At the National Security Education Program (NSEP), our primary mission is to develop a pipeline of foreign language and culture expertise for the U.S. federal government workforce. NSEP was established by the David L. Boren National Security Education Act of 1991 (U.S. Code 50, 90 et seq.). NSEP represents an investment in vital expertise in languages and cultures critical to U.S. national security. The program is implemented by the Secretary of Defense, who has delegated his authority to the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness. Learn more about NSEP Administration.

The DLNSEO office oversees the eight National Security Education Programs, which are:

About NSEP

NSEP is a key component of the Defense Language and National Security Education Office (DLNSEO) in the U.S Department of Defense (DoD). DLNSEO’s mission is to provide strategic direction and programmatic oversight to the Military Departments, Defense field activities, and the Combatant Commands on present and future requirements related to language, regional expertise, and culture. As part of DLNSEO, NSEP plays an ever-increasing role in creating a workforce ready to serve 21st century national security needs.

NSEP is a major Federal initiative designed to build a broader and more qualified pool of U.S. citizens with foreign language and international skills. It consists of nine initiatives that represent broad strategic partnerships with the U.S. education community designed to serve the needs of U.S. national security and national competitiveness. These initiatives integrate the best components of language learning and international education developed in conjunction with progressively minded partners throughout the U.S. education community.

NSEP focuses on the critical languages and cultures of Asia, Africa, Eastern Europe, the Middle East, and Latin America. Participants are involved in innovative, intensive, and long-term programs designed to provide meaningful opportunities to gain significant competencies in these languages and cultures.

NSEP is unique in the commitment of its award recipients to proceed into public service upon completion of their academic studies. Each NSEP award recipient must demonstrate a commitment to bring his or her extraordinary skills to the Federal Government through employment within one of its many agencies and departments.

Mission And Objectives

The David L. Boren National Security Education Act of 1991 mandated that the Secretary of Defense create and sustain a program to award scholarships to U.S. undergraduate students; fellowships to U.S. graduate students; and grants to U.S. institutions of higher education. These awards are for study or program development in languages and regions critical to national security. Based on this legislation, the National Security Education Program (NSEP) was established.

NSEP was created to develop a much-needed strategic partnership between the national security community and higher education, addressing the national need for experts in critical languages and regions. NSEP is one of the most significant efforts in international education since the 1958 passage of the National Defense Education Act, and it continues to play a critical role within the Department of Defense. The David L. Boren National Security Education Act outlines five major purposes for NSEP, namely:

  1. To provide the necessary resources, accountability, and flexibility to meet the national security education needs of the United States, especially as such needs change over time,
  2. To increase the quantity, diversity, and quality of the teaching and learning of subjects in the fields of foreign languages, area studies, and other international fields that are critical to the Nation's interests,
  3. To produce an increased pool of applicants for work in the departments and agencies of the United States Government with national security responsibilities,
  4. To expand, in conjunction with other Federal programs, the international experience, knowledge base, and perspectives on which the United States citizenry, government employees, and leaders rely, and
  5. To permit the federal government to advocate the cause of international education.

Legislative History

The National Security Education Program (NSEP) was established by the David L. Boren National Security Education Act (NSEA), as amended, P.L. 102-183, codified at 50 U.S.C. 1901 et seq. It was signed into law by President George H. W. Bush on December 4, 1991. The NSEA mandated the Secretary of Defense to create the National Security Education Program (NSEP) to award:

  • Scholarships to U.S. undergraduate students to study abroad in areas critical to U.S. national security.
  • Fellowships to U.S. graduate students to study languages and world regions critical to U.S. national security
  • Grants to U.S. institutions of higher education to develop programs of study in and about countries, languages and international fields critical to national security and under-represented in U.S. study.

Also mandated in the NSEA was the creation of the National Security Education Board (NSEB) to provide overall guidance for NSEP.

