Wednesday, June 29, 2016

NUPOC Program Summary

Should I Join the NUPOC Program / Is NUPOC a ‘Good Deal’? 

The NUPOC Program can seem like a daunting proposition.  Just for starters:
-Driving a Multi-Billion Dollar Submarine/Surface ship around the world
-Directing the operation of nuclear power plants
-Being put in charge of enlisted sailors
-Potentially leaving friends and loved ones for extended periods
-Signing a 5-year commitment

In recognition of that, it is both wise and understandable that you want to obtain as much information as possible before making a decision.  The most immediate question for someone interested in the NUPOC Program is likely something to the effect of “Should I do this?”, “How will NUPOC help me?”, “What’s the catch?”, “Is NUPOC really as good of a deal as they made it seem at the career fair?”, etc.  This post will take a stab at addressing these questions and direct you to other resources where you can do more digging on your own.  We also run free no-obligation trips on a monthly basis (typically to San Diego, though not always) to get applicants more acquainted with the jobs they might eventually have.  

Many of you may be attracted to the program based on deep and genuine feelings of patriotism and a desire to serve your country.  This is laudable and I hope that it is true (as it was for me, though I entered the Nuclear Navy via the Naval Academy rather than NUPOC), but I will explain the benefits independently of this or other personal motivations.  Most NUPOC applicants go on to become Submarine Officers (there are 70+ Submarines, so more Officers) so I will be using this path as the baseline for the following summary, but most of this is translatable to the other positions.  For more information on how other positions differ from Submarines, there are separate posts which compare and contrast each -- use the links on the menu bar above.

To start, here’s a quick summary of why NUPOC is a compelling program to exceptional and highly motivated college students and graduates: 
-          Tremendous Leadership Experience & Responsibility – FAST
-          Unparalleled Benefits Package
-          Get paid (quite well) for up to 30 months while completing degree
-          Excellent Pay with guaranteed raises at 2-years and 4-years
-          Presents you with Several Distinct and Excellent Options at 5-year point 
o   Sign a contract to stay in - return to a Ship/Submarine as a Department Head
o   Stay for Shore Duty but do not sign a contract.  Transition after shore duty
o   Transition Immediately to Civilian Employment
§  Government-Funded MBA/JD/MEM and other GradEd opportunities
§  Top Secret Clearance – Very marketable to public sector and government/defense contractors
§  Leverage leadership and technical experience – excellent private sector prospects 


Let’s break each of these down into a bit more detail. 


Leadership Experience / Responsibility. 

A Virginia Class Submarine costs a bit over $2.7 Billion (Fiscal Year 2017 Estimate).  It is commanded by the Commanding Officer (CO) who is assisted by the Executive Officer (XO). Below them are three Nuclear-Trained Department Heads (Navigator (NAV), Weapons Officer (WEPS), and Engineer (ENG)) and a group of roughly 10 Junior Officers (JOs).  When you show up to the boat on the first day there will only be five people who are in higher positions than you!  Having said that, all of the more experienced JOs will be significantly more knowledgeable than you and will help you to get your feet under you and ‘learn the ropes’ so to speak.  You will spend the first several months qualifying to operate the reactor as the Engineering Officer of the Watch (EOOW) and will spend the balance of your first ~year on the boat qualifying to drive the Submarine (first on the surface, then submerged) and learning about all the various weapons and communications systems.  Somewhere between your 12-15 month point, you will probably be awarded your Gold Dolphins which mean you’re fully “Qualified”. 

To summarize, within just a few months of showing up to the Submarine you will be in charge of nuclear reactor plant operations at sea.  Within about a year you will be the Officer of the Deck driving a 2+ Billion Dollar submarine and directing all associated evolutions.  Additionally, almost immediately upon showing up to your submarine you will be put in charge of a “Division” of either Electricians, Mechanics, Electronics Technicians (think Reactor Control / Reactor Safety systems), or Engineering Laboratory Technicians (Dual Mechanic/Chemists) who you will be responsible for with the help of a Chief Petty Officer (an experienced and accomplished enlisted sailor).

These responsibilities are the baseline and based on your performance you are likely to have more added.  In my case, I was the Maintenance Availability Coordinator for a ~6 month shipyard period where my Submarine was undergoing major repairs, was the Quality Assurance Officer (QAO – the guy responsible for ensuring that maintenance to critical systems is completed and retested properly before going back to sea), and was responsible for coordinating the Ship’s entry to and exit from Drydock.  These are just a few examples, and each officer’s experiences will vary, but if you want responsibilities there are many to be had. 

Unparalleled Benefits Package:   (Note that these are military-wide and not NUPOC-specific)

This one is pretty easy to talk about.  You have free medical/dental coverage and either free or nearly free healthcare for dependents.  In addition to the normal 401k option offered by most companies, you can also retire with a set benefit pension 20 years after starting active service (NUPOC time in school counts towards this, so if you join as a Sophomore you could have 3  of the 20 years to retirement already completed before you even show up to Nuclear Power School!).  You get subsidized life insurance (SGLI).  You will be a veteran, which brings with it many significant benefits in terms of hiring practices, school admissions, etc.  You will earn GI Bill benefits along with the Yellow Ribbon Program which means that you can go and pursue almost any graduate opportunity you’re interested in later at no cost.  If you stay in long enough, you could alternatively choose to give your GI Bill benefits to a (future) child and avoid paying out of pocket for their education down the road.  You can get a reduced interest mortgage with no down payment and no mortgage insurance (I’m literally doing this right now – closing on a house in about a month) via the Dept. of Veterans Affairs.  I’m sure I’m missing some things, but this should give you an idea. 
One less positive note --- there will not be 401k matching contributions in the Navy until January of 2018, though I think this downside is easily outweighed by the other points I noted.      

Get Paid (Quite Well) for up to 30 Months While Completing Degree:
If anyone else provides compensation anywhere close to this program for students in college they’ve been very secretive about it…

Once accepted to the NUPOC program you become “Active Duty” but your only real responsibility is to finish school and get good grades (along with staying in shape and not doing illicit drugs).  The Navy is basically paying you up front because they want to make the program compelling to top-tier talent coming out of college.  You’re getting paid to be smart.  I’ll summarize what you can expect to receive:

-          You’ll get paid as an “E-6”.  That is to say the 6th level of the Enlisted pay scale
-          Your pay in NUPOC has 3 main components:   (see links below and at right)
o   Base Pay (Taxable) - $2,435.84/month  (link)
o   BAS (Untaxed) - $367.92/month (same link as Base Pay above)
o   BAH (Untaxed Housing Allowance) - Varies by location.  Ranges from about $1000-4000/month with most areas in the $1250-1750 range. (link; select year and whether you have dependents then find your city)
-          For Submarine / Surface / Naval Reactors Engineer Accessions there is a one-time $15,000 bonus when you get accepted
-          If you refer a friend or classmate to the program after you are accepted you have the opportunity to get promoted (for pay purposes) to E-7 which works out to an additional $400-450/month depending on your location.

I encourage you to do the math for your area, but assuming a relatively low housing allowance (ie. Low cost of living location), this would work out to about $4,000/month for up to 30 months along with a $15,000 bonus and an opportunity to get a raise while still in school.  For high cost of living areas (San Francisco Bay area, NYC, etc) the monthly pay is ~$7,000/month.  And this time counts towards retirement and is earning you GI Bill and other Veterans benefits.

