years. You will be assigned a mentor and will receive at least 80 hours of training. You will have a development and performance plan, and you will need to be rated at least as “successful” in order to continue in the program. For more details about PMF, visit the Presidential Management Fellows program website.

Where to Look for Pathways Opportunities

Opportunities for student internships with the federal government can be found at USAJobs.gov, as well as on the websites of individual agencies. Here are the links to related career pages of some of the agencies that provide internship programs:


What is Direct Hiring Authority (DHA)?

A direct hire authority is a special hiring authority created to help federal agencies fill vacancies in the competitive service under certain circumstances, such as filling critical skills gaps or overcoming a severe shortage of candidates. DHA expedites hiring by eliminating competitive ranking, rating procedures, and veterans’ preference. Many agencies also use DHA for post-secondary students and recent graduate internship programs. Typically, you will be able to determine if a position is subject to DHA by reading the position announcement. As a student, you are encouraged to attend agencies’ virtual job fairs and proactively inquire about opportunities subject to DHA. In many cases, DHA empowers an agency recruiter to hire you pretty much on the spot.

Federal Student Loan Repayment

Similar to what private sector companies offer as a recruitment and retention incentive to hire the most qualified candidates, the federal government has a government student loans repayment program. Student loan assistance enables agencies to repay federally insured student loans for candidates or current employees of a federal agency. For the details of this program, you can go to the Office of Personnel Management.

An agency can use this incentive of repaying student loans for both full-time and part-time employees who are transitioning to term or permanent employment. That means if you start as a federal intern and then become a term or permanent employee, you can ask for repayment of your student loan as part of your employment negotiation with the agency.

Occasionally, we have student clients whose student loans are so large that they will need a lifetime to repay that burden. This is a strong argument for applying for a Pathways internship with the government. Such an opportunity will not only present you with great training, mentorship, and security but can also make a huge difference to your future financial security.

Challenges to Getting a Federal Job

Whether you are a seasoned executive, veteran, or student, the path to most federal job goes through applying for the job through USAJobs using a federal resume. That resume needs to document your top accomplishments using the Context, Challenge, Action, Results (CCAR) formula. That said, anyone who has logged onto USAJobs and has tried to dissect a federal job announcement can tell you that just reading the different parts of announcements can be cumbersome. Then you have to try to identify all the keywords for which you need to write your CCARs.

But even before investing that time, you would be wise to use a methodology to understand if you are even qualified to apply for a position. Without experience in reading and understanding the announcements, you can easily waste hundreds of hours applying for jobs you will never qualify for. Using our … tool can help in this process.

Even when you are eventually referred for a position, which means you are under consideration, you need to have a clear understanding of the purpose of the behavior-based interviews common at federal agencies.  

How to Overcome the Challenges of Getting a Federal Job

As a shortcut to handling the challenges described above, you can schedule a free 30-minute phone consultation with one our career success managers. She will determine your needs and can provide you with all the tools you need to succeed in getting a federal job. You can choose to get our help with your federal resume, LinkedIn profile, and interview prep, as well as get ongoing career coaching to make sure you are navigating the federal job market in the most competitive way.


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