NSEP Service

In exchange for funding support, NSEP award recipients agree to work in qualifying national security positions for a minimum of one year. This unique service requirement generates a pool of U.S. undergraduate and graduate students with competencies in critical languages and area studies who are highly committed to serving at the federal level in the national security community. 

Qualifying Jobs and Service Credit 

The NSEP Service Requirement was amended in 2008 to expand federal employment creditable under the Service Agreement. Award recipients from 2008-present are required to seek employment within the four “priority” areas of government, namely 

  • Department of Defense; 
  • Department of Homeland Security; 
  • Department of State (including USAID); or 
  • Any element of the Intelligence Community. 

If an award recipient is unable to secure employment within one of the priority areas, they may expand the search for employment to include any federal position with national security responsibilities. NSEP defines national security broadly and requires the award recipient to make a strong case for how their position supports national security in sectors ranging from economic stability, international finance, and water security. As a final alternative, award recipients who have clearly demonstrated a good faith effort and an inability to secure employment in the above areas may fulfill their service through an educational position related to their NSEP funded study. NSEP reviews service fulfillment in education related fields on a case-by-case basis. 

Working in the Government 

Commitment to Public Service 

The goal of NSEP is to enhance the capacity of the federal sector to deal effectively with the challenging global issues of the 21st century. NSEP supports NSEP David L. Boren Scholars and Fellows, Flagship students, and EHLS Scholars, a vital pool of highly motivated individuals, in finding employment in Federal Government organizations. NSEP strongly emphasizes the importance of seeking employment with Federal Government organizations whose missions and functions are most directly related to national security.

NSEP Alumni in the Federal Government 

NSEP works closely with each Scholar and Fellow and with U.S. Government agencies to identify employment opportunities that can be found on the NSEPnet Job Board. Over 4,000 NSEP award recipients have already contributed to the Federal effort and are recognized across Federal departments as ideal candidates for positions. Special hiring exemptions create opportunities for employers to hire NSEP candidates regardless of their federal employment status. 

NSEP Award Recipients as Global Professionals

What is a Global Professional? 

While studying under an NSEP award, students combine a professional field of study, an understanding of one or more areas of the world outside of the United States, and proficiency in at least one critical foreign language and culture to develop acute intercultural abilities. This experience results in a highly skilled pool of global professionals eager to contribute to agencies across the federal government. 

How Does NSEP Define National Security? 

NSEP alumni have a perspective of how their interests relate to issues of national security. The NSEP definition of national security is both broad and diverse to include, among others, such varied issues as the ones listed here

Federal Employer Areas of Emphasis 

In 1995, NSEP began surveying federal agencies and organizations involved in national security affairs to assess their needs for individuals with global skills, based on their knowledge of world regions, languages and cultures, and field of study. The results of these surveys demonstrated that agencies are eager to locate and hire individuals with the global skills listed above as well as those who have expertise in a broad range of disciplines. This survey process resulted in an annual list of NSEP Areas of Emphasis, which can be found here

NSEP focuses on languages and areas identified as most critical while maintaining a vital investment in those languages and areas that may be important in the future by routinely consulting with the Department of Defense Senior Language Authority, as well as other national security agencies to revalidate and update the list. 


NSEP’s emphasized list of languages reflects a need for more than 60 languages. The list mirrors the principal languages of each emphasized country of study, as well as all languages spoken on the African continent. Although there is no one language preferred over another please find listed, all the preferred languages for the program here.  

You may apply in other languages and/or dialects spoken by minority populations if these languages are in preferred countries.  


Boren Awards fund study in the countries of Africa, Asia, Central and Eastern Europe, Latin America, and the Middle East. In very select cases, Boren Awards may be granted to applicants studying in non-preferred countries. Applicants seeking such awards must make an especially strong argument for the value of their language and country of study to U.S. national security and public service. Study in North America, Western Europe or Australia/New Zealand will not be considered. The list of preferred countries is here.

Fields Of Study 

NSEP accepts applications from individuals seeking degrees in multidisciplinary fields, including those listed here