If you want to work or do internships with other organizations while in NUPOC that is entirely fine and actually encouraged if it is Engineering/Technical in nature, just so long as doing so is not a detriment to your studies. 

** Side Note / Quick Plug **
Albert Einstein said that “Compound Interest is the most powerful and least understood force in the universe”.  I believe him to be correct in this.  If you make the long-run average market return of ~9% per year, you will double your money every 8 years.  For perspective, if you save $20,000 at age 20 and invest it at the market return you will have ~$1.28 Million when you’re 68 if you don’t ever save another dime.  If you continue saving, obviously that rises dramatically.  Be smart and wealth can be a choice.

(Disclaimer: There are no guarantees of what future market returns might be, and I'm not telling you that you're going to get rich because of this program -- this is a sidebar public service announcement from me personally to everyone reading this that you should start investing early because the benefits are much greater for saving now vs. starting 15-20 years down the line. I've simplified purposely here to make a point.  Even at a lower return, say 7%, that initial investment would be over half a million at age 68.  That same initial investment at age 40 would only be ~$80k.   Do yourself a favor and go do some independent research.)

Excellent Pay with Guaranteed Promotions at 2 years and 4 years after Commissioning:
Once you graduate and complete OCS (ODS for Instructors and Naval Reactors Engineers) you will be commissioned as an Ensign or O-1 paygrade.  You will initially be living in Charleston, SC for Nuclear Power School (NRE's are the exception here - they go to Washington, DC and get a larger housing allowance as a result).  Based on this location you will initially be getting paid a respectable (though short of amazing) ~$60,000/year (a couple thousand more for Submarine Officers who start getting Submarine Pay at Power School -- $230/month or just shy of $3k/year).  Of that only about $36-38,000 is taxable and you won’t be paying anything for medical/dental so this is probably the civilian equivalent of ~$70-75,000 starting pay to go to school.  (As always I encourage you to check with the resources linked here and at the right; also note that all of the calculations below ignore the fact that a hefty chunk of the pay you'll be receiving is tax exempt and that there is no deduction for medical/dental -- each will be the equivalent of a substantially higher civilian salary in terms of "take-home" pay).

Things start to look much sweeter shortly thereafter.  You will automatically promote (assuming you don’t get a DUI or some other very major offense) to Lieutenant Junior Grade (LTJG, O-2 paygrade) at the 2-year point and Lieutenant (LT, O-3 paygrade) at the 4-year point.  Each of these promotions individually adds a little over $11,000 annually to your base pay, along with $150-300/month to your housing allowance depending on your location at that time.  You will also likely be receiving Sea Pay and Sub Pay (look at the bottom of the Pay Scale linked at the right), which is not huge but moves the needle by a few thousand/year. 

All told as a LTJG (2-4 years post-commission) you’ll be receiving about $72-75,000/year if we stick with Charleston BAH (to be conservative; you will be in a different location, and if it is Hawaii, San Diego, DC etc the BAH will be drastically higher).  As a LT (4-5 years) you’ll be receiving about $86-89,000/year (again sticking with Charleston for conservatism).

At your 5 year point – aka the end of your commitment, you can either choose to sign a contract (which starts a $35,000/year bonus on top of other pay each year until it expires), or to stay in for shore duty (which gives you a reduced bonus of $12,500/year until you either leave the Navy or sign a contract), or obviously you could choose to get out altogether. 

Moral of the story: From your 5-year point on you will be making somewhere between $100,000 - $125,000/year if you are in a low cost of living area (which, sadly for me, Memphis, TN definitely is).  If you are in a high cost of living area this can be as much as $35,000/year higher, though you would presumably spend a fair chunk of that on the expensive housing.  There’s also another pay bump at the 6-year point of nearly $500/month for 'time in service', and there is an increase in your housing allowance if you have dependents which I’m ignoring for all of these numbers.  Should you choose to stay in the Navy this continues to rise as your "time in service" increases and you are promoted to Lt. Commander, Commander, Captain, and finally (if you're an all-star!) Admiral.  

These are all rough “back-of-the-envelope” calculations, but each is based on the source documents listed in the links on this web page and backed up by my personal experience and that of many peers who I used to verify this for accuracy.

NUPOC Presents you with Several Distinct and Excellent Options at 5-year point:

In my mind, the most compelling thing about the NUPOC program is the fact that it opens a lot of doors for you. 

Fast-Forward 5 years from your commissioning.  You’ve just completed an ~ 3-year tour on a Submarine (or alternative path for other designators).  You’re being very well compensated and trying to decide what to do next --- a crossroads.  So what are your options? 

Basically, there are 3, and they’re all pretty awesome.  

1.  You can choose to stay in and sign a contract.  Start getting that $35,000 annual bonus on top of your other pay and enjoy a couple of years of shore duty before you go back to a submarine / ship.  You'll be getting paid somewhere between $125,000 - $160,000 depending on where you're stationed.  (They pay you well because work on a submarine / ship is hard and they want excellent officers to stay in and lead the next generation – you’ll appreciate the break!)  This path obviously also will continue to progress you towards a pension at your 20-year point from the day you were accepted by the Admiral into NUPOC, and opens the door to passing your GI Bill benefits on to a child thus avoiding that expense in the future.  It's hard to overstate how good this could set you up ---- but let's just lay it out: assuming you enter directly out of college this means you'll be making well into 6-figures starting at around age 27 until you're 42, at which point you have the option to retire with a full pension and benefits for life as well as free college for one of your children.  Additionally, predicated on you demonstrating competence in your job, you could be the commanding officer of a Submarine as early as ~12 years after this point.  (A reminder: the retirement pension starts at the date of your interview with the Admiral +20 years, so you could receive it as early as age 39 if you maximize your time in NUPOC; I just used the numbers above as a reference example)

2.  You can choose to stay in for shore duty and not sign a contract.  This will give you the smaller bonus ($12,500/year) but also keeps your options open between signing a contract later to stay in or else transitioning out of the Navy. In the meantime, you get paid very well for two years especially in comparison to your hours worked in most shore duty assignments.  If you decide to transition after shore duty, the discussion below for (3) applies.

3.  You can choose to transition out of the Navy immediately after the end of your commitment.  There are really a couple of subordinate choices for this one:

a.       You can use your education benefits to go on to obtain an MBA / JD / MEM / some other Masters Degree or work towards a Ph.D.  I am currently completing a Masters in Finance at Georgetown and intend to go the top-5 MBA route after completing shore duty for what that’s worth as a reference (my wife is a lawyer at a large firm in Pittsburgh, PA which has exactly 0 submarines nearby so signing a contract is not in the cards for me).  Then obviously you would be seeking employment after this additional schooling.  One additional note on the GI Bill + Yellow Ribbon Program: In addition to most schools (including Ivies and other top schools) being entirely covered, there is also a housing allowance and books allowance you will receive to mitigate the opportunity cost of lost income. 

b.      You can transition immediately to civilian employment.  There are many resources available to support you should you choose to go this route, including a variety of Junior Military Officer head-hunters, Junior Officer/Nuclear Officer-specific Career Fairs attended by the top industrial/tech/health/consulting/finance firms in the country, and a strong appetite in Corporate America for technically competent young people with leadership experience.  Some Nuclear Officers go the Civilian Nuclear Energy route via Utilities, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission or other organizations (which is a very good and viable option -- see the forum link (here and to the right), but most do not.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

DC Interviews - Overview and Recommendations

NUPOC Applications are processed on a rolling basis by recruiters throughout the country in coordination with our office at Navy Recruiting Command and the Office of Naval Reactors in Washington DC.  Assuming that your application is accepted at all levels and you meet the medical and security clearance requirements, you will travel to DC for a series of technical interviews with Engineers at Naval Reactors and a final interview with the Director of Naval Reactors (Currently Admiral James Caldwell).

