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Frequently Asked Questions | Alumni Perspective



There are many people just like you who are looking at our Strategic Intelligence program, wondering what students and alumni would have to say. Now you can know! We asked alumni to answer some frequently asked questions the questions regarding the Strategic Intelligence major and life after college. We hope that the answers below are insightful and helpful to you! If you have further questions, please feel free to contact our program director, Dr. Gordon Middleton, at


What is working in intelligence in the private sector like? What are the primary differences between private and government intelligence jobs?

  •  Private Sector Perspective: I have really enjoyed working in the private sector. I did not intern or ever work for a government intelligence agency, so my experience is all coming from a private sector perspective which makes it a bit difficult for me to fairly compare them. There are a lot of former government employees who work at my company though and they have given me the impression that they prefer working in the private sector. There definitely seems to be more freedom in working for a private company. I have a lot of flexibility and no burdensome oversight, which I prefer. My company supports government contracts and private companies, so I feel like I still get to be a part of the mission to stop the "bad" guys, if you will. Again, I'm not really sure what it's like working for a government agency, but I am really glad that I get to see the results of my work and actually see how my reports/work are helping customers and making an impact. 

  • Government Sector Perspective: For students seeking internships, private sector and government internships processes can be quite different. Government intelligence internships are almost always posted online and usually are submitted about a year in advance to allow for clearance processing. Private sector internship applications vary - anything from being offered an internship on the spot to similar year in advance requirements are possible. Government positions usually come with security clearances, extensive training and tuition assistance towards further education whereas private sector positions may require you to already have all the required training and clearances. Government compensation is competitive with the private sector especially once health insurance, time-off, and retirement options are taken into account.

What is family life like? Is it difficult or frustrating to you or others to not be able to share details of your work?

  • My job has worked out pretty well with my family life. While I can't share sensitive details of my work with my husband, there is flexibility to describe different things that come up at the workplace and I don't feel too restricted in not being able to share everything with him. The job is really flexible with hours and being able to work from home several days each week is also nice. I was definitely really concerned with how the work-life balance would be, but so far it really has worked out well.

Did you consider working for the federal government? What factored into your decision?

  • I did consider working for the federal government, but always leaned more towards the private sector. I visited the CIA and the DIA on field trips through the SI program, and there were a few aspects that seemed like they wouldn't be the right fit for me. I was concerned about the potential impacts on family life from a government job and I was attracted to the flexibility of a private-sector job. 

  • Talking with faculty and alumni who worked for the federal government played a significant role in my decision to seek government employment as they described an interesting career field which dovetailed well with my strengths in analysis, communication, and team work. There are an amazing variety of opportunities within the various government agencies to contribute to a broad range of important national security topics.

What is your favorite part about working in cyber/intelligence? What is your least favorite part?

  • My favorite part of working in cyber specifically is that the threat landscape is always changing and I get to write about different things. Even though I did nothing cyber related at PHC, I was attracted to this job because it meant I could keep growing in new areas and learning after college while applying the intelligence skills I had learned. My least favorite part - I'm not sure. Sometimes I have weeks where it is difficult to be creative and productive. I have grown to understand that those weeks happen to lots of analysts - and sooner or later, I'll get back on track, but sometimes it is hard not to get distracted or even bored on slower weeks. For the most part though, I really enjoy the work - and that is something that I am very grateful to be able to say.

Was it difficult for you to find a job/compete for an internship at either a private or government cyber/intelligence firm/agency?

  • My personal strategy at PHC was to do as many SI classes and special projects early on so that I would have enough experience in order to get internships by junior year. My internships during college were not particularly distinguished but they provided me with really good experiences - I interned with a non-profit focused on looking at radical extremism and a anti-human trafficking agency that gave me a lot of hands on experience. I did apply for several government internships, but did not get them. If you are interested in government internships/jobs, I think the best thing you can do is network a ton (which I'm sure you'll hear this advice a lot). Getting your resume into human hands is the best thing that can happen for those internships. I got my job with a private company through an internship for the summer after I graduated - it was one of the few places that accepted recently graduated students as interns. 

  • The process was fairly intense- over 200 people applied, 30 received writing exercises, 9 people received interviews (there were several rounds of interviews) and then 3 interns were hired. So that was a pretty competitive internship process. It really worked out well though because I was able to accept the job offer at the end of the internship since I had already graduated and was available. So, I guess all that to say, don't be afraid to try to get your foot in the door through an internship after graduating because it can be a great way to get a job- the only way I would have ever been able to work here.

How has your PHC education helped you in your present career?

