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Pathways Application Guide and FAQs

Pathways Application Guide and FAQs

How To Apply

NASA Pathways vacancy announcements are usually only open on for a short time period – only days, sometimes. We strongly suggest that you build a resume in USAJOBS and gather reference contact information and useful documents in advance. Once the USAJOBS vacancy announcement is posted, you may apply no later than the closing date.

Note: Pathways applicants apply to a general pool of interns for the NASA center they have selected. You cannot apply directly to a SACD-specific Pathways position. For applicants interested in SACD, apply for Pathways positions at NASA Langley Research Center and, once accepted into the larger program, you may reach out to SACD leadership to discuss rotations within the directorate. 

For more on the general NASA application process, visit How to Apply.

Additional resources:
NASA Pathways applicant guide 
NASA Pathways FAQ Video Playlist

How To Create a Saved Search

Note: You may set up a saved search in USAJOBS that is targeted to Pathways vacancies at NASA Langley; you cannot apply directly to a SACD-specific Pathways position. 

Saved searches in USAJOBS will automatically search for jobs based on your criteria and email you when there are new jobs available. You may set up one or multiple Saved Searches that are targeted to our job vacancies. When selecting how often you want to receive email notifications of vacancies that match your search criteria, we recommend ‘Daily’ since SACD jobs often open and close within a week.

Here are the general step-by-step instructions: USAJOBS | How to save a search

Note: For step 3, you may use the following filter to search for Pathways vacancies at NASA Langley:

You may add additional filters. For example, you may only want to be notified about jobs at the GS level(s) you are currently qualified for and/or will soon be qualified for.

a screen shot from USAJobs website showing the GS grade filter

After you are notified of the open vacancy, apply by the vacancy announcement close date.

In the meantime, while you wait for a vacancy announcement to open, we recommend that you build a resume in USAJOBS and gather reference contact information and useful documents, e.g., education transcripts.  

Note: A Saved Search expires after one year.


  • NASA-specific resume tips 
  • General USAJOBS tips: USAJOBS Help Center and USAJOBS FAQs
  • Starting GS grade levels are determined by education level COMPLETED at the time of application: (updated May 2023)
    • For GS-4: Completed at least 30 semester credit hours or at least 45 quarter hours in a certificate program, associate’s or bachelor’s degree program.
    • For GS-5: Completed at least 60 semester credit hours or at least 90 quarter hours in a certificate program or bachelor’s degree program.
    • For GS-6: Completed 90 or more semester credit hours or 135 or more quarter hours in a certificate program or bachelor’s degree program.
    • For GS-7: Accepted into a master’s or Juris Doctor program OR in the first year of a master’s or juris doctor program.
    • For GS-9: Completed one academic year* of a master’s or Juris Doctor program, OR accepted into a doctorate program OR in the first year of a doctorate program.
    • For GS-11: Completed at least one academic year of doctorate-level study.
    • Your responses to the initial application questionnaire will determine the grade for which you will be considered. You will only be considered for the grade level matching your claimed academic level.
  • Use the resume builder in USAJOBS. While it takes some time to create the USAJOBS resume, you may use it for multiple applications. Your USAJOBS resume can also be more detailed than a resume for the private sector. Details help demonstrate how you meet the qualifications and requirements listed in the vacancy announcement. Highlight your accomplishments by using the CCAR method: Context, Challenge, Action, Result.
  • Bookmark or save the job announcement webpage as a .pdf so that, if you get an interview offer, you can refer back to it as you prepare for the interview.
  • You are allowed to negotiate salary. 

*An academic year of graduate education is considered to be the number of credit hours that the school attended has determined to represent 1 academic year of full-time study.

Pay and Promotions

Note: The pay and promotion descriptions that follow are not complete summaries and do not create any legal rights.

Q. What can I expect to be paid as a Pathways intern?

A. The NASA Pathways program is a type of co-op where students intern for at least 640 hours prior to graduation. Generally, Pathways interns work full-time during their rotations and are on Leave Without Pay (LWOP) when they are at school. Pathways interns are civil servants and pay is set by OPM rules. A full-time civil servant position is 80 work hours per two-week pay period (i.e., average 40 hours per week). Learn more about the General Schedule (GS) classification and pay system here. The total salary incorporates the GS base pay plus the locality pay for the Hampton Roads geographic area. To see the total annual salary table for a GS position with SACD, go to the page Salaries & Wages then click ‘[YYYY] GS Pay Tables’ then click the Annual Rate column’s globe icon next to ‘VIRGINIA BEACH-NORFOLK, VA-NC’. Below is a screenshot of the 2023 GS Pay Table with icon circled. A new GS employee is usually hired at step one of the applicable GS grade level.

A screen shot of the 2023 GS Pay Table with a red circle around the globe icon

Q. Why the wide salary range in the vacancy announcement?

A. The salary range is from the lowest grade step 1 to the highest-grade step 10 listed in the vacancy announcement. For example, a SACD vacancy announcement for GS-7 to GS-11 would have a salary range from $47,273 – $90,946 (in 2023). An applicant who just completed their bachelor’s degree with strong academic performance and has no specialized work experience may apply for the GS-7, GS-9, and GS-11 levels within the same announcement but, given their background, would most likely come in as a GS-7 step 1 earning $47,273 (in 2023). 

Q. How do promotions work for Pathways positions? 

A. Pathways interns may promote as they progress through their degree. For example, if you start as an undergraduate with less than 90 credits, a GS-5, and then take courses which push you above 90 credits, you progress to a GS -6. Pathways promotions do cap at GS-11 as a doctoral student but if you have the opportunity to convert after graduation, the promotional potential is typically greater than this. 

If you are selected to convert after graduation, you would then follow the regular civil servant promotion potential. Promotion potential means how high an employee can go without competing for a new position. The vacancy announcement will state the position’s promotion potential. Positions below GS-13 generally have promotion potential of GS-13. That is, after one year in grade, the employee is eligible to be promoted to the next higher grade level without having to reapply to a vacancy announcement and compete again – through GS-13. The supervisor must certify that the employee’s performance is sufficient to perform the duties of the next higher grade at a successful level before the promotion action can occur. 

Q. Is the pay regularly adjusted for inflation?

A. By law, the GS base pay schedule is adjusted annually each January, with an across-the-board pay increase based on nationwide changes in the cost of wages and salaries of private industry workers. That said, the pay increases involve and are dependent on the Federal Employees Pay Comparability Act, the President, and Congress. There have been periods where these regular pay adjustments did not occur.

Other FAQs

Q. What if I am not a STEM major … but I do have relevant work experience? 

A. Your relevant work experience may meet the requirement! Read the vacancy announcement closely. If you are still not sure, you may contact the agency contact center on the vacancy announcement. 

Q. Who reads the USAJOBS resumes?

A. Your resume is reviewed by real people! Our team of staffing specialists evaluates your application against the qualification requirements and hiring managers identify candidates for interview. 

Q. There are no vacancy announcements posted right now … What can I do in the meantime? 

A. You may create your resume in USAJOBS, gather useful documents in advance, and create a “Saved Search” to automatically notify you when a vacancy announcement of interest is posted. Useful documents commonly include education transcripts. You may also gather contact information for your references. Once you see the USAJOBS vacancy announcement is posted, you may apply by the closing date.