Studying Chinese

How To Apply For The Confucius Institute Scholarships


Today’s guest post comes from Emily who shares her experience and tips on how to apply for the Confucius Institute Scholarships and study in China for free.

I started taking Chinese classes at the Confucius Institute last fall, and after finishing graduate school and moving back to my hometown, Portland, OR, United States. I was already planning a trip to China, but hadn’t decided when to go when I learned about the Confucius Institute Scholarships almost by accident. Although it meant going to China later than I had originally planned, I decided to apply, and was of course very happy that I got the scholarship to study Chinese at the Capital University of Economics and Business in Beijing for a semester.

Applying for the scholarship was confusing and frustrating. In this post, I am going to give some advice for how to apply for the Confucius Institute Scholarships, based on my experience.

Keep in mind this is based on my experience applying for the scholarship in 2013. Things might have changed for this year.

What are the Confucius Institute Scholarships?

confucious_institute-logo2These scholarships are sponsored by the Confucius Institute Headquarters (so, indirectly, the Chinese government). There are three scholarships: for one semester, two semesters or for a two-year Master’s degree in teaching Chinese as a foreign language. The scholarship webpage is

The scholarships cover tuition, materials, on-campus accommodation, health care and insurance and a monthly allowance of CNY 1,400 for semester and year students, CNY 1,700 for the Master’s degree students.

When you apply, you can choose which university you would like to study at. Click here for the list of possible universities.

What are the requirements?

The requirements vary based on the study length.

For one semester of study, applicants have to have either taken and passed at least level 2 of the written HSK exam with a score of at least 120 and scored at least 40 on the elementary level oral HSK exam. Alternatively, people who have taken at least 60 hours of classes at a Confucius Institute are eligible. People aged 16-35 qualify.

For one academic year, applicants have to pass the level 3 written HSK exam with a score of at least 180 and score at least 60 on the elementary HSK oral exam, or have taken 120 hours or more of classes at a Confucius Institute. People aged 16-35 qualify.

The scholarship requirements for those who wish to get a Master’s in teaching Chinese are a little more stringent. These students have to pass the HSK level 5 with a score of at least 180 and pass the intermediate oral HSK with a score of at least 50. Also, you have to commit to teaching Chinese for 5 years after graduation, and you must have a letter of support from the school that you will be teaching in. People aged up to 45 are eligible.

Learn From My Mistakessara at sunyatsen university

1.    The Confucius Institute in Portland told me that I did not need to take the oral HSK to qualify for the scholarships. So I didn’t take it at the time I took the written HSK, and ended up having to scramble and take the oral HSK right before the scholarship deadline. I think the Portland Confucius Institute gave this misinformation to many people, because they added an extra HSK exam at the last minute.

I would recommend taking the HSK as early as possible, because it took two months longer to get the results than I was originally told.

2.    I had a lot of trouble with the essay – trouble that had nothing to do with the difficulty of writing a coherent, let alone eloquent, essay in Chinese.

First of all, I didn’t realize that I needed to write an essay at all until I started the online application process, which I should have started sooner. The instructions on the first page of the application very clearly said, in Chinese and English, that the essay had to be no less than 800 words. When I got to the box to input the essay, I got an error saying that the essay had to be between 100 and 800 words. I trimmed it and got it to 780 words and continued getting the same error.

Then I went to the Confucius Institute Office and they tried for me – and I discovered that Chinese computers count words differently than my Mac does, even when I’ve written using Chinese characters.The on-line application would not accept my essay until it had been whacked down to under 500 words, due to what I can only assume is a technical error. I was a little sad, because I was quite proud of my original essay.

3.    The first page of the on-line application provides an extensive list of the documents you will need to fill out the application – scanned copies of your passport, your transcripts, your signature (to sign the application digitally), your HSK results and your essay.

It made no mention of a recommendation, so when I got to the last page of the application, the day before it was due, and discovered that I needed a recommendation letter from my Chinese teacher, I was extremely dismayed – especially because my Chinese teacher was on vacation in China at that moment. Luckily the Portland Confucius Institute helped me enormously and wrote me a quick recommendation – otherwise my application would have been doomed.

4.    If you have ever studied in China before, you have to submit a scanned ‘proof’ of that study. I did a five-week course in Chinese in Beijing in 2007, and miraculously I had my certificate from that program handy. If I hadn’t, I’m not sure what I would have done.

