Applicant Resources

The 2021 Application Window is now closed.

The Applicant resources on this page are not for the NSA Out-Of-Cycle STARTALK Grant Solicitation. For application questions, please contact

STARTALK is a federal grant program funded by the National Security Agency and administered by the National Foreign Language Center at the University of Maryland that has three goals:

  1. Increase the number of students enrolled in the study of critical languages
  2. Increase the number of highly effective critical-language teachers in the United States
  3. Increase the number of highly effective materials and curricula available to teachers and students of critical-need languages

STARTALK 2021 will be different than other STARTALK summers because of COVID-19 and the deferment of all eighty-eight 2020 STARTALK programs to 2021. The competition for 2021 programs will be limited to professional development programs for teachers. It is estimated that approximately 10-12 grants will be awarded for 2021. New proposals to conduct a student program in 2021 will not be solicited.

STARTALK 2021 grants will support programs for teachers of the following critical-need languages: Arabic, Chinese, Korean, Persian, and Russian. Teacher programs that are designed to serve teachers of two or more of those languages may also accept teachers of Spanish. Experience has taught us that participants in teacher programs benefit greatly from continued support once they return to their academic year classrooms. Therefore, priority will be given to proposals that design follow-up opportunities for instruction or coaching for participants into the academic year.

STARTALK welcomes applications from school districts, colleges and universities, state and local education agencies, heritage and community schools, private and public schools, and other educational institutions incorporated in the United States.

In 2021 the National Foreign Language Center seeks proposals from applicants for three varieties of independent teacher programs.

Program Type Descriptions

Applicant Guide (All Program Types)

Applicant Guide

To apply for a STARTALK grant, applicants will use SOPHIE (STARTALK Online Programs, Help, Information, and Events). The online grant application platform will allow applicants to respond to proposal questions, complete a budget, and submit all required federal forms. This guide will help applicants navigate the online proposal. The STARTALK application is organized into several sections, and the information presented in the Applicant Guide follows the order of the application in SOPHIE. Supplemental guides for completing the required program narrative and budget sections of the application are also provided below.

View Guide   FAQ

Proposal Narrative Guide

Narrative Guide

Teacher Programs (Overview, Focus, or Demonstration)

This guide outlines the program narrative questions and requirements for overview, focus, and demonstration teacher programs. It also provides guidance based on the criteria used during proposal review. In the program narrative section of the application, applicants respond to a series of questions to provide the rationale for the proposed program, outline instructional goals, describe program activities, and justify the personnel charged with implementing the program.

View Guide   FAQ

Budget Guide (All Program Types)

Budget Guide

All STARTALK programs are required to provide comprehensive budget information as a part of the STARTALK application process. All planned costs for the proposed program must be documented, and the applicant must demonstrate that the costs are reasonable, justifiable, and allowed. The budget guide walks you through the requirements and considerations for completing all of the budget components and also provides samples and formatting templates for each component.

View Guide   Human Resource Cover Sheet   FAQ


Click on a topic below to review frequently asked questions related to that topic:

▼ Using SOPHIE

Can I save an unfinished proposal in SOPHIE?
Yes. At any stage in the process before hitting “Submit,” you may save your changes, sign out, and return to your proposal later.

Can I delete a proposal?
Yes. You can delete a proposal that has not yet been submitted. Please note that once you delete a proposal, there is no way to recover it.

Who in my organization should be the designated proposal owner in SOPHIE?
We do not require that a specific person hold the account that submits the proposal; it is up to the institution to determine who is required to submit the proposal. If your program is funded, we would likely need to transfer the account to the program director, but until then, it is up to the institution. We strongly encourage programs to consider using a shared institutional email account for managing the proposal in SOPHIE, since the proposal can only be accessed by the proposal owner.

Can two people from the same organization register for SOPHIE accounts if working on the same proposal?
Only one person can be designated as a proposal owner and have a SOPHIE account to write a proposal. Only that account can hold the open proposal, only that account can contribute to the writing of the proposal, and only that account can submit the proposal. Two people can work simultaneously on a proposal by logging in with the same account, but they need to work on different sections of the proposal if logged in at the same time. Two people cannot work on the same sections at the same time under the same login.

What is the deadline for proposals?
You may submit a proposal up through 7:00 p.m. your local time on the due date of your proposal. Proposals must be complete and submitted by that time. No proposals will be accepted after that time.

Why do I need to set my time zone?
This is to ensure that the deadline for submitting your proposal is accurate. Proposals must be submitted by 7:00 p.m. your local time on the due date of your proposal.

