NSLI-Y 101: What is the Program?

If you’ve never heard of NSLI-Y and are curious to learn more about how you could earn a full scholarship to study abroad, this is the post for you! I studied abroad in Seoul, South Korea for six weeks in the summer of 2017 as a NSLI-Y scholar!


NSLI-Y stands for National Security Language Initiative for Youth, and it’s a scholarship funded by the U.S. Department of State that aims to “provide opportunities to American youth that will spark a lifetime interest in foreign languages and cultures”. This is a merit-based FULL scholarship that allows students to study less commonly taught languages. By full scholarship, I mean practically everything is covered except for extra spending money and the cost for acquiring a passport. That’s it! The NSLI-Y scholarship covers your flight, housing accommodations, school tuition fees, and visa, and it even includes a stipend for transportation and food.

Languages and Programs

Summer programs last six to eight weeks, while academic year programs last for eight to ten months.

The scholarship sponsors the study of 7 languages in various countries:

  • Arabic: Jordan, Morocco, Oman
  • Bahasa: Indonesia
    • This is a new addition with programs starting in Summer 2018!
  • Chinese (Mandarin): China, Taiwan
  • Hindi: India
  • Korean: South Korea
  • Persian (Tajiki): Tajikistan
  • Russian: Estonia, Latvia, Moldova, Russia
  • Turkish: Turkey


It seems the program applies for funding every 3 years, as I was able to find recent proposal information for 2014 and 2017.

According to NSLI-Y’s 2017 grant proposal for the next few years, the program will accept approximately 590 finalists each year with the following program distributions:

Language Summer

Academic Year


88 15
Bahasa 15

Chinese (Mandarin)

160 28
Hindi 30



80 12
Persian (Tajiki or Farsi) 12


110 15
Turkish 15


According to the 2014 grant proposal for I’m assuming 2014-2017, the program accepted approximately 600 finalists each year with the following program distributions:


Summer Academic Year
Arabic 100


Chinese (Mandarin)

200 30
Hindi 30



65 15
Persian (Tajiki or Farsi) 15




Turkish 35


For 2017, there were 3500+ applicants. With approximately 600 finalists, the acceptance rate was ~17%.

For 2016, there were 3900+ applicants. With approximately 600 finalists, the acceptance rate was ~15%.

Again, these are only approximations! (For the summer program in Korea for 2016, I know there were ~80 finalists, not ~65.)


  • No prior language study necessary!
    • If you are selected for the scholarship, you will be required to study some basics before the program. However, no previous language study is required to apply for the scholarship.
  • U.S. Citizen
  • GPA of 2.5 or higher on a 4.0 scale, or equivalent
  • 15-18 years of age at start of program
    • This was a slight problem for me, as I was too young to apply as a freshman when I first discovered the program. I had to wait an entire year to apply as a sophomore! Although I did not become a semi-finalist when I first applied as a sophomore, I was selected as a finalist when I applied again as a junior!
  • Enrolled in high school at time of application
    • If you’re a senior in high school, you can still apply for both the summer and year programs. You can take a gap year through the NSLI-Y scholarship–in fact, many students have done so!
  • There are a few more specific factors that likely only affect a small percentage of prospective applicants. You can find more info here: http://www.nsliforyouth.org/eligibility/.

Application Process

The application process spans pretty much the entire year preceding the program, and everything is submitted virtually.

August: You can sign up to receive a notification when the application becomes available through NSLI-Y’s website.

The application consists of many elements:

  • Personal Information (Name, Date of Birth, Address, School, Family, etc.)
  • International Experience (if any)
  • Activities, Awards, and Interests
  • Official School Transcript
  • Teacher Recommendation
  • Parent/Legal Guardian Statement
  • Introduction Letter to Host Family and Language Instructors (500 words)
  • Two Essays
    • Essay One: Three reasons why you want to participate in NSLI-Y
    • Essay Two: Choose from one of three topics, each with the general theme of how you dealt with a conflict
  • Language Experience (if any)

October: The application is due, except for the teacher recommendation and parent/legal guardian statement.

November: The teacher recommendation and parent/legal guardian statement are due.

December: Applicants will be notified about their status.

Applicants selected as semi-finalists will need to submit a medical evaluation form and schedule an interview sometime in December to February. (Look out for an upcoming post where I’ll discuss the interview more in-depth and give some tips!) At this point, semifinalists should make sure their passports are valid for at least six months after the program end date (or 18 months if applying for Russian).

February: Medical evaluation forms for semifinalists are due.

March-April: Semi-finalists will be notified of their status. If selected, finalists have one week to formally accept the scholarship and send proof of a valid passport.

April-June: Pre-program preparations!


Whew! Now, if you’ve made it this far, you might be a bit intimidated. Don’t worry–I was too! If you haven’t already, be sure to check out NSLI-Y’s website. The application does require a lot of work, but the possible benefits are most certainly worth it. If you’re passionate and curious about languages and cultural exploration, I wholeheartedly encourage you to apply for NSLI-Y! At the time that I am writing this, I was notified a little over a week ago that I was selected as a finalist. This is just the beginning of my NSLI-Y journey, so please join me for my future adventures!

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