Although my Chinese is good enough that this wasn’t a problem, keep in mind that the application’s drop-down menus (to choose things like the Confucius Institute you are applying through or which university in China you want to study at) are in Chinese only.

sunyatsen university

Things You Need To Know If You Are Applying

Based on my experiences, to apply for the Confucius Institute Scholarships you need the following documents scanned into a digital format:

  1. Your passport
  2. Your HSK results – written and oral!
  3. Your transcripts or diploma from your highest-level degree.
  4. If you have every studied in China, some sort of document or certificate to prove it.
  5. An essay about your experiences learning Chinese and why you want to study in China
  6. A LETTER OF RECOMMENDATION from your Chinese teacher – I got the impression that if this letter of recommendation carries a bit more weight if it comes from a teacher at a Confucius Institute.
  7. Two letters of recommendation / support from the place you plan to teach Chinese after graduation if you plan to apply for the Master’s Degree program in teaching Chinese as a second language.
  8. A scanned copy of your signature.

The whole process has to be completed fairly quickly, as well. The Confucius Institute in Portland sent out the announcement about the scholarship on March 19th, and the application was due on April 1. That is less than two weeks to get all of your documents, recommendations and essays ready!

My understanding is that you do have to apply for the scholarship through a Confucius Institute. I don’t think you must have taken classes at the Confucius Institute in order to apply for the scholarship, but it certainly doesn’t hurt.

The scholarship winners are supposed to be notified by July 1st. I found out that I had been awarded the scholarship when one of the Confucius Institute teachers told me in mid-July, and I got the official notification at the end of July. There was only one problem: I had applied for spring 2014, and I was award the scholarship for the fall of 2013. A couple of frantic e-mails later, the university agreed to change the dates to spring, as I had originally requested. I am still waiting for the new paperwork (which I need to apply for the visa!).

I should also mention that I did not originally apply to study at the Capitol University of Economics and Business – I applied to two other Beijing universities, but not that one. I didn’t really care which university I studied at, and I am very glad that one accepted me. I don’t think there was a limit to the number of universities you could apply for, so if you don’t care, it might be a good idea to apply to a large number of universities.

One last wrinkle to be aware of: My husband is planning on coming with me to China and I was hoping that we would both be able to stay in the on-campus accommodation that the university provides. Unfortunately, I asked the university and they said that is not possible, so we will have to find some other place to live when he is there.

I am hoping that there won’t be any more complications in the process. Now I am just looking forward to going to China next spring!

If you have questions about the scholarship application process, please leave a comment and I will do my best to answer them.

Emily Liedel is a writer, translator and polyglot. She has lived in Switzerland, Russia, Spain and France and speaks German, Russian, Spanish, French and (a little) Chinese. She writes about language learning and living abroad at The Babel Times. She lives in Portland, Oregon with her husband and two chickens, and is eagerly preparing to go to China!


  • Kaiser


    Sara Jaaksola Reply:

    我也不明白。Kaiser, 如果要更多人回复你,可以写英文 ;)

    Kaiser Reply:


    Emily Liedel Reply:

    你好!我比你们写中文 写的 不太好, 可是 我 试试 用中文回答! 我也不太明白, 为什么 要 这 两 推荐信,也不知到 在 美国 可以不可以 找到 一所学校 给 你 这样的推荐信。 可是, 我觉得 在 美国 没有 够 的 中文 老师 - 没有 很多 人可以 教 中文,喜欢 学习 中文的学生越来越 多。

    应该 要 问 一 个 得到 两年的 奖学金 的人,怎么办法 得到 推荐信!我 得到 了一个学期 的 奖学金, 没 有 推荐信 的 问题!

    Kaiser Reply:

    Because the US economy is so bad and America has at least 1.5 million Chinese immigrants, schools here can easily find Chinese teachers. I’m not saying schools won’t hire me because I’m not Chinese. But I am saying they won’t and don’t have to wait two years to meet demand. PS: I think it’s totally awesome you had the guts to write me back in Chinese!

    Emily Liedel Reply:

    谢谢!I don’t think the US necessarily lacks in Chinese speakers (although a fair number of Chinese immigrants only speak Cantonese, I believe), but I’m pretty sure most of them don’t have a Master’s degree in teaching Chinese as a foreign language, which is usually what is required to teach Chinese in a university or even community college.