I forgot my password. How do I reset it?
From the “Sign In” page, click “I forgot my password” to reset your password. Enter the email address used to create your account, and reset information will be sent to that address.

Are there word or character limits for the proposal?
Yes. Each narrative question response in the proposal is limited to 3,000 characters, which is about 500 words.

Can I submit a proposal with responses over the stated character limits?
No. You must keep each response to 3,000 characters or fewer. The online proposal system will not allow you to submit a proposal with responses that exceed the character limit.

▼ Eligibility Questions

What types of institutions can apply for STARTALK funding? Are nonprofit organizations eligible? Are state departments of education eligible? Are for-profit institutions eligible?
Any US-owned-and-operated institution is eligible to apply for STARTALK funding, with the exception of institutions that are a part of the University of Maryland system.

What is meant by US owned and operated? What is a foreign-owned entity?
The applying organization must not be organized, chartered, or incorporated under the laws of any country other than the United States or its possessions or be controlled by an individual who is not a US citizen.

Can a college or university with a Confucius Institute receive STARTALK funding?
As a result of the 2019 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), the NSA Contracting Office has made the determination that for the 2021 STARTALK grant cycle any Institution of Higher Education that hosts a Confucius Institute is prohibited, in any form, from participating in a STARTALK funded grant for Chinese language instruction. This includes subcontracting with, consulting with, or accepting materials from any Confucius Institute for the execution of a STARTALK Chinese program. An Institution of Higher Education applying for a Chinese STARTALK grant will be required to certify that it does not host a Confucius Institute, Confucius Institute employees and instructors will provide no instruction or educational support to the program, and Confucius Institute employees and instructors will have no authority with regard to the curriculum and activities of the program.

Will STARTALK support study abroad programs?
No. STARTALK funds are for summer language programs that take place within the United States for students (K–12 and undergraduate) and professional development opportunities for teachers within the United States.

Can I offer my STARTALK program in conjunction with other summer language programs that are funded by another source?
This is possible, but the proposed grant budget must clearly specify what portions of the program will be funded by STARTALK.

Can our institution submit more than one application?
You may submit more than one application per institution. However, proposals are rated competitively, and there is no guarantee that multiple applications from the same institution will be funded. STARTALK will carefully and independently review multiple proposals from the same institution. Keep in mind that each proposal should be structured as a stand-alone program with fully independent budgets (meaning that if one your proposals is awarded and the other is not, your awarded program can still go on as planned).

Our institution plans to offer programs in two different STARTALK languages. Should we submit one or two proposals?
It is up to the institution, bearing in mind that each independent proposal is rated competitively. Keep in mind that each proposal should be structured as a stand-alone program with fully independent budgets (meaning that if one your proposals is awarded and the other is not, your awarded program can still go on as planned).

Is there a cap on the total amount of funding an institution can receive for all proposals?
No. Although there is a cap of $90,000 per independent proposal, there is no official cap on the number of proposals that can be funded per institution. Funding decisions are competitive and may be based on many factors, including strength of proposal, language, program type, geographical distribution of STARTALK programs, etc.

Can our institution propose a multiyear program?
No. STARTALK awards are for only one year.

What sort of insurance documentation do I need to provide?
You must submit a certificate of liability insurance that reflects coverage of the facilities where the proposed instructional sessions will be held. For residential programs, the liability insurance must also cover the residencies. If you do not have an insurance certificate yet, you must upload a quote from an insurance provider and then provide proof of insurance right away if your program is awarded funding. If your institution is self-insured, provide a document stating so that is signed by the appropriate authorized signatory at your institution.

▼ General Proposal Questions

What are the priorities for 2021 STARTALK program funding?
For 2021, teacher programs with the following features will be prioritized.
- Programs that offer continued instruction or coaching for participants throughout the academic year.
- Programs that lead participants toward state certification or an alternative certification process by awarding credit hours for methodology-based courses/practicum experiences or fulfilling professional development requirements for practicing teachers

What counts as a prior program vs a new program?
Programs must indicate whether they are a prior or new program in the Program Funding portion of the application. See the applicant guide to review more information about completing this part of the application.

How much does the site visit report impact future funding?
Prior programs are required to respond to recommendations from previous site visit reports in the program narrative section of the application. Programs should list modifications to their program in response to each recommendation and demonstrate sincere intentions to grow and improve.

What if my program will have more than one instructional lead? What if my program will have co-directors?
Each program should have only one instructional lead per language. However, if you plan to offer more than one language and need to have more than one instructional lead, you should list one of the instructional leads in the instructional lead section of the proposal and then list all additional instructional leads under the other personnel section.

