What is NSLI-Y?
NSLI-Y stands for National Security Language Initiative for Youth. It’s a merit-based full scholarship from the US State Department that sends American high school students abroad for a summer or year for intensive language study. In 2019, NSLI-Y also launched a virtual program. This page will focus on the NSLI-Y’s study abroad programs, so if you’re interested in more information about the virtual program, check out this site. (The acronym NSLI-Y is often pronounced “niss-lee” or “niss-lee-why” to save the trouble of spelling it out every time!)
Where does NSLI-Y send students? Which languages can you study?
NSLI-Y currently offers programs for 8 languages deemed “critical languages” by the US State Department. These are languages not commonly taught in American schools but are in high demand for many government or international jobs. They are:
- Arabic (Programs in Morocco and Jordan),
- Bahasa Indonesia (Programs in Indonesia),
- Chinese – Mandarin (Programs in China and Taiwan),
- Hindi (Programs in India),
- Korean (Programs in South Korea),
- Persian – Tajik (Programs in Tajikistan),
- Russian (Programs in Russia, Moldova, Latvia, and/or Estonia), and
- Turkish (Programs in Turkey).
DOES THE NSLI-Y SCHOLARSHIP REALLY COVER EVERYTHING?
Yes, it really covers everything! NSLI-Y pays for everything from your travel visa to all your flights to your accommodations during pre-departure orientation (PDO). Participants are also not responsible for their own meals; breakfast, lunch, and dinner are provided by host families and/or host schools.
As part of the NSLI-Y scholarship, participants also usually receive a stipend for use in the host country. The stipend is not substantial, though, as officially, it is meant to be for transportation and communication costs. For souvenir shopping and other personal expenses, participants will need their own money.
NSLI-Y covers expenses for FINALISTS ONLY, however, which means that the costs of your passport and doctor/dentist visits for your medical form (see application process info) will not be covered. These costs are also not reimbursed.
DO YOU HAVE TO HAVE PRIOR EXPERIENCE IN THE LANGUAGE YOU’RE APPLYING FOR?
Nope! There is no language prerequisite for NSLI-Y. They accept a range of proficiencies, from complete beginners to advanced learners with several years of experience, including heritage learners. Previous travel experience is also not required.
WHAT ARE THE REQUIREMENTS, THEN?
- You must be enrolled in high school (or the homeschool equivalent) at the time of application and between 15 – 18 years old at the start of your program.
- You must be an American citizen.
- Your GPA must be a 2.5 or higher or equivalent (on a 4.0 scale – UNweighted).
- You must not be an immediate family member of an employee of the U.S. Department of State who works in the Youth Programs Division of the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs or an employee at a NSLI-Y administering organization whose duties involve the NSLI-Y program.
- You must not have previously traveled outside the U.S. on any Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, Department of State sponsored exchange program (unless it was a NSLI-Y summer program).
SO HOW DOES THE APPLICATION PROCESS WORK?
The first part of the application is online. There is no fee, but you will have to create an account to access the application. Most of the application is the usual stuff: contact information, activities, awards and whatnot. You’ll have to write 4 essays (but I can’t tell you the prompts! That’s cheating!). One essay is 500 words, and the other three are 250 words. They also require you to submit a transcript, a parent statement, and a teacher recommendation. And of course, you’ll have to indicate the language programs you want to apply for. You can only apply for a language, not a specific country.
Around December, you will find out whether or not you were selected as a semifinalist. NSLI-Y semifinalists are required to submit medical forms and have an interview. Interviews are usually held at local interview events and are conducted by volunteers from an organization called AFS. If you’re unable to attend your area’s interview event, or your area doesn’t have an event, you will have a phone/Skype or in-home interview. Sorry, but I can’t tell you the interview questions either!
Then you wait. Finalist notifications are rolling and usually run through late April. You will be either a finalist, an alternate (waitlisted), or a “non-select” (rejected).
More information and the link to the application can be found here: http://www.nsliforyouth.org/how-to-apply/. The application typically opens in late August or early September and closes in November.
WHAT’S THE ACCEPTANCE RATE? IS ANY LANGUAGE EASIER TO GET INTO THAN ANOTHER?
Exact numbers are rarely released, but there are an estimated 3000 applicants from across the United States every year. Out of those, there are usually about 600 finalists total, which makes a roughly 15% acceptance rate. No language program is any easier or harder to get into than another. Some are more popular than others, but the more popular programs also have more spots, making the acceptance rates about the same across the board.
And even if one language WAS easier to get accepted for than another, it shouldn’t matter. For a program like this, you should shoot for the language you are most passionate about or most interested in. Don’t just pick whatever’s easiest; that’s not what NSLI-Y (or any study abroad program) is about.
IF I’M ACCEPTED, DO I GET TO PICK WHAT COUNTRY AND/OR CITY I GO TO?
No, NSLI-Y will assign you an implementing organization, a country, and a city. You’re not allowed to swap or trade, only accept or decline your spot.
What’s an implementing organization? ISN’T NSLI-Y THE ORGANIZATION?
NSLI-Y is just the name of the scholarship. It is the pot of money provided by the State Department, not actually an organization. The implementing organizations are established study abroad organizations enlisted by the State Department to take that money and use it to pay the program expenses for the finalists. Each organization runs the program a bit differently, but they all aim to achieve the same NSLI-Y goals. The list of NSLI-Y implementing organizations and links to their websites can be found on the left under the heading “NSLI-Y Implementers”. (P.S. All NSLI-Y applications are read by American Councils, and all interviews are conducted by AFS, but those are not the only implementers!)
WHERE CAN I GET MORE INFORMATION?
Use the Contact Me page to ask me anything, or visit the NSLI-Y website at http://www.nsliforyouth.org! You can also join one of the many Facebook groups listed in the left sidebar!