Each month I assess the pool of applicants and assign phone technical interviews to those we plan to send on the next interview trip to DC.  These phone interviews are an internal screen by our office intended to make sure you are in a position to be successful at NR.  Several factors come into play when making these selections:

  • Completed Application - You cannot attend an interview unless the following are complete:
    • Medical Approval (obtained via physical at MEPS)
    • Security Investigation Scheduled (at a minimum)
      • Requires submission of Fingerprints and "SF86" paperwork
    • All application paperwork submitted, and approval to interview given by Naval Reactors (called a "Professional Recommendation" or "ProRec")
  • Number of available interview spots (typically 25-35/month)
  • Graduation Year (all other things equal, preference will be given to graduates or those near graduation)
  • Positions Available
    • We will only bring you to DC if we know there is a job for you if you pass
  • "Needs of the Navy"
    • If there is an acute need for a specific position we will give preference accordingly
  • Academic Merit
    • When we have more applicants ready to interview than available positions, we will give preference based on academic merit, as determined by:
      • Caliber of University
      • GPA and Major/Course of Study
      • SAT/ACT Scores

** A side note regarding interview assignments: We usually interview more people than we have spots initially to end up with the right number after attrition due to late scheduling conflicts or phone interview failures.  On rare occasions the final number is too high and we must push a couple of applicants to the subsequent interview, but we attempt to minimize this and will always ensure that such cases have a spot reserved the following month


The trip to DC involves three days of travel during which we cover lodging and meals.  On the first day, all applicants meet with escorts from our office to discuss an overview of the schedule, answer questions, and perform introductions. Afterward, we go to dinner, and then you're free for the rest of the evening.

The second day is a study day which is held in a conference room at the hotel (you will be staying at a hotel within walking distance of Naval Reactors).  On this day you will receive a short interview from one of the escorts, and a personal interview with the Director of Nuclear Accessions (currently CDR Joseph Campbell).

On the third day, we walk to Naval Reactors and you complete your technical interviews in the morning (two for SUB/SWO/INST applicants; three for NRE applicants), we take you to lunch and then you prepare for and complete the Admiral's interview.  If you do marginally on one of your technical interviews, you might be given an additional interview prior to seeing the Admiral.

A few general recommendations:

1. Study.  In addition to the list of study topics linked to the right (Khan Academy, etc), there is a lot of study material for NUPOC available online.  If there are students at your school who've already been through the process, it may be worthwhile to work with them on preparation.  Also, using video guides to walk through problems can be helpful (you can find many technical interview practice problems on YouTube, for example).  The way such questions are walked through in the videos roughly approximates how you will be expected to answer questions when you are interviewed in DC.

2. Acknowledge that no matter how much you study you might get stumped when you get there. Then accept it and move on. The Engineers who are interviewing you are attempting to assess your ability to be successful in power school and prototype, and to handle potentially stressful situations in a reactor control room later on after your training is completed. Perfection isn't the goal --- but they want to see your problem solving and problem recognition skills.

3. Relax. Meet your fellow applicants and socialize some. You want to be productive, especially during the study day, but aside from some brushing up on weak areas you're not going to have many epiphanies in DC. Get a good night's sleep while you're there, and do the best you can. Leave everything on the field. Don't give up on any problems. If you're stuck -- explain why, what you've done to that point, what you'll do once unstuck, etc. Don't say "Damn, that's a great question you really got me with that one" and then shrug your shoulders --- wrong answer. Perseverance is needed.

4. If you get a 3rd/4th interview don't worry. Most people who are given one end up passing. It's possible you won't be accepted of course, but keep things in perspective. About 75-80% of 3rd interviews get a "yes" from Admiral Caldwell.

5. Be respectful to everyone at the Office of Naval Reactors.  (For the record, I strongly recommend extending this to everyone else you meet in the course of your life)

6. Admiral Caldwell reports to the President of the United States, the Secretary of Energy, and the Chief of Naval Operations -- who used to be the Director of Naval Reactors less than a year ago. No one in the Navy out-ranks him. He's a good guy, but he's not your "bro". When you interview with him, be confident and speak clearly. The interview is short by necessity, but he wants to see that you want to be part of his program, that you will dedicate yourself to doing well and that you bring value. Do your best to convey that without coming off as pretentious or cocky.  He can and has said "yes" to applicants who were not recommended based on their technical interviews, and said "no" to others who were recommended based on this short interaction with you.

7. If there is a blemish on your record (an atypically bad grade, for example) or something out of the ordinary that you get asked about while in DC, be forthright but be sure to take responsibility.  For example, saying that the reason you got a C in Thermodynamics was that your Professor was out to get you or was foreign and you couldn't understand him is a profoundly wrong answer because at the end of the day you are responsible for your performance.  Accountability and responsibility are highly valued in the Naval Nuclear Propulsion Program (and, to my knowledge, most other places as well).  A better response would be one that notes the challenges (time management? heavy courseload? focused on a job to pay for school? family issues? etc) but also highlights what you learned from the experience and how you have used this to be better since (along with - hopefully - the ability to point to improved performance since then).

Feel free to look at some past interview descriptions on Glassdoor.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Nuclear Power School and Nuclear Prototype Instructors

While most of this site's discussion is focused on the Submarine and Surface Warfare career paths, there are also extremely important and rewarding jobs as Instructors which we offer.  I'll give a summary of the positions, a discussion of what is the same and what is different about the Instructor positions from Operational (Subs/Surface) positions, and a discussion of similarities and differences between the two Instructor options.  We conduct orientation trips to Charleston, SC approximately quarterly to provide an opportunity for interested students to get a better feel for what each position involves and to discuss various aspects with current instructors.

Nuclear Power School Instructor:

All Officers and enlisted personnel that will serve on Naval Nuclear Propulsion Plants begin their service with 6 months of intensive technical training at Naval Nuclear Propulsion Training Command --- aka Nuclear Power School (NPS) in Charleston, SC.  In order to ensure that these students gain the requisite knowledge to go forth and be proficient operators and leaders we need exceptional individuals to teach them.  There are two major sources of NPS Instructors:  NUPOC and nuclear-trained personnel who performed at a high level in the operational fleet and have been temporarily reassigned to NPS to teach.  The role of NPS Instructor is focused on the teaching of the academic theory in a classroom environment.

Nuclear Propulsion Training Unit (NPTU) Instructor:

After completing NPS, sailors and Officers are sent to one of the four NPTUs (colloquially "Prototypes") which are split between Ballston Spa, NY (just outside Saratoga Springs) and Charleston, SC.  All Prototype Instructors accessed through the NUPOC Program will work at the two Charleston prototypes (the NY prototypes are run by the Dept. of Energy and Knolls Atomic Power Laboratory).  At prototype personnel are taught to apply the theoretical knowledge they gained at Nuclear Power School to an operational Nuclear Reactor.  Much of this continues to be book learning dedicated to learning how individual systems and components operate, however it gradually shifts to a focus on actually performing operations that are commonly performed at sea.  In this way, sound practices and experience are built up in a controlled environment.