Similarly, if your program will have more than one program director, you should list one in the program director section of the proposal and then list all co-directors under the other personnel section.

Do I need to submit resumes for the program director, instructional lead, or any other program personnel?
No. The questions in the proposal will solicit the information STARTALK requires about the qualifications of your proposed program personnel.

May a single person serve in multiple roles? Can the same person be the program director and the instructional lead?
STARTALK does not specifically limit the number of roles a single person can have in a program. However, it is challenging for a single person to serve as both the program director and the instructional lead or an instructor for a program, due to the intensive nature of the roles. We strongly encourage having separate individuals fill these key roles.

Our institution has not yet hired a program director or instructional lead. Can we enter TBD or list someone from our institution and change it after the grant is awarded?
The program director and instructional lead for your program must be named in the proposal. The qualifications of the individuals serving in these roles are a critical factor in the proposal review process. Changes in key personnel are strongly discouraged and require a formal proposal modification once the award is in place. Requests to change the program director or lead instructor post-award may impact future funding decisions.

How much staff do we need for our program?
In addition to having adequate instructional staff, we encourage programs to plan and budget for adequate administrative support staff to assist in program coordination, recruitment, preparing copies, etc. Any staff, instructors, or consultants described in the proposal should be included in the budget, even if they are offering in-kind support.

What if I don’t know the projected enrollment numbers for my program?
For new programs, provide a realistic estimate of the number of participants you expect will enroll in your program. For returning programs, provide a realistic estimate based on prior experience.

Is there a minimum enrollment number for programs?
No. There is no minimum enrollment number, but the cost-effectiveness of your program based on proposed enrollment numbers may be considered during the proposal review process.

Does the total number of days mean teaching days only, or does it also include nonteaching days/all calendar days (e.g., Saturdays and Sundays)?
The total number of days is for teaching days only. If your program is not in session on weekends or any other day (e.g., July 4), do not count those days.

How are applications reviewed?
Each application is reviewed by a team of external reviewers, who will review the narrative portion of your application along with your budget using a set of rating criteria. The hints offered in the narrative guides for each program type are based on the rating criteria that reviewers use. STARTALK Central will also review your budget and support documents to ensure that they are compliant with the grant requirements and may request modifications or additional information. Funding decisions are competitive and may be based on many factors, including strength of proposal narrative, language, program type, geographical distribution of STARTALK programs, etc. Funding decisions for STARTALK grants are typically announced by February of each year.

Can I view any sample proposals?
No. There are no sample proposals available to applicants. Applicants may review the narrative guides to preview the proposal questions and review hints for each question that are based on the proposal review criteria.

Overview, Focus, and Demonstration Teacher Narrative Guide:

Can I plan and budget for follow-up activities after the summer program has ended?
Yes. You may plan follow-up activities outside of the summer as long as they are planned for the same participants from your summer program and not new participants.

▼ Program Narrative Questions (Teacher Programs)

What is considered a micro or peer teaching opportunity for demonstration programs?
The goal of a demonstration program is to provide participants an opportunity to implement what they have been learning during the program in a low-stakes environment before transferring their learning to their own classrooms. A micro-teaching experience could involve a small group of children in a local summer camp program or a group of students specifically invited to learn from the participants for a couple of hours. Participants should receive feedback on their performance at the conclusion of the micro-teaching opportunity.

Can we have non-STARTALK language participants in our teacher program? What if the content will all be in English?
No. All participants in STARTALK-funded programs must currently serve as or be planning to serve as teachers of the STARTALK languages. Teachers of other languages or from other disciplines are not allowed to participate in STARTALK-funded programs. Teacher programs that are designed to serve teachers of two or more of those languages may also accept teachers of Spanish.

What counts as instructional time?
For teacher programs, instructional time includes all required activities, whether they occur during the day, in the evening, or on weekends.

▼ Budget Questions

What is the indirect cost (IDC) or facilities and administrative cost rate (F&A) for STARTALK?
STARTALK does not have a prescribed rate. Most past programs submitted IDC rates around 10 percent. Given the short duration and low cost of the programs, most awardees were able to negotiate these rates with their home institutions.

Do budget support documents need to match each budget line item exactly?
No. Budget support documents must be reasonably close to the amount proposed in your budget.

