John S. McCain Strategic Defense Fellows Program

Program Summary

The John S. McCain Strategic Defense Fellows Program is a one-year civilian fellowship program designed to provide leadership development for the commencement of a career track toward senior leadership in the Department of Defense.

John S. McCain

Program Highlights

  • Gain DoD experience in the Office of the Secretary of Defense or the Office of a Military Service Secretary
  • Develop leadership capabilities to flourish into a problem solver, strategic thinker, and future leader
  • Learning and development opportunities
  • Mentorship by a DoD senior leader
  • Potential for a career within the DoD
  • Student loan and relocation incentives

To contact the program office, please email


The John S. McCain Strategic Defense Fellowship Program is a 12-month Department of Defense (DoD) leadership development program for recent advanced degree program graduates from across multiple academic disciplines. Established by the John S. McCain National Defense Authorization Act of Fiscal Year 2019, this program provides the DoD headquarters staff offices with the ability to recruit and develop future leaders from across the United States. Fellows are provided with challenging developmental opportunities and flourish into problem solvers, strategic thinkers, and future leaders. The Program instills a spirit of public service and a commitment to the larger DoD community. Fellows that successfully complete the program are eligible for conversion into a position with the DoD.

Key Fellowship Benefits

  • A full-time job with salary at the GS-10 level
  • Employment benefits (e.g., health, life, dental and vision, Thrift Savings Plan (TSP), paid holidays and leave, and flexible work schedules
  • Additional benefits including public transportation subsidies and telework
  • Program Incentives including Student Loan Repayment and Relocation
  • Professional development and training opportunities
  • The Opportunity to Serve!

Program Requirements

  • Individual Development Plan (IDP)
  • Assignment to a senior-level mentor
  • Formal professional training and development
  • Potential opportunity to non-competitively convert to a permanent Federal Position upon successful completion of the Fellowship

Career Series

  • Miscellaneous Administration and Program Analysis (0301)
  • Foreign Affairs (0130)
  • Operations Research Analysis (1515)
  • Management Analyst (0343)
  • Financial Administration and Program Analysis (0501)
  • Information Technology (2210)
  • Budget Analyst (0560)

Application Period for upcoming Cohort 4 opens on February 27th, 2023 and will close on April 21st, 2023 at 11:59pm.

To apply, please visit the job announcement on USAJOBS.

Please ensure all supporting documents are included in your application. The following supporting documents will need to be complete for the application:

  • Résumé
  • Recommendation Letters and Endorsement Letter
  • Undergraduate and Graduate Unofficial Transcripts
  • Academic Writing Sample
  • Compelling Narrative

Incomplete application package and/or late submissions CANNOT be accepted.

Application Requirements

Applicants are evaluated on their technical and professional excellence, character, commitment to public service, and academic achievement.

  • Advanced Degree – Master’s Degree and above.
  • Passing background and security investigations.
  • Completed application package and supporting documents:
    1. Complete Résumé.
    2. Two letters of recommendation from previous employers, professors, coaches, internship supervisors, volunteer activity leads or work colleagues addressing work ethic, academic ability and any extra-curricular activities.
    3. An endorsement letter from the applicant’s graduate institution (i.e., academic advisor, career counselor, guidance counselor, university dean or professor) addressing the applicant’s academic history and overall character (i.e., no record or honor investigations, plagiarism, accusations, suspension, misconduct, etc.)
    4. Official transcripts of educational achievement at the undergraduate and graduate level. To be eligible, applicants must be recent graduates at the time of application and must apply within 2 years of advanced degree(s) completion. Applicant expecting to graduate within 6 months at the time of application are also eligible to apply.
    5. Provide an academic writing sample (i.e., published articles, dissertation, thesis, etc.)
    6. Provide compelling narratives:
      1. Career goals. Describe your career goals, areas of interest, and how the McCain Fellows Program will help you achieve those goals.
      2. Accomplishments. Describe and provide examples/evidence of any learning, professional, leadership and work accomplishments.
      3. Benefits for the Department of Defense. Describe how your selection benefits the DoD and your motivation for service in the Department.
      4. Essay. Describe what you want to accomplish and achieve during the fellowship.

The McCain Fellows Program Office is honored to welcome such a strong, diverse, and highly driven group of individuals as the program’s third cohort. Each McCain Fellow exemplifies extraordinary qualities which have positioned them to be the best candidates to become future leaders in the Department of Defense.

Cohort 3 Fellows come from a diverse range of academic institutions with different experiences and backgrounds that will shape their contributions to the Department mission.

» Learn more about our current Fellows