As a Prototype Instructor you have several roles, but most significantly you will provide oversight, guidance and evaluations to Officer students who are learning to stand watch in charge of the reactors -- as Engineering Officer of the Watch (EOOW).  You will also have responsibility for a division of enlisted instructors (mechanics, electricians, electronics technicians or engineering laboratory technicians) along with their associated training and maintenance, much as would be the case on an operational submarine or carrier.

How These Positions are the Same as Submarines/Surface:

- Pay while in NUPOC is the same
- Commissioned as a Naval Officer upon graduation
- Pay structure and promotion structure are the same during 5-year contract
- Can join NUPOC up to 30 months prior to graduation
- Earn GI Bill/Yellow Ribbon and other VA benefits
- Time in NUPOC and as instructor counts towards Navy Retirement at 20 years

How Both Instructor Positions Differ from Submarines/Surface:

- No $15,000 bonus for getting accepted
- Attend Officer Development School (ODS) after graduation, not OCS
- Permanently stationed in Charleston, SC (anecdotally, my favorite east coast city save Annapolis)
- Higher minimum academic standards
- Must have a technical major to be eligible
- At end of 5-year commitment have option to leave Navy or "laterally transfer" to another community in the Navy (ie. Engineering Duty Officer, Human Resources, Intelligence, Cryptology, Meteorology, Medical, Civil Engineering Corps, etc)
- Opportunities exist to complete advanced degrees simultaneous with job (Sub/SWO usually must wait until shore duty based on available time)

How NPS differs from NPTU:

- NPS has standard working hours while NPTU operates based on a shift schedule
  • Like civilian reactors, the day is split into shifts so some times you might be working odd hours at NPTU.  Some like this, others do not.  
- NPS is almost exclusively theory-based classroom instruction
  • NPTU has classroom components, but much of it is practical/applied training
- NPTU Instructor operating time can be applied towards a PE license
  • NPS Instructor time cannot, though you can get teaching certifications which help to open doors to academia -- especially when coupled with the ability to pursue advanced degrees in Charleston and have the GI Bill to use later.

Naval Reactors Engineer

(Unlike the other summaries which I wrote, this is copied directly from a document released by NR)

Duty as an Engineer at Naval Reactors Headquarters

Brief Program History:  

A strong Navy is crucial to the security of the United States, a nation with worldwide interests that receives the vast majority of its trade via transoceanic shipment.  Navy warships are deployed around the world every hour of every day to provide a credible "forward presence," ready to respond on the scene wherever America's interests are threatened.  Nuclear propulsion plays an essential role in this, providing the mobility, flexibility, and endurance that today's Navy requires to meet a growing number of missions.  

The mission of Naval Reactors (NR) is to provide militarily effective nuclear propulsion plants and ensure their safe, reliable, and long-lived operation.  This mission requires the combination of fully trained U.S. Navy men and women with ships that excel in speed, endurance, stealth, and independence from logistics supply chains.  

Presidential Executive Order 12344 codified in 50 U.S.C. sections 2406 and 2511 set forth the total responsibility of NR for all aspects of the Navy's nuclear propulsion, including research, design, construction, testing, operation, maintenance, and ultimate disposition of naval nuclear propulsion plants.  NR's responsibility includes all related facilities, radiological controls, and environmental, safety, and health matters, as well as selection, training, and assignment of personnel.  All of this work is accomplished by a lean network of dedicated research laboratories, nuclear-capable shipyards, equipment contractors and suppliers, and training facilities, which are centrally controlled by a small headquarters staff. 

A leader in environmental protection, the Program has published annual environmental reports since the 1960s, which identify that the Program has not had any adverse effect on human health or the quality of the environment.  Because of the Program's demonstrated reliability, U.S. nuclear-powered warships are welcomed in more than 150 ports of call in over 50 foreign countries and dependencies.

Since USS NAUTILUS (SSN 571) first signaled "Underway on nuclear power" in 1955, our nuclear-powered ships have demonstrated their superiority in defending the country -- from the start of the Cold War, to today's unconventional threats, and beyond to future advances that will ensure the dominance of American seapower well into the future.     

Eligibility Requirements and Service Commitments:

Prospective engineers must be U.S. citizens and be willing to renounce any foreign citizenship they hold if accepted to work at NR.  

Accepting a job at NR incurs a 5-year active duty military service obligation.  NR Engineers are specially selected via the NROTC or NUPOC programs and commission as Ensigns in the U.S. Navy.  Engineers complete their service obligations at NR Headquarters in Washington, D.C. 

What Does the Typical Engineer's Job Entail?:

NR Headquarters is comprised of about 350 engineers who technically manage the Naval Nuclear Propulsion Program (NNPP) under the direction of Admiral James Caldwell, Jr. This headquarters team is responsible for all technical aspects of the NNPP including:

- Overseeing advanced R&D in nuclear propulsion plant concepts, materials and designs
- Developing procedures and equipment specifications for use in naval nuclear propulsion plants
- Overseeing the acquisition, construction, testing and operation of propulsion plants
- Developing & implementing the operations, maintenance and refueling procedures for these plants
- Decommissioning and disposing of the nuclear propulsion plants when phased out of naval use
- Ensuring robust safety standards and radiological controls

To carry out these responsibilities, NR engineers function as technical managers in the following disciplines:

- Reactor design
- Materials development
- Testing and quality control
- Components (valves, heat exchangers, pumps, etc)
- Instrumentation and control
- Shielding
- Reactor physics
- Fluid systems design
- Chemistry and radiological controls

A typical engineer will be responsible for several projects, equipment types or designs.  The engineer has responsibility for technical matters which can entail:

- Reviewing and approving equipment designs
- Allocating project funds
- Technically directing laboratory and contractor efforts
- Ascertaining equipment test requirements and reviewing/approving test results
- Responding to fleet engineering problems by coordinating technical investigations and approving corrective actions
- Determining the scope of work and timelines to support future projects

What are NR's onboarding and training programs for new engineers?

Before moving to Washington, D.C., every engineer is paired with a peer sponsor.  Sponsors ensure that every new engineer has a smooth onboarding experience.

New engineers participate in an extensive nuclear reactor training program designed to provide them with the ability to interact knowledgeably across various technical fields involved in nuclear propulsion work.  Training progresses in the following sequence:

- Ten weeks of classroom instruction in the theory and design of an operational nuclear plant.  Courses are taught by NR engineers with cognizance over the various systems contained in the plant.  This training is part-time and occurs in conjunction with a new engineer's normal duties.

- Two weeks of familiarization training at an operational prototype reactor plant in West Milton, NY or Charleston, SC.

- Six months of full-time graduate-level classroom instruction in nuclear engineering at the Bettis Reactor Engineering School (BRES) in Pittsburgh, PA.

- Three weeks of familiarization training at a nuclear shipyard (Puget Sound Naval Shipyard or Newport News Shipbuilding).

- One week of familiarization training at the Navy's Expended Core Facility in Idaho Falls, ID.

After returning to NR headquarters, engineers participate in an executive development seminar series to explore, in-depth with senior managers, the history and wide range of techniques, practices, and policy used to manage the NNPP.

Do NR engineers utilize their college major?

All NR engineers are trained to become competent nuclear engineers, regardless of their academic backgrounds.  Owing to the wide variety of technical fields involved in NNPP work, the majority of new hires are given positions directly relating to their college major.  Program needs ultimately dictate a new engineer's initial assignment.