Who should sign the budget that we upload to SOPHIE?
The budget should be signed by the person who has authority to sign on behalf of your institution. In some schools, this person resides in the department, while at other schools and institutions, the authorized financial officer is at the district, vice presidential, or dean level. The person who signs is authorized to signal institutional commitment to carry out the tasks proposed for the amount requested within the budget.

Can I budget for activities or supplies that I will need during the academic school year?
Your budget should include activities and supplies needed for your summer STARTALK programs. Programs are permitted to conduct follow-on activities during the academic year with the same summer STARTALK participants. You may also budget for any supplies needed for those follow-on activities.

If money allocated under a specific line item is not spent on that item, can I reallocate those funds?
Yes, as long as those funds are allocated within the same grant and therefore the same budget. Even if your institution receives more than one award, funds may not be transferred between awards. All reallocation requests must be made directly to the funder in writing and are subject to review and approval.

Are budgets for STARTALK grants typically for six months or for a full year?
The period of performance for STARTALK grants will begin once a contract is signed and extend through March 31 of the following year. All program activities must be completed, invoices submitted, and programs closed by March 31. STARTALK anticipates countersigned award documents to be in place for STARTALK summer programs by the end of April each year.

▼ Federal guidelines and regulations for grant recipients

What are my responsibilities for implementing a financial management system to manage my grant?
Attachment number 3 to each grant is the NSA General Provisions for NSA Grants and Cooperative Agreements, Revised February 2011. Paragraph 12 (Standards for Financial Management Systems) of the NSA General Provisions for NSA Grants and Cooperative Agreements states the following: “OMB Circular A-110 sets forth standards for financial management systems which apply to this agreement.”

The following is the excerpt from OMB Circular A-110 that explains what OMB Circular A-110 is, who is covered, its importance, and the overriding principles that recipients’ financial management systems shall provide.

What is OMB Circular A-110?
OMB Circular A-110 is officially named the Uniform Administrative Requirements for Grants and Agreements with Institutions of Higher Education, Hospitals, and Other Non-Profit Organizations. This circular sets forth standards for obtaining consistency and uniformity among federal agencies in the administration of grants to and agreements with institutions of higher education, hospitals, and other nonprofit organizations. This is the primary guidance that nonprofit organizations must follow if they receive federal awards, including both grants and cooperative agreements.

Who is covered by A-110?
A-110 is applicable to all nonprofit organizations, including universities. However, A-110 does not apply to state and local governments, which have their own circular (A-102).

What is the importance of A-110?
A-110 standardizes the administrative requirements that federal agencies can impose on award recipients. Further, compliance with A-110 is required for all award recipients, and testing that compliance is a component of an A-133 audit.

What is ARC registration?
All institutions wishing to do business with the NSA must be registered with the Acquisition Resource Center (ARC). To begin the registration process, or for additional information, please visit

What is a PKI or ECA certificate? Can I include the cost of the certificate in my program budget?
If you are awarded STARTALK funding, you will be required to submit electronic invoices for your grant using the MPO website.

Access to the MPO website requires an External Certificate Authority/Interim External Certificate Authority (ECA/IECA) PKI Certificate. Information on purchasing an ECA/IECA Certificate, including its initial and annual cost, is available online at the following websites:

ORC at, or
IdenTrust at

The certificate must be a Medium Assurance Certificate. Contact the Electronic Commerce Office at (410) 854-5445 if you need additional information. After obtaining the ECA/IECA certificate, you must contact the Electronic Commerce Office to obtain an account if one does not currently exist.

Any costs associated with obtaining a certificate are allowed as a direct or indirect cost in your program budget.



STARTALK 2020 Applicant Webinar - Narrative - 09/09/2020, 4pm EST
This live webinar reviewed the content requirements to complete the program narrative section of the application and answered questions from webinar participants.

View Recorded Webinar

STARTALK 2020 Applicant Webinar - Technical - 10/01/2020, 4pm EST
During this live webinar, STARTALK Central team members will answer technical and content questions about submitting applications.

Register for this Webinar

Application Questions

Do you have a question about your narrative or budget? Submit your application questions to STARTALK using the Questions form. STARTALK Central will respond to your questions as quickly as possible.

Submit Application Questions

Technical (SOPHIE) Questions

Do you have a question about SOPHIE? Submit your technical questions to the SOPHIE support team at or call 301-405-4663. During the hours below, staff will be online to answer your technical questions as quickly as possible. Questions submitted outside of these times will be addressed ASAP the next business day.

August 25 - September 30:   9am - 5pm EST
October 1 - October 8:   9am - 9pm EST

Submit SOPHIE Questions

Material Type(s): 

  • Administration