How I got over $9k in SANS training for free as a broke college student

How I got over $9k in SANS training for free as a broke college student

The National Cyber Scholarship Foundation gives out over $14 million in training each year. To get your slice of the pie you need to become a Scholar ($3k of free training) or a Scholar with Honors ($5k of free training).

What the free training includes:

  • Scholars:
    • SANS Foundations course
    • GIAC GFACT exam attempt
  • Scholars with Honors:
    • All the above and:
      • $500 cash
      • Additional SANS training
      • GIAC GSEC or GCLD exam attempt

GIAC is a globally-recognized, industry-trusted certification organization with dozens of certs ranging across each infosec domain.

The GFACT is a foundational certification, meaning it's for people relatively new to cybersecurity. It's not extremely challenging, yet it is an incredible way to signal your skill, passion, and commitment to recruiters. I've even had recruiters outside of cybersecurity be impressed to see it on my resume.

There are many ways to qualify as a Scholar. As a college student, I qualified through Cyber FastTrack. There is separate program for high schoolers.

To get the Scholar designation you need to score high enough in the gamified CTF challenges (the threshold changes year to year).

To get the Scholar with Honors designation you need to pass a higher score threshold and have passed the GIAC GFACT exam.

Because becoming Scholar with Honors requires you already have the certification, it typically takes two years in the program to qualify. However, you can qualify in just one year if you score in top 50% of Scholars who passed the GFACT exam.

The most important part is to start early

The challenges can be tough! There are NO skill or technical requirements to start, but by the time you reach the difficult levels each problem takes some effort. The trick is to make sure you're staying diligent and progressing regularly.

Don't sweat it. They provide everything you need. The training is more than enough to pass the certification exam and they provide the cloud infrastructure required to solve each challenge.

Did I mention all the exams are open book and SANS mails you the training content automatically?

It's surprisingly powerful to be one of a few college students with multiple industry-recognized certifications. Between the raw skills I've acquired, and the confidence I've gained in presenting myself as a young infosec professional, I'd recommend the program to anyone interested in a career in cyber. I'm amazed it isn't more popular! Good luck.

[This is a guest post by Alex Wang, a rockstar college student in Los Angeles. Follow along Alex's journey at his bonkers personal site]