NSLI-Y Application Tips

I’ve been back in America for about two weeks now! I have so much to write about and share, but as application season has just begun, I wanted to give whatever advice I can to this year’s applicants.

It’s strange to think that I’ll have the opportunity to write a blog similar to the ones I pored over for hours on end while waiting for my notification. I don’t plan on going too much into depth on the application process, as several others have done a great job covering the topic already, but I’ll definitely provide any tips I can think of 🙂

1. Have several people read over your essays

Writing the application essays felt somewhat personal to me, so I totally understand apprehension towards showing it to people and receiving potentially negative feedback. But I highly suggest you do anyway.

The essays are a significant part of your application, since it’s really the only way for you to distinguish yourself from others. But there is likely an overlap between the reasons you want to be a part of the program and the reasons every other applicant has. I remember worrying that my essays would sound trite and ended up struggling with my first few essay drafts, especially the prompt “List and explain three reasons why you want to participate in NSLI-Y”. I sounded so robotic and dry in my explanations.

At some point, I’d been writing and revising for at least a month and was sick of my essays. I didn’t even want to look at them, let alone improve on them. I had hit a wall. That’s when I first showed them to my mother.

She complimented their formal tone and conciseness but told me that there was something missing. And I think the reason she was able to see that was because she knew me so well. She’d seen me work for hours on translating songs or writing journal entries in my target languages. There was an obvious discrepancy between the person I am and the person that was portrayed in my essays. After hearing that from her, I had a clearer idea of what I wanted to say. I was no longer focusing on trying to sound mature and professional but instead on how much I wanted the opportunity and how my life was a reflection of that.

The differentiating factor in an essay, I think, is its ability to convey demonstrated enthusiasm and passion for language learning. Don’t just state that you have an interest in it. What have you done that shows how in love you are with language?

On NSLI-Y’s website, there is a section devoted to the selection process that contains this statement:

The selection process begins with a screening to ensure that all applicants meet the basic eligibility requirements. Applications are then reviewed by trained evaluators who assess the applicants’ motivation for language learning, sense of character, and demonstrated cultural awareness. Maturity and readiness for a challenging academic and international experience are very important factors. 

I can attest to the importance of every quality mentioned above. It is so vital that a participant can behave maturely in stressful situations, since there are many cases in which you have to rely on your own abilities to figure things out. Also, they actually have to be passionate about learning a language, or else it’s way too easy to burn out when faced with how packed the schedule is.

Pay attention to what matters to NSLI-Y, and focus on how you can show them you fit their expectations.

2. Connect with the NSLI-Y community

I actually created a Facebook account specifically for this purpose. If you haven’t found it already, there’s an invaluable group of alumni on Facebook who answer questions and share their experiences. Joining this group and communicating with the alumni is a good idea because you can satisfy your curiosity about the program, find out if it seems like the right kind of program for you, ask for application advice, and even find someone willing to read over your essays and provide feedback.

However, remember that the alumni have zero obligation to assist you if they do not wish to. Do not badger them to read your essays or fix them; that’s not their job. Treat them with respect, and show genuine interest in the people they are instead of what they can do for you. A little bit of courtesy will go a very long way.

Also, if you join the Facebook group, chances are that you’ll end up in some kind of applicant group chat. These are great! The groups are filled with applicants who share your worries and passion for NSLI-Y, and it helps you keep in the loop.

That being said, if you choose to join the chat, it is in your best interest to sometimes disregard it. The reason for this is that you could needlessly exacerbate your anxiety about getting in, especially when the only thing you have left to do is wait. Don’t waste too much time obsessing over the dates notifications will come out when no one really knows for sure.

I can’t really tell you not to stress because that would be hypocritical…but if you’re going to spend way too much time thinking about it anyway, try to stay positive!

3. Provide your interviewer with more information than they ask for

If you become a semi-finalist, you will be contacted to take an interview with a local volunteer. It can be somewhat nerve-wracking, but don’t freak out about it too much (she says like that’s possible). There are some sample questions floating around the internet if you’re like me and feel a strong urge to over-prepare. Also, think of experiences you have that could support your responses.

Your interviewer will ask you questions from a list in front of them and proceed to jot down notes on your responses. Don’t be fazed by the lack of eye contact, and don’t feel like you’re inconveniencing them by giving long answers. You are there to supplement your application and let them know information you couldn’t cram into your essays. If anything, answer the question and keep going. Say something interesting about yourself that might prompt them to inquire further.

And that’s about all I have! For now, at least. Feel free to ask more specific questions, as I am more than happy to assist in any way I can 🙂 I can’t believe it’s been a year since I was in the position many of you are in right now.

Good luck!


2 thoughts on “NSLI-Y Application Tips

  1. Hi! Just wanted to say this post actually really helped me calm down about my application…The “Why NSLIY” has been the hardest for me as well cause like you said there is a lot of pressure to come up with unique reasons. I was feeling kinda bad about that cause it seemed like that essay should be the easiest if you really want the scholarship….It made me feel better to know someone felt the same way! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m glad it helped! I’ve found that it helps to focus more on being specific than to worry about sounding unique. If your responses are genuine and detailed, I think your application already stands out!


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