    I’m really not an expert, but it’s not inconceivable to me that the community college here in Portland (where I live) would write one of these recommendation letters. I’ve met people who teach French at the community college, and here’s what I understand about how the community college hires language teachers: They have a teacher pool, and you apply to get in to the teacher pool. If you have a master’s in teaching Chinese as a foreign language, for example, you would be basically guaranteed to get in to the teacher pool. Actual classes are assigned by seniority from the teacher pool, and most teachers are paid based on their class load, not on salary as a full-time faculty member. So the college would risk nothing by writing a letter saying that they would ‘hire’ the teacher in two years, because they would make the teacher part of the ‘pool’ and would only actually give him or her paying work if they have a class that needs a teacher. The guy I spoke to who teaches French at the community college made it sound like there was plenty of work to go around for French teachers. I’ve heard that finding qualified Chinese teachers can be difficult for universities and community colleges, but I also might be wrong!

    However, I agree that the requirement is strange. I actually wonder what happens if you just turn in the application without the recommendations – it’s possible that if there are not enough applicants, you will be accepted regardless. Considering that I was accepted to study at a university that I didn’t actually apply to study at, I figure anything could happen!


    Kaiser Reply:

    Because of Georgia Tech and Emory, Atlanta has a lot of highly educated Chinese. Many got laid off in recent years and are teaching Chinese to make ends meet. I actually used to teach college Chinese before 2007, before the recession. Anyway, thanks for your advice. Where there’s a will, there’s a way.

    Kaiser Reply:

    I’m a businessman anyway, so I’m not in a hurry with this. I’ve always learned Chinese as a hobby and taught Chinese as an adjunct professor for fun. But taking a break from being a capitalist to study overseas might be fun too. So, that’s why I started asking questions about this opportunity in the first place.

    Emily Liedel Reply:

    It sounds like you know more about the economics of teaching Chinese than I do! If I happen to run in to an American who got the 2-year scholarship, I’ll be sure to ask how he/she managed the recommendation!

    Anjao Reply:


    ayapolo Reply:


    Sara Jaaksola Reply:

    Emily, 你的中文已经非常好!继续加油!

    Kaiser Reply:


    Sara Jaaksola Reply:

    我也觉得很好玩!但是我写中文还是会常常犯错误 :)

  • chinaelevatorstories

    I applied for a scholarship from the Chinese Scholarship Council back in 2009. The process was quite similar to what has been described in the article. What I thought is worth mentioning is that except for the student dorms which were organized by the university, everything else needed to be organized on your own once you were in China. At that time dealing with all the bureaucracy and stuff felt like a huge challenge because my Chinese wasn’t that great yet (the staff at university could only partly speak English). Try to connect with other foreign students at your university who know about the process, it will make things much easier.

    Sara Jaaksola Reply:

    Good tip! When I first came to China and to Guangzhou University (later changed to SYSU), I didn’t really know anything. My biggest help was a fellow Finnish student that I had found online before I arrived.

    Emily Liedel Reply:

    Thanks for the tip! I’ve had to call the university a couple of times, and sometimes the person I get on the phone speaks English, sometimes he or she doesn’t. Plus I had to ask my Chinese teacher for help just to find the phone number on the university website… and even with her help it took half an hour to find!

  • corey

    Do you have to take the HSK test at the nearest Confucius Institute? If not, where can I take it?

    Kaiser Reply:

    I doubt it, at least I’ve never heard of any location restrictions for taking the test. But honestly I don’t know for sure, so take what I said wiht a grain of salt. :-)

    Emily Liedel Reply:

    I’m pretty sure you can take the HSK where ever you want, but since a main reason for the existence of Confucius Institutes is to administer the HSK, that will probably be the most convenient place to take it. I’m pretty sure it is the only place to take the HSK in Portland.

  • Kaiser

    Sara, because you passed HSK 6, I know your Chinese is extremely good. I know what it takes to pass HSK 6. You really impress me. Your Chinese is definitely better than mine. But I’m not far behind! :-)

    Sara Jaaksola Reply:

    I guess that learning Chinese is the same as learning about China, the more you know the more you realize there is still lot to learn :)

    Kaiser Reply:


    ayapolo Reply:


  • toboz

    hi, just a few things from my experience that might be useful to know before you apply, not strictly about the application process though. i’m currently on a 1 semester CIS scholarship in GZ and was quite surprised by the following. 1.) my admission letter and all other papers you need to apply for a visa were supposed to arrive to my recommending confucius institute by the 1st of july, while in reality the whole pack arrived less than a month before i flew here, on august 1st to my home address (luckily, as my institute had little interest in the matter and closed for summer), which does make quite a big difference if you are trying to find cheap flight tickets / have a job to leave / have to move house, once (and only if) the scholarship is sure and official. 2.) you will not get the one off settlement allowance + the 1 400 kuai for september until the last days of september/early october, which is fair enough, but they could have let us know in advance. so you need to be well prepared financially for the first month when you will have to pay a lot to register to all sorts of places. 3.) we were officially notified just last friday (november 29th!) that all those on a 1 semester scholarship are obliged to take an HSK exam on january 11th, which happens to be the very same week we have all our other final exams. strangely enough this tiny piece of condition has not been mentioned by anyone so far. i think all these things can vary greately from school to school, but you need to be prepared for just about anything : ) have fun in beijing, good luck!