Will I wear a uniform to work?

Usually not.  All NR engineers wear civilian clothes to work (ranging from business casual to business formal attire).  Special military events will take place requiring engineers to wear their uniforms.

Do NR engineers travel? 

Engineers occasionally travel to Navy sites or contractor facilities.  Travel frequency can increase as engineers become more experienced and assume greater responsibilities.

Do NR engineers ever go to sea? 

NR engineers typically do not go to sea.  1-3 day ship rides aboard an aircraft carrier or submarine can be arranged for operations familiarization training.  Additionally, some engineers will have the opportunity to participate in sea trials or shipboard propulsion plant testing (1-3 days) as headquarters technical representatives.

What happens when an engineer's five-year service obligation ends? 

All engineers initially sign five-year active duty military contracts.  As these service obligations end, engineers can choose from one of four different career paths:

(1) Leave the Navy but continue to work for NR as a civilian.  Officers completing their service obligations may apply to stay at NR as civilian government employees (DOE or DON).  The majority of transitioning officers go this route.

(2) Stay in the Navy and continue to work for NR.  Near the completion of their military service obligations, engineers may apply to laterally transfer into the NR Engineering Duty Officer (EDO) community.

(3) Leave NR but stay in the Navy.  Near the completion of their military service obligations, engineers may apply to laterally transfer to another officer community within the Navy.

(4) Leave the Navy and NR entirely.  Engineers who have completed their service obligations are free to pursue other employment opportunities.

Can I pursue advanced degrees or a PE while working at NR?  

Yes, NR strongly encourages professional development! Many NR engineers earn a Master's Degree while completing their military service obligations.  Some popular graduate schools with distance learning programs include Duke, Penn State, Old Dominion University, Catholic University, and the Naval Postgraduate School -- all of which offer transfer credits to engineers who have completed BRES.  Some engineers also choose to pursue a PE or Doctoral Degree.

NR provides tuition assistance (separate from Post 9/11 GI Bill or Navy Tuition Assistance) to support the professional development of its workforce.  Many engineers earn a graduate degree without paying any out-of-pocket expenses.


My additional notes:

NRE's have the highest academic standards and must be obtaining a Bachelors of Science (or MS or PhD) in Engineering and be matched to a specific job at NR prior to being brought to the accession interviews in DC.  They DO get the $15,000 bonus, but they may NOT interview until 18 months prior to graduation.

An important note here, even if you are tremendously qualified, you still may not be offered a chance to interview for NRE positions if they do not need someone in your particular area of expertise at that time.  For example, there may be positions available, but they only desire to fill them with Materials and Chemical Engineers.  In this hypothetical, if you were a Mechanical Engineer you would be effectively out of luck at least until circumstances changed.  Getting a "No" when requesting to interview for NRE is not necessarily a pure reflection of your academic credentials.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Choosing between Submarines and Surface:

     As I noted in the text of the “Should I Join the NUPOC Program? / Is NUPOC a good deal?" post, most NUPOC accessions become Submarine Officers.  To flesh that statement out with some rough numbers, we have approximately 250 positions during each Fiscal year of which ~150 are Submarine Officer billets, ~40 are Nuclear Surface Warfare Officer billets, and the remaining 60 are split relatively equally between Nuclear Prototype (NPTU) Instructors, Nuclear Power School (NPS) Instructors and Naval Reactors Engineers (NRE).  NUPOC supplies right around 1/3 (slightly over that, actually) of all Nuclear officers with NROTC and the Naval Academy supplying the balance. 

The large fraction of Submarine officer positions is a consequence of having over 70 submarines, of which nearly twenty have two crews (SSBNs and SSGNs have alternating crews – a later post will discuss an overview of some differences between each of those classes and the “Fast Attack” SSNs which make up the backbone of the Submarine fleet).  Thus officers are needed to man ~90 Submarine nuclear reactors.  By contrast, we have 11 Aircraft Carriers each of which has two reactors for 22 total.  This comparison is not perfect (Aircraft Carrier power plants are larger and require more personnel, for example) but it gives a good idea.

To see the difference between attack and ballistic missile submarines I recommend starting with some videos available on youtube: Ohio Class Ballistic Missile Sub and Virginia Class Attack Sub.

1. Other Classes of US Attack Subs: Los Angeles Class & Seawolf Class 
2. Ohio Class Subs are being replaced by the Columbia Class beginning in the 2020s
3. Ohio Class SSGNs - Missions are similar to Attack Subs (SSNs), but retain dual-crew structure


     There are a lot of videos and resources available on the internet where you can do your own research (some linked here), but I’ll make an attempt to summarize some of the key differences to give you a starting point from which to proceed.  I would point you to the NUPOC Pamphlet linked at the right as a starting point for summaries of all programs as well.

  • Career Path: (Listed Sequentially)
    • Submarines:   
      • Nuclear Power School
      • Nuclear Power Training Unit (Prototype)
      • Submarine Officer Basic Course (Basic Tactical Training)
      • Submarine Junior Officer Tour
      • (Optional) Shore Duty
      • (Optional) Department Head Tour (Nav / Weps / Eng)
      • (Optional) Shore Duty
      • (Optional) Executive Officer (XO) Tour
      • (Optional) Shore Duty
      • (Optional) Commanding Officer (CO) Tour
      • (Optional) Shore Duty
      • Retire? / Variety of Staff Jobs / Squadron Commodore, etc. 
Note: For way more detail, click here.
    • Surface:   
      • Non-Nuclear Surface Junior Officer Tour
      • Nuclear Power School
      • Nuclear Power Training Unit (Prototype)
      • Aircraft Carrier Junior Officer Tour
      • (Optional) Shore Duty
      • Then alternate Sea/Shore positions as indicated for Submarines above, but alternate between Engineering and not

  • More details on the career path for Submarines can be found here and more detail for Surface can be found here.

  • Advantages to Surface (my perspective):
    • You are on the surface (Obvious point, but it is a difference!)
      • Sun, fresh air, ability to walk outside
    • Surface Ships are bigger
      • More / better gym equipment
      • More personal space
    • More consistent Internet access / communications when at sea.
    • Your "division" -- aka the guys who you're in charge of -- will be somewhat larger.  
      • A function of the much larger ship and nuclear plant on carriers
    • Enhanced retention bonuses
      • ONLY relevant if you sign a contract after first 5 years 

  • Advantages to Submarines (my perspective):
    • Tighter-knit crew
      • Smaller; you know everyone
      • Somewhat less rigid Officer/Enlisted separation
    • Submarines (in aggregate) have the smartest enlisted sailors in the Navy
    • Fewer peers, so more ability to seek out responsibilities
      • The flip-side of this is that it will be obvious if you are not pulling your weight, and sometimes responsibilities will seek you out and not the other way around! 
    • Combines Tactical and Engineering in the same sea tour
      • Every Officer on the Submarine (except the "CHOP" aka Supply Officer, but he doesn't count) can and does operate the reactor and drive the boat.  Generally you will start in the Engine Room operating the Reactor and gradually spend more time working with tactical systems and ship driving as you gain experience, but there is often some room for flexibility here.  As a personal anecdote, I enjoyed driving the boat much more than standing Engineering Officer of the Watch (EOOW) and minding the reactor, but several other Officers on my boat had the opposite sentiment.  As such they spent a greater portion of time in the Engineering plant than I did throughout their time on the boat but I spent more time as Officer of the Deck driving the submarine.  This wearing of dual hats contrasts with the relatively binary SWO life (first a conventional ship where you are almost exclusively tactically focused followed by a tour on an Aircraft Carrier where you focus exclusively on Engineering).
    • Generally better food
      • Emeril will not be in the kitchen, and this does vary from Sub to Sub, but generally the food is pretty good given the circumstances.
    • "Submarine Pay" - A bonus incentive pay that you receive starting at Power School
      • Starts at $230/month and rises incrementally to $510 by your 4 year point
      • SUB Pay > SWON Pay by that margin  
      • See this here (scroll to last page after selecting current year)

