NSLI-Y, CBYX, and YES-Abroad Interview Experiences and Tips.

So I have now interviewed 3 (or 4, depending on how you look at it) times for a Congress/ State Department scholarships. I have interviewed twice for CBYX, once for YES and once for NSLI-Y. My NSLI-Y and YES-Abroad were actually combined though, since I applied the same year.

I’ll start with CBYX, since I’ve been through that one twice! The first year (2016-17), I had an in-person interview at a local college. There were only two other people there. It was kinda intimidating, as the first part was just me in front of a panel of 5-6 judges. They asked all of the typical questions (I’ll include the list I used for all of my interviews below), and it was maybe 30-45 minutes. After that, there was a group thingy where we basically had to discuss and make a presentation with our group. While I was waiting to be interviewed, I either talked to the other applicants, the alum who was there, and the parents of CBYX students who were there as well! All of the parents stayed in a different room and talked to some other people/ each other, I can’t quite remember

The second time around, I did a Skype interview because I was in Canada during the in-person event. It was set up basically the same, just over Skype! We still had a group presentation/ collaboration, which was a bit difficult because we just got a Google Doc and were in a Skype call together. Then there was the individual interview, which was me talking to a panel of maybe 5 people, but I couldn’t see them! It was nice to not see them, I think it made me a bit less worried.


If you apply for NSLI-Y and YES in the same year, and are a NSLI-Y semi-finalist, then you will likely have a combined interview. Once again, mine was over Skype (the joys of living in North Dakota, am I right?). Mine was with a volunteer for the program’s, she was super young and nice. She basically just asked me the typical questions, and it felt more like a conversation rather than a formal interview. It was pretty short, maybe 30 minutes. Funny story: I was super sick the weekend of my NSLI-Y interview, and hadn’t really been able to talk for like 3 days because my voice was gone. The day before my interview and the morning of, I must have drunk 40000000 cups of Throat Coat. I didn’t talk at all until the interview, and I was really scared my voice wouldn’t work. It ended up being fine though, it just gave out a little at the end of the interview. So pro tip, if you’re sick, drink lots of tea, save your voice for your interview, and have a cup of tea/ water near by.


Here are some tips that I have for the interviews:

  • Be yourself. I know how cliche that sounds, and everybody  says it. But it’s true, they are looking for unique, genuine people to give these scholarships too, not robots just saying what they think they need to say!
  • Emphasize what makes you unique. This goes for essays and interviews. Think of what makes you, you, and go from there! If you can play 6 instruments, talk about it! If you’re really interested in cooking, talk about it! If you have a unique experience or personality trait, such as being gay, being a muslim, being a minority, etc, elaborate and talk about your experiences. You want to stand out, and really show your true colors.
  • Try not to be nervous. As a nervous person, I know that that is MUCH easier said than done. However, it’s important to keep yourself grounded. You will do better if you’re relaxed, and can truly feel at ease. Do whatever you need to do. I found that listening to my favorite songs  (99 Luftballons) and standing kinda like the girl on the poster for Matilda the Musical helped me feel confident!
  • Prepare beforehand, but not too much. You want to know what you’re talking about, but also you don’t want to sound to formulaic. I just jotted down a few anecdotes and reasons I wanted to go abroad before hand, so that I would have some idea of what to talk about.
  • Have fun! Interviewing can actually be fun. Whether or not you get the program, it will give you experience for future interviews. It’s really good practice for adulthood and college.
  • It’s really important to have concrete reasons as to why you want to go to _________ country, or study ________ language. Saying “I want to study Arabic because it’s an important world language,” is a good start, but not quite enough. Something like “I want to study Arabic because it is a commonly spoken language among immigrants in the US, and I am interested in volunteering with immigrants in my community.” is a better thing to say!

The questions that I prepared with:

I just compiled this list, and jotted down a couple of thoughts for each before my interviews, just to get the juices flowing. On a side note, if the interviewer asks a question and you need to think about it, just ask for a minute to think. You won’t be penalized, and it’s better to think through your answer than to word vomit all over them.

( some of these questions have program names in them, but they can be used for any interview!)



  • Why do you want to be a part of the CBYX  program?




  • What will you bring to the program?




  • What would you do if your host parents contacted the area representative and said they felt like you were treating their house like a hotel?




  • What would you do if you had a big conflict with your host family?




  • What are three things that will make you most happy when you wake up in ____?




  • How do you plan on making friends and getting involved in your community?




  • How will you deal with homesickness?




  • What is something your parents are proud of you for? Give an example.




  • Are you trustworthy? If so, provide an example.




  • What will you do if you are falling behind in school, or don’t understand something?




  • What will you do to help learn the language?




  • Why do you want to travel to _________ specifically
  • Do you think that you are responsible enough to go on this exchange? Why?




  • What do you plan to do in the future, and how will this help aid that goal?




  • What would you do if you  caught your best friend in Germany breaking a serious rule?




  • What do you believe to be your best quality?




  • Who inspires you most in your life?




  • Where do you see yourself in ten years?




  • Do your grades accurately reflect the amount of effort you put in?




  • What do you do best?




  • What is your biggest weakness, and how are you working to overcome it?




  • What makes you special?




  • What do you want to get out of the __________________________ program?




  • What are three adjectives that describe you the most?




  • Why Germany?




  • How will you spread the message about these programs while abroad/ once you are back home?




  • What if you had a fight with your host sister? Friend?




  • What if your host mom tried to serve you food that was absolutely disgusting to you ?



So that’s all I have for this post!  I ended up receiving the YES, CBYX, and NSLI-Y scholarships. If you have any questions about applying, or need some constructive criticism on your essays, just let me know! All of my social media is linked at the bottom of my blog 🙂

  • Lili

May 2017


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