    Sara Jaaksola Reply:

    Thank you so much for sharing this toboz! Very valuable for others applying for scholarships!

    My friend is in the same boat with you, only recently found out she needs to take the HSK exam after one month. I’m wondering if you and her are in the same university here in Guangzhou? :)

  • Ronnie

    Hi, I stumbled upon your blog looking for info on this scholarship. So much information! I guess I’ll have some weekend reading to do, then :-) Well, I’m interested in applying for the same scholarship, but I’m wondering–should I include my studies in Taiwan in the section where they ask if I’ve already studied in Chibna? Also, in your case, was postponing the scholarship to Spring more of an exception, or could others be afforded the same consideration?

    Most importantly–I’ve heard Guangzhou is expensive. Could someone survive on 1,700 CNY a month? What was your experience like? :-) I’m assuming that I’d need to finance myself as a supplement to the scholarship.

    Thank you so much for your help! Such a godsend! :-)

    Emrah Reply:

    hello i have the chinese government scholarship and i get the same money as confucious inst. gives and i am living in Hangzhou which can be considered as an expensive city and 1700 is enough if you just go to school and eat at the cafeteria and buy nothing else and dont travel and so on. so I`ve been living in china for nearly 2 years and i think, if its not okay for you to go to school and eat at school cafeteria all the time,then 1700 may not be enough at all. i have no extra income and every month it is really hard to think about how to spend your money correctly and limit yourself all the time. So think about it.

    Sara Jaaksola Reply:

    Hi Ronnie,

    Well, for the China, Taiwan is part of the country, so I think you can mention it.

    I think I wouldn’t be able to life with 1700RMB per month anymore. I did that, it’s about 50RMB per day, for a certain period of time because I had to, but it wasn’t that fun. I always had to turn down invited to go out with friends. It was very stressful I have to say.

    So it’s totally up to you if you could live with 1700RMB, but you certainly would have to count your money very wisely and carefully.

  • Sang To

    So is there any chance for me sis? because I intended to apply for 1 year academic course, but I’m gonna take hskk on march 16, then how come i get results on time to apply?

    Sara Jaaksola Reply:

    This is a problem that I’m facing as well. I wasn’t fast enough to register on the March exam, so now I have to wait until May.

    I think you could try and somehow state that you did the HSKK, but are still waiting for your results and will present them or send them as soon as possible.

  • Chloe

    大家好 !I know this post has been made 2 years ago but I want to apply for the Confucius scholarship and I found this article quite interesting, thank you Emily and Sara for sharing all these information
    I just heard that for 2015 the monthly living allowance is up to 2500 CNY , do you think that it’s enough to live well in a big city ?

    Sara Jaaksola Reply:

    Congrats on the scholarship! 2500 is roughly 80 per day. It’s enough if you eat at the canteen or cheap restaurants and enjoy free activities on your weekends. Canteen food is not necessarily that good, but you can get dinner or lunch for about 5-10RMB. Outside you can eat a simple noodle dish for the same price as well, muslim restaurants are good for price and taste. Just to compare a Big Mac meal is 25RMB in China.

    Chloe Reply:

    Thanks for your answer Sarah ! I’ve been to China before so I know how much a Mcdonald’s cost compare to a random chinese dish in a little restaurant and I can say that the chinese one could be way more tasty :) Do you know if it is possible a foreigner to work while studying at uni?

    Sara Jaaksola Reply:

    According to my understanding you can do an internship on a X visa, but that has to be first approved by your university and then you need to get a statement on your visa about it.

    Chloe Reply:

    Ok thanks a lot!

  • umair

    hi umair here….i planned to apply for confucius scholarship and now a days i am studying chinese language course at my home country. can you tell me about confucuis scholarships are easy to get after fulfill its requirment . i mean are there limited seats or you simply apply and you will get scholarship. please help me cx i want to make my career in language field. thanx

  • Shahid Khan prince

    sir i am passed hsk 2 written test and got 140 marks but i cannot join the hskk oral test.can i apply for scholarship,i am also undergraduate please help me i am interested in chinese lenguage