  • Homeports:
    • Submarines
      • Bangor and Bremerton, WA
      • San Diego, CA
      • Pearl Harbor, HI
      • Guam
      • Groton, CT
      • Norfolk, VA
      • Kings Bay, GA
    • Aircraft Carriers
      • Bremerton, WA
      • San Diego, CA
      • Norfolk, VA
      • Japan

Please note that this is not a comprehensive list of differences.  With a few exceptions, we require applicants to attend a trip to San Diego to get a better sense of the differences between the Submarine and Surface options, so hopefully if you are serious about applying to the NUPOC program this trip will answer your questions in much more thorough detail. 

As always I hope this helps and let me know if anything is unclear or if you would like to see something else addressed.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

NUPOC Program FAQs and Best Practices

** If you have a question that you feel has not been addressed here or is not being addressed by your recruiter (find yours here) please contact me via the comment section at the bottom of the page and I will attempt to address it either individually, by reaching out to your recruiter or by updating this post


Here are a few frequently asked questions from applicants that I will attempt to answer to the best of my ability:

1.  What do I need to Qualify for NUPOC?

Answer:  First a caveat: I'm overly simplifying here.   Having said that the baseline requirements to be eligible for NUPOC are (a) You are an American citizen (b) You either have or are on your way to completing (at least) a bachelor's degree (c) you have completed two semesters of Calculus and two semesters of Physics (d) you are between the ages of 19-29 (waivers are available up to age 35 depending on the circumstance --- ask your officer recruiter).

2.  What are the minimum academic standards to apply for NUPOC / How hard is it to be accepted into NUPOC?

Answer:  First off -- it never hurts to ask your Officer Recruiter to submit a "pre-screen" to see if you qualify.  Having said that, if you're below a 3.0 GPA you probably should save your time unless you're at Harvard/MIT/Stanford etc... and even then you should step up and raise it.  SAT Scores are not technically required because we get a trickle of prior-enlisted applicants who have not taken them, but if your SAT scores are below ~1200 that is likely to be looked askance at (especially if your GPA is marginal; also note that for the SAT we are most concerned about the math portion, and we ignore writing entirely).  I would recommend you take a peek at the profile of NUPOC Accessions which was posted about a week ago as a starting point.  A rough estimate could be the lower bound of the interquartile range less about 10%.

3.  Does College Prestige matter for my NUPOC application?

Answer: Yes. There is a tiered system that is used by our office and Naval Reactors which is not publicly accessible, but it is largely based on publicly available rankings of Universities such as US News and World Report, etc.  There is also some room for discretion by screeners.  So long as you are going to an accredited four-year institution and have good grades you should still apply if you're are interested -- School Prestige is a secondary consideration to performance.

4.  Does my Major matter?

Answer: Yes, but this is negotiable.  For example, I was an Economics Major at the Naval Academy but had taken the required technical courses and done well and easily met all other criteria.  Two interviews ago a Music Composition major was accepted (April 2016) -- this sort of thing is not the norm, but it is still fairly common.  For Instructor and NRE positions your major must be technical (Math/Science/Engineering), but for Submarines and Surface the focus on leadership and broader-spectrum academic ability is larger and if you are a non-technical major but have done well and have good test scores there is a high likelihood that you will be given an opportunity to interview.  You would still need to meet the minimum requirements of 2 semesters of Calculus and Physics --- talk to your officer recruiter for individual cases close to graduation where taking new classes is impossible.  In such instances, if the rest of an application is extremely impressive, waivers might be considered.

5.  Do my class choices matter?

Answer:  Yes.  Most importantly, get good grades in the classes you take.  If all your classes sound like 'underwater basket weaving' or 'Argentinian Women's Studies' it's obviously not going to help your application.  Having said that, as long as you're taking serious coursework and you meet the base requirements for the NUPOC Program of 2 semesters of Calculus and 2 semesters of Physics you can apply.  Nuclear-specific coursework is encouraged if offered at your school but will not give you an explicit advantage.

6. Do my extracurriculars matter?

Answer:  Yes. We're looking for LEADERs and Engineers.  We don't just want mousy brainiacs.  The "Whole Person Concept" applies, and I've seen several people be accepted by the Admiral despite shaky interviews because of very strong personal presence and extracurriculars.  Having said that, this is clearly secondary to the technical/academic ability piece.

7.  When can I apply for NUPOC?

Answer:  For Submarines / Surface / Prototype Instructor / Power School Instructor you can attend an interview in DC up to 30 months prior to graduation.  Thus, for a May graduate, an applicant could attend an interview the December of their Sophomore year at the earliest.  You can start the application process a few months before that obviously to ensure that you are ready to attend an interview as early as possible.  For Naval Reactors Engineer the earliest is 18 months prior to graduation which would work out to the same month but of your Junior year.

8.  How long does a NUPOC application take?

Answer:  Much of this depends on how quickly you complete the paperwork you will be given by your officer recruiter.  If you have medical issues that need to be resolved this can also extend the process a good deal (if you are medically disqualified but interested in Naval Nuclear Power, consider the Civilian Prime Contractors listed towards the bottom right of the homepage: BPMI, BMPC, Naval Nuclear Laboratories). A couple of years ago the average application time was about 6-7 months.  We've been able to reduce that average to about 2-3 months and are continuing to look for ways to streamline the process.

9.  How do I get onto a list for the next Interview in DC?

Answer:  I make the list monthly based on (a) how many spots we have available for the interview -- usually 30-35, (b) what designators/positions are most in demand by the Navy (most Nuclear Officers are Submarine officers so the majority of our interview spots go to them) (c) who has their applications completed.  To expound a bit, to have your application completed for purposes of being ready to interview in DC you need the following items to be done:

     1. Complete your "Program Documents" and submit them to your recruiter.
     2. Complete a physical at MEPS and supply any additional documentation required as needed to obtain medical approval.
     3.  Complete your "SF86" and submit your fingerprints to the Office of Personnel Management in order to commence your security investigation.

In addition to this, in most cases we require applicants to take the trip to San Diego (the "NVIP") to see a Submarine and Surface Ship and interact with Officers in positions they might one day have.  This is able to be waived in specific circumstances, but only rarely.  The trip is free, informative, and does not involve any sort of obligation, so it's a silly thing to try to avoid anyways.  Most people like what they see, but a minority do come away having decided not to pursue the program any further.

10. What is the pass rate in DC? 

Answer:  Averaged over the past several years the pass rate has been right at 90%.  In the past 6 months, this has trended upward slightly, but there can be a good bit of variation from month-to-month.  I've seen it be as high as 96% some months and as low as 80% in others.  Study hard and make sure you aren't in the minority!  (for perspective, the most recent interview on June 22nd had 33 applicants of which 31 were accepted.  This was slightly above average, but in the normal range)

11. Is the Navy NUPOC Program a Scholarship?

Answer: No.  While the purpose of the NUPOC Program is to pay you while in school to let you focus on your studies (and make the program appealing to elite Engineering and other college students so that we only bring in the best applicants), it does not function as a scholarship.  Your pay will go directly into a checking account twice a month and nothing will be given directly to the school.  You can use this to pay for tuition or other expenses as you see fit.

