Abstract. We discuss the multilevel control problem for linear dynamical systems, consisting in designing a piece-wise constant control function taking values in a finite-dimensional set. In particular, we provide a complete characterization of multilevel controls through a duality approach, based on the minimization of a suitable cost functional. In this manner we build optimal multi-level controls and characterize the time needed for a given ensemble of levels to assure the controllability of the system. Moreover, this method leads to efficient numerical algorithms for computing multilevel controls.