Eligibility + Participation Requirements

AFS TurNote that the information below pertains to the 2021-22 NSLI-Y program cycle and is subject to change in future application cycles.

The U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA) offers many opportunities for American youth to participate in international exchanges. ECA seeks to represent the diversity of America in these youth exchange programs and to make sure the selection process is fair and transparent.

Strong selection preference is given to those who have not previously participated in one of the exchange programs listed below, which take place outside the United States, or lived abroad for six months or more during the past five years.

  • Congress-Bundestag Youth Exchange (CBYX) outbound programs
  • Kennedy-Lugar Youth Exchange and Study Abroad (YES Abroad)
  • National Security Language Initiative for Youth (NSLI-Y)
  • Youth Leadership Programs (participants who travel overseas only)
  • Youth Ambassadors Program

NSLI-Y Eligibility Requirements

To be eligible for NSLI-Y applicants must:

  • Be a U.S. citizen at the time of application
  • Have a cumulative grade point average (GPA) of 2.5 or higher on a 4.0 scale, or the equivalent
  • Be 15-18 years of age at start of the program
    • For 2021 summer programs: birthdate between July 10, 2002 and June 10, 2006
    • For 2021-2022 academic year programs: birthdate between August 30, 2002 and June 30, 2006
  • Be enrolled in grades 9-12 (high school or home school equivalent) at the time of application
  • Not be in either of the two ineligibility categories described below 

1)  Current or previous participant in ECA exchanges

U.S. citizens who are current or past participants in any of the above mentioned programs are not eligible to participate if:

  • The two programs take place in the same calendar year.
  • The individual is currently participating, or has already participated, in an academic year program.
Current or past participants in a short-duration program of eight (8) weeks or less are not eligible for another short-duration program but are eligible for an academic year program.

The restrictions above apply only to in-person programs taking place outside the United States. Participation in a virtual program does not make the applicant ineligible for programs of any length.

An individual may not participate in more than two of the above-listed programs, unless one of the programs was completely virtual.

2)  Family member employment

For a period ending one year following the termination of such employment, association, or service:

  • Employees of the U.S. Department of State/U.S. Agency for International Development are ineligible. This provision includes all employees, paid or unpaid (including part-time or temporary employees, consultants, externs, interns, fellows and personal services contractors). 
  • Immediate family members (e.g., dependent children) of employees of the U.S. Department of State/U.S. Agency for International Development are ineligible. This provision includes all employees, paid or unpaid (including part-time or temporary employees, consultants, externs, interns, fellows and personal services contractors). Self-supporting children who live apart from their parents are qualified to participate. 
  • Employees (and their immediate family members) of private and public agencies under contract or grant with the U.S. Department of State who perform services on behalf of U.S. Department of State exchange programs are ineligible.

Participation Requirements

The health and well-being of participants and staff are top priorities. The NSLI-Y program is a rigorous overseas immersion program and may be physically and emotionally challenging. Each student must be committed to working hard and participating fully in the group program, beginning with the mandatory pre-program language activities and pre-departure orientation through the completion of the program.

Each participant must:

  • Be able to stay alert and to focus attention for up to four hours a day during language classes, while participating in cultural activities, and when receiving staff instructions.
  • Attend daily classes and activities, as dictated by the program schedule and for the duration of the program (program dates will be provided at the time of finalist notification).
  • Work effectively as a member of a team despite potentially stressful and difficult conditions. This may require problem solving on an interpersonal or group level as well as a willingness to accept differences.
  • Contribute to a safe learning environment by treating others respectfully and appropriately in person and online. 
  • Effectively communicate ideas and concerns on an individual and group level.
  • Perform necessary self-care, including maintaining adequate nutrition and hydration, dressing appropriately for cultural and environmental conditions, maintaining personal hygiene, and managing known medical conditions and medications.
  • Comprehend, and follow detailed instructions on travel, risk management, personal care, hazard avoidance, and other topics.
  • With reasonable accommodations, be able to navigate transportation independently between program-provided housing and the institute site, approximately 60 minutes each way.

Selection Considerations

Note that preference may be given to applicants who meet the following priorities, however applicants who do not meet these priorities are eligible to apply and may submit an application.

The Youth Programs Division of the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA) seeks to make youth exchange programs funded by ECA available to a wide and diverse American audience. Preference may be given to applicants who:

  • Have not had opportunities to travel or study abroad
  • Do not have access to critical language resources in their home community
  • Live in a U.S. state or U.S. territory underrepresented in study abroad. 
  • Identify with a community that is underrepresented in study abroad
  • Would not otherwise be able to study abroad

The NSLI-Y program seeks applicants who represent the diversity of the United States. Students of all racial, ethnic, religious, gender identities, sexual orientations, disabilities, and socio-economic backgrounds are encouraged to apply.

Strong preference is given to those who have not previously participated in an overseas exchange program or lived abroad for six months or more during the past five years.

Previous language study is not required. Students of all levels of language ability are welcome to apply.


Finalists for certain program locations may need to receive an appropriate visa from their country/location of study (deadlines vary by country/location).

  • NSLI-Y and the U.S. Department of State will assist finalists with visa applications but cannot influence a foreign government's decision of whether to issue a visa.  The decision to issue a visa rests solely with the government and consular mission of the country/location to which a student is traveling.
  • NSLI-Y finalists may be required to work closely with NSLI-Y implementing program staff on preparing their paperwork well in advance of regular deadlines to receive a visa.
  • Failure to meet deadlines or respond in a timely manner to NSLI-Y program staff requests may result in not being issued a visa and therefore not being able to participate in the program.
  • NSLI-Y finalists may be required to submit their passports for visa processing in the spring, prior to the program start date, and may be unable to participate in international travel between the time of finalist notification and the program start date.

Medical Review

NSLI-Y semi-finalists are required to submit a medical evaluation form for review by an independent medical professional. Semi-finalists are required to submit the medical evaluation form by mid-February 2021, however the medical review does not begin until after a student is selected as a finalist or alternate. Results of the medical review determine if finalists and alternates meet medical requirements necessary for NSLI-Y program placement and participation.  Finalists are provided a disability accommodations policy at the time of acceptance. NSLI-Y has a history of successfully supporting many students with unique health needs and disabilities; only in very rare cases do results of the medical review determine that a candidate does not meet necessary medical requirements. Finalists and alternates must also inform the program of any changes in their health status between submission of these forms and the start of the program. Withholding relevant health information and/or delayed responses in the medical review process may result in cancellation of the NSLI-Y scholarship or dismissal from the program.

Additional Requirements

NSLI-Y finalists and their parents/legal guardians must read and agree to abide by the Terms and Conditions.

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Questions? Need more info? Contact us at 866.790.2086 or nsliy@americancouncils.org

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