12. Is NUPOC a better deal than NROTC scholarships?  What are the differences?

Answer: It really depends on your situation and your goals going forward.  Below are the advantages as I see them.

Advantages of NROTC scholarships over the NUPOC Program:

     1. Unlike NUPOC which you can enter a maximum of 30 months prior to graduation, you can start an NROTC program when you arrive at a college.
     2. As an NROTC midshipman, you have the option to choose Submarine / Surface Nuclear options but are also able to pursue non-nuclear options such as Pilot, Explosive Ordnance Disposal, Naval Flight Officer and Non-Nuclear Surface Warfare.
     3. In some cases, the cost of your education which is covered by the NROTC scholarship will exceed the amount of pay you would get from NUPOC.

Advantages of the NUPOC Program over NROTC Scholarships:

     1.  Time in NUPOC counts as active duty service
          a. Earn Leave (vacation) days at a rate of 30/year while in school which accumulate
          b. NUPOC time counts towards Retirement (NROTC time does not)
     2. NUPOC is the ONLY path to a job as a Power School or Prototype Instructor
     3. NUPOC requires no special classes, uniforms or drilling once accepted (ROTC does)
     4. NUPOC time counts towards GI Bill benefits
          a. NROTC time doesn't count and actually delays receipt of GI Bill benefits by an additional five years (so you would not receive these benefits in full until 8 years after commissioning).
          b. Naval Academy works the same way as NROTC in this regard
     5. NUPOC pay is more flexible in that it comes to you personally and not directly to your University.
     6. NUPOC allows you to select a particular job immediately upon acceptance to the program, while ROTC does not permit you to choose until your Senior year.

In summary, looking at the short term monetary benefits in a vacuum, the determination as to which is better depends on the cost of tuition and resultant size of your NROTC scholarship vs. your NUPOC Program pay.  Zooming out and looking at the big picture, the other benefits of NUPOC significantly outweigh those of ROTC in most cases, but you should take the time to examine your specific circumstances.  One big caveat, however: NUPOC is only a good deal if you want to do one of the positions we offer (seems obvious, right?!).  If you're interested in the Navy but lukewarm about the Nuclear jobs that we offer and think that Pilot might be more up your alley, then NROTC is probably the ticket.

13. I was excited to do NUPOC but I can't because I can't get my medical clearance (or some other reason).  What are my options?

Answer:  There are a variety of reasons you might be unable to pursue the NUPOC program.  This answer will assume that you meet the academic profile to be considered.  Given that, the most common reason you might not be able to complete an application and go to interview is an issue at MEPs obtaining medical clearance.  If this happens to you, but you are still interested in the Naval Nuclear Propulsion Program, I would recommend you look at the opportunities at our civilian laboratories and design/production facilities, Naval Nuclear Laboratories, and BPMI.

14.  I went to the interview, but was not accepted.  What can I do?  Can I reinterview later?

Answer:  We hope and expect that everyone we bring to DC will be accepted, otherwise we would not bring you that month and would allow you to study longer (for the record, you can always delay to a later interview and should never feel pressure to go a particular month from our office or your recruiter). The reality, however, is that not everyone passes.  In some circumstances, the Admiral will say "No" at the interview, but will leave the door open for you to come back at a set point in the future, for example after another semester or year of classes.  This is most common with applicants early in their academic career who he sees potential in but had some shaky technical interviews, but can happen to anyone.  If you are invited to come back, this will be communicated to you in DC.  Otherwise, the door is shut to second chances at an interview.

Having said that, you are still encouraged to pursue the opportunities at our civilian contractors linked at the right and above in the answer to number 13.  Additionally, you could still pursue opportunities as a Naval Officer in a non-Nuclear community such as Pilot, Naval Flight Officer, Surface Warfare, Navy Civil Engineering Corps and others.  Most of the benefits discussed on this page of being a Nuclear Officer also apply to these other communities, though your actual job would obviously be different.  If you met our screening to come to interview in DC, you are likely to be highly competitive for these alternative options.

15.  Does NUPOC have internships?  I'd be more interested in those b/c I'm still far from graduation.

Answer: Yes and no.  There are a few internships and fellowships available through the Naval Nuclear Propulsion Program (linked at right) such as SULI and a few positions with our civilian design/research laboratories.  The application processes for these are all separate from NUPOC.

The important thing to keep in mind here is that NUPOC will NOT preclude you from doing outside jobs / co-ops / internships / research while you complete your degree.  These could be with us, or outside firms as you see fit.  If you're getting paid in this role that has no impact on your NUPOC pay -- it just means you're receiving two paychecks.  The only time we would ask you to steer clear of activities outside of school is if you are overextending yourself and your academics are clearly suffering as a result.  You should also be forthright with firms you might work about your post-graduation commitments.

16.  If NUPOC is so awesome, why don't more people do it?  

Answer:  First, for perspective, quite a few actually do.  Over 300 applicants attend interviews each year for the NUPOC program.

After that, the three key constraints are (a) building awareness among the target audience, (b) Overcoming the "different" factor, and (c) high competitive standards for the program mean many people who want to pursue it are ineligible.

No one can apply for a program that they don't know about, and there is some initial hesitation to pursue a path that is very different than most of the alternatives applicants might be considering.  On balance, I think the differences for NUPOC are a huge positive, but it takes time and research for individuals to determine if they agree with my assessment in their own unique circumstances.  I also built this website to lower the barrier to entry for finding information about the program, as previously there was no compiled resource.  It is my hope that by making it easy for people to research the program it will facilitate an informed decision to (or not to) pursue an application.

17. What are the downsides of NUPOC?

Answer:  It depends on the position that you are seeking, but I'll give my general take with respect to submarines (my path in the program) --- again with the caveat that this is one man's opinion and intended only as food for thought.  I'm not going to discuss the many positives here because there's quite a bit of discussion of them elsewhere on the site.  I do think they strongly outway any downsides, but this discussion may be valuable for you.

(a) (After graduation) The job is genuinely hard.  Not every single day is filled with mind-wracking challenges, but you will frequently be exposed to new environments, given significant responsibility over people, programs, and systems, and there can be periods of long hours and a lot of stress.  This is especially true while you are qualifying (learning how to do your job when you show up on the submarine), preparing for major inspections or operational examinations, or leading dynamic missions overseas.  I don't really consider the difficulty to be a downside (few things of value are easy, in my experience), but it depends on your perspective.

(b) (If you select Submarines / Surface) Sometimes you will be gone for training or missions.  This is a minority of the time you are attached to the submarine (for me it was ~35% in total) or surface ship, but it's not insignificant.  In most cases, you still have contact via email to friends and loved ones, but if you are on a critical mission overseas where transmitting messages could give away your location, this could be curtailed for a period as well.  I didn't mind this aspect much, and I actually found being at sea to be comfortable and relaxing after I settled into my routine after a couple of days, but this is clearly a difference.

(c) "Duty".  Unlike an office job, not every single person goes home at the end of the day. The enlisted crew (you won't be in this group) is split up into duty sections which rotate and one "section" of sailors remain onboard throughout the night.  At least one and sometimes two officers will stay to be in charge of the Sub/ship and these sailors should something go wrong.  In this role, you are responsible for the submarine and are the Commanding Officer's direct representative.