  • The "education" I received at PHC has helped me greatly in my current career. I use the term "education" broadly - "experience" might be better - because while the classroom work, internships, and projects were all very important for gaining knowledge and skills, it was the networking at PHC (especially with professors) that was the most beneficial. I got my current job from one of my professors - one of the benefits of working in the SI program is that the professors who teach have day-jobs in places you might want to work. In my case, I got an interview with a mentor-professor of mine and ended up working with him for several years (before I got moved to a different contract).

What advice would you give someone who's excited to attend PHC?

  • The advice I would give is simple - go there. Even if you're not in the SI program, PHC provides you with the rigor you need to push yourself to limits you never knew you had and you'll be surrounded by both students and professors who want to see you succeed. Every weekday there's some kind of chapel/Bible study thing (which may not be 'mandatory' anymore), but I'd definitely go everyday - it's a good pick-me-up during the day (especially when test/paper seasons are in town). Best of all, you'll be given the opportunity to engage in the field you want to pursue while still in college (which can give you a leg up if you love it OR show you that you don't like it and give you time to change gears).

What most influenced you at PHC?

  • The greatest influence I had while at PHC has got to be the people there. My wife and I both graduated from PHC in 2010 and while we were both far from home after we got married (stayed in VA), we had a strong network of friends in the area to help us get settled as a young couple. I think most/all PHC grads either prize this synergy and networking or miss it if they're far away from it. While in school, the friends you build will not only push you to succeed in your classes, but they'll help you build memories you won't forget and enjoy the time you have there.

Did you feel like the environment at PHC helped you grow spiritually?

  • The environment helped me grow spiritually because I made that a priority. You will be tempted while you're there to let your relationship with God fall to the wayside in order to do well academically or to spend more time with your peers. Don't do that - get connected with a church while you're there, participate in Bible studies, go to the chapel option for the day, and don't slack on a quiet time. It's more important than your studies. What all grads should be able to say when they graduate from PHC is this: I know God better because I came here. I know I can say that and hope you can too.


What are the top three most important things that I should know before getting involved? 

  1. You will need to work hard: This is obvious. If you're going to succeed at anything, you need to be willing to put in the effort and the hard work. PHC isn't an "easy" college, but it richly rewards those who work hard. 

  2. You will need to learn: You will learn a lot during college. How much you learn is up to you. Be willing to listen twice as much as you speak. Understand that your professors and mentors know more than you do and have 25+ years of experience and wisdom that you don't have. This skill will be useful your entire life: from college to public office. 

  3. You will need to network: PHC offers many great benefits, the primary one being the network of friends and colleagues you will gather. In addition, the PHC SI program does a phenomenal job of creating an environment where you can met and network with individuals who are successful in their fields. Go to those events, reference point number two, and be sure to get their contact information.


What kind of red flags could keep me from getting accepted to the program? I plan on being active on social media, but I understand that a role in Intelligence is quiet work, so would that be an issue? 

  • In terms of red flags, social media wouldn't necessarily be one as long as wisdom is exercised. Colonel Middleton is fond of saying, "Don't post anything you wouldn't want to read on the front page of the Washington Post." It's really that simple. 

  • I would say character would be the biggest deterrent to being accepted. If you have a history of getting into heated debates, behaving in a way that shows you're not exercising wisdom or self control, or develop a reputation that lends itself to questions, then you would have cause for concern. If you exercise wisdom, self control, and are generally on good terms with your peers, you'll be fine. 

  • Of course grades are a factor but if the above is in place, you will already be working on maintaining the GPA necessary to be accepted.


Are there any special pre-requisites that I should be preparing for in order to boost my chances of success? 

  • Polish your writing. A large percentage of being an effective analyst (or leader) involves story telling and effectively communicating your narrative to your boss, your constituents, or whomever you're trying to reach. 

  • Polish your research. You won't have a story to tell if you haven't done your research. As a debater, you are already well on your way to doing this so keep up the good work. 

  • Pursue your interest area. Pick your most favorite special topic (for example, bio-defense, China, illegal aliens smuggling, counterterrorism, proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, etc) or a regional interest (Middle East, Latin America, East Asia, Eastern Europe, etc) and start reading up on it and learning the language of the topic, its issues, and who are viewed as the experts on that topic.


Would this major and perhaps a job afterwards in the Intelligence Community give me enough firsthand experience to have an informed opinion on national security issues and policy if I want to run for public office someday? 

  • If public office is your goal, this would be a solid grounding. However, I wouldn't use this merely as a box to be checked. If you're going to use SI as entry into public office, you will need to "do your time" if you will. To maintain credibility and reliably say "I can speak from experience that x needs to be our national security policy," you need to have had some skin in the game and devoted more than just 3-5 years in working in Intelligence/National Security realm.

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