You are not "working" the whole time.  You're basically there to be the go-to leader if a major event happens.  You also tour the submarine before bed to ensure that nothing is out of the ordinary. Otherwise, you can read, sleep, study, play video games, watch TV, etc -- but you're doing it on the submarine that night.

18. Does the NUPOC program value "diversity"? Do race or gender quotas exist?

In line with the broader military, we do seek a diverse pool of applicants that mirrors the population of the country we serve.  Having said that, diversity never takes precedence over the objective qualification standard that all applicants must meet in order to be accepted.  In all cases, the officer next to you once you are commissioned in the NUPOC program will have gone through the exact same process as you and met the same standard.  We do actively participate in programs with NSBE, AISES, SHPE, SWE, etc, to find qualified applicants of all backgrounds, and we are always looking for ways to build awareness of the program to all qualified potential applicants.

There are some gender limits, but these have no bearing on required qualifications and are purely a function of logistical realities -- for example, Submarine Officer positions only became available to females in the past 5 years and less than half of the 70+ operational submarines have been converted to accommodate both genders.  As such, the number of female Submarine Officer positions is quite limited, but growing gradually as more are converted.

19.  I heard that I can't travel abroad if I'm in NUPOC.  Is this true?

No, that is not true.  I've personally visited over 20 countries while on active duty (about 1/3 were with the Navy, the rest for pleasure on my own dime).  There may be places that you can't go due to concerns with your security clearance or your safety (Iran, Iraq, Syria, China, Russia, Mali, Libya, Egypt, North Korea --- probably off the table for starters), but travel is absolutely permitted.  Once you are accepted, you will need to discuss pending travel plans and will likely have to submit a "chit" which is basically a formal notification of where you are going to be and a request that it be approved, and you will need to watch a couple of basic safety training videos online, but all in all the process is fairly painless.  If you have specific questions and are already in the process of applying you should ask your recruiter.

20.  I'm trying to study for my upcoming interviews, but the list of study topics on this site is vague and doesn't have example problems or answers on it.  How should I focus my studies?  

It's true that the list of study topics (see link on right side of this page) is fairly vague and does not include specific practice questions.  This is on purpose and is the result of specific guidance we have from Naval Reactors.  Having said that, I can provide some general guidance / thoughts on how best to prepare:

(a) Take advantage of individuals who you may know that have already been to an interview.  Pick their mind and see if they have any lessons learned.  You might also practice a couple of interviews with them.

(b) Master your core Calculus and Physics topics.  These classes are prerequisites to apply and are by far the most commonly asked questions during interviews.  Once you are comfortable with these topics then delve into technical aspects of your major and the other topics noted on the list of study topics (buoyancy, electrical circuits, thermodynamics, chemistry, etc).

(c) Review other study material.  Open courseware from MIT, KhanAcademy, YouTube videos walking through technical questions, NUPOC study guides compiled by various universities who have had many applicants come through the interview process, etc.

If you follow this guidance and devote the appropriate amount of time to being prepared for the interviews you should be well-positioned to be successful in DC.  Remember, however, that technically any coursework that you've taken is fair game to be asked about.  If you have an anomalously poor grade in a particular course one of your interviewers may ask a question from that material also.

21.  Do I get BAH and BAS during the training at OCS, Power School, and Prototype?  Or does that not start until after I am done with those training periods?  

As discussed separately on this site, your pay while in NUPOC consists of your "base pay", "BAS", and"BAH".  Once you report to OCS or ODS in Newport, RI, you will have your food and lodging provided free of cost until you graduate, so your food and housing allowances are suspended for the 2-3 months you are there (BAS/BAH respectively).  They resume as soon as you graduate (at the O1 paygrade instead of E6/E7 before starting OCS) and this will continue through the rest of your Navy career.

You will have the option in some cases to live on Navy-provided housing which is "free" but negates your BAH.  I never did this (or even seriously considered it) because it was always easy to find what I considered to be much more appealing options (ie. Beach > Navy Base) for less than the total BAH amount and thereby bank a substantial sum each month.  I'm just mentioning it because it's an option.  If you meet me in DC, feel free to ask about housing options in Charleston and afterwards.


As I indicated, if there are additional questions related to any aspect of the NUPOC Program that you have which are not addressed here and you are not getting satisfactory answers from your recruiter please feel free to contact me at the portal at the bottom of this site.

Friday, June 3, 2016

Profile of Calendar Year 2016 NUPOC Applicants

Below is a summary of the Academic Profile of NUPOC accessions so far this year (through 5 interviews).  ACT scores are converted to SAT score equivalents based on a conversion chart used for application reviews (which is based on your score's percentile).

We do have applicants who get accepted with GPA's and Test Scores below the averages listed here (1/4 of applicants are obviously below the lower bound of the interquartile ranges, and 1/4 above the upper bound).  At these levels or above you can reasonably expect to be given an opportunity to interview (no promises, that call is not made by me).  If you are below these, you should reach out to your Officer Recruiter (You can find yours here) and request an "Academic Pre-Screen".  This will involve him getting a copy (unofficial is fine at this point) of your transcripts and a screenshot or PDF showing your SAT/ACT scores which he will then forward to our office.  We review it and coordinate with Naval Reactors to determine whether you are academically competitive.  The "whole person concept" comes into account here (we do value your extra-curriculars and leadership positions) as does the caliber of your school and your major.  A 3.0 in Aerospace Engineering at Stanford will probably get a "Yes"; The same GPA in English Literature at a lesser school probably would not.

The moral of the story is that if the program appeals to you and you are willing to study hard if given the opportunity to come to interview, it is worthwhile to reach out to the officer recruiter.  The worst thing that can happen is that you get told "no" after a few short minutes of effort.

Without further ado, here's a snapshot of the data

Total Accessions (as of end of May):

SAT Scores:
Median - 710
Mean - 691
Interquartile Range - 650 - 730

Median - 630
Mean - 632
Interquartile Range - 560 - 690

Median - 3.56
Mean - 3.53
Interquartile Range - 3.28 - 3.72

Major / Course of Study:
Mechanical Engineering - 41
Chemical Engineering - 24
Physics - 16
Chemistry - 8
Aerospace Engineering - 8
Mathematics - 6
Materials Engineering - 5
Electrical Engineering - 5
All Other - 33

Top Producing Universities (2+ Accessions this year):
Brigham Young University
Cal Poly San Luis Obispo
Carnegie Mellon University
Drexel University
Georgia Tech
Grand Valley State University
Iowa State University
Johns Hopkins University
Michigan State University
Oregon State University
Pennsylvania State University
Rice University
Rochester Institute of Technology
Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology
Rowan University
Stanford University
Stevens Institute of Technology
Texas A&M
University of Alabama at Birmingham
University of California Santa Cruz
University of California at Berkeley
University of Cincinnati
University of Florida
University of Illinois at Chicago
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
University of Iowa
University of Maryland at College Park
University of Pennsylvania
University of Pittsburgh
University of South Carolina
University of Tennessee at Knoxville
University of Texas at Austin
University of Utah
University of Washington
University of Wisconsin at Madison
Villanova University
West Virginia University

*Note: if no campus is specified, it is assumed to be the main campus for that University.  In larger University systems where multiple campuses often provide NUPOC Applicants, I specified.