Critical Languages Scholarship

The CLS Program is a summer study abroad opportunity for American college and university students to learn languages essential to America’s engagement with the world.


The Critical Languages Scholarship (CLS) Program is a summer study abroad opportunity for American college and university students to learn languages essential to America’s engagement with the world. Sponsored by the U.S. State Department, The CLS Program is part of a U.S. government effort to expand the number of Americans studying and mastering critical foreign languages. Students of diverse disciplines and majors are encouraged to apply. Participants are expected to continue their language study beyond the scholarship period, and later apply their critical language skills in their future professional careers.

Each summer, CLS provides rigorous academic instruction in fifteen languages that are critical to America’s national security and economic prosperity. CLS participants are citizen ambassadors, sharing American values and promoting American influence abroad.

Students spend eight to ten weeks abroad studying their chosen language. The program includes intensive language instruction and structured cultural enrichment experiences designed to promote rapid language gains.

Most languages offered by the CLS Program do not require applicants to have any experience studying critical languages. The CLS Program seeks participants with diverse interests, and from a wide range of fields of study and career paths, with the purpose of representing the full diversity of the United States. Participants are selected based on their commitment to language learning and plans to apply their language skills to their future academic or professional pursuits. Please note that CLS is an intensive group-based language program.

Languages Offered

No Previous Study Required

One Year of Academic Study Required

Two Years of Academic Study Required

For more information about program specifics for the language you wish to study, please see the “Languages” section of the CLS website:

For specifics about what language or language level you should apply for, please consult the Frequently Asked Questions section of the CLS website.

Program Structure

CLS Program institutes cover approximately one academic year of university-level language coursework during an eight-to-ten week program and are designed to meet the needs of students from a variety of language levels and backgrounds. Some CLS institutes require one to two years of prior language study (or the equivalent), while others accept students with no prior background in the language.

Formal classroom language instruction is provided for a minimum of 20 hours per week. Extracurricular activities are designed to supplement the formal curriculum, including regular one-on-one meetings with native speaker language partners for conversational practice, as well as cultural activities and excursions designed to expand students’ understanding of the history, politics, culture and daily life of their host country.

Program locations can vary from year to year, and depend on the language selected. CLS applicants apply to study a particular language rather than a program location. Site placement for languages where more than one location is offered will be made based on a variety of factors determined by the CLS Program institutes and the U.S. Department of State. The CLS Program will not be able to accommodate placement or site change requests before or during the program.

Program Benefits

The CLS Program covers most of the costs of participating in its overseas institutes, including:

– International and domestic travel between the student’s U.S. home city, Washington, D.C., and the CLS Program site
– Visa application fee
– Costs associated with the mandatory pre-departure orientation in Washington, D.C.
– Language instruction, room, board, program-sponsored travel within the host country
– All entrance fees for program activities
– Oral Proficiency Interview (OPI) language assessments
– U.S. academic credit issued through Bryn Mawr College


The CLS Program does NOT cover the costs associated with:

– U.S. passport fees
– The cost of medical exams and any follow-up visits necessary to pass the medical review process, as determined by the CLS Program

Eligibility Requirements

The CLS Program seeks participants from a variety of fields, backgrounds, and career paths, with the goal of building a cadre of Americans who speak critical languages at high levels in government, business, arts and culture, science and engineering, health and medicine, education, research, and other fields.

The CLS Program is a nationally competitive award open to all eligible U.S. undergraduate and graduate students in every field.

To be eligible for the CLS Program, you must:

– Be a U.S. citizen at the time of your application. *Others, including Permanent Residents, are not eligible, even if they anticipate naturalization by the beginning of the program
– Be enrolled in an accredited U.S. degree-granting program at the undergraduate (associate’s, bachelor’s) or graduate (master’s, doctoral, professional degree) level at the time of your application

For applications to the Fulbright U.S. Student Program: Applicants to the CLS Program may apply for and receive both a CLS Program award and a Fulbright U.S. Student Program award in the same academic year. However, participants may not accept both a CLS Program award and the Fulbright Critical Language Enhancement award, which provides supplemental critical language study funding for Fulbright U.S. Student Program grantees, in the same academic year. If a participant receives a Fulbright grant with a mandatory pre-departure orientation in Washington, D.C. that falls during the CLS Program period, he or she may need to choose between accepting the CLS Program award and the Fulbright grant.

Please review the full list of eligibility requirements on the CLS website before applying.

Application Components

Your completed application to the CLS Program will consist of an application form, two references, and uploaded copies of your unofficial transcript(s), which you will submit online through the CLS online application portal.

Essays: There are five essay questions on the application form. Your response to each essay question is strictly limited to a maximum number of words. Please review the word limit for each essay topic closely. Applicants exceeding the word limits will not be considered for the scholarship. Your essays are the most critical component of your application, and you should review the CLS Application Tips video before you begin writing. You should also reach out to your UA CLS Campus Advisor, Dr. Tayler Kent (, who is available to assist you with crafting a competitive essay. Successful applicants for the CLS award typically devote a great deal of time and effort to their essays. Responses should be written thoughtfully, and should not be left to the last minute. Seeking out the assistance of your CLS campus advisor when writing your essays will greatly increase your chances of success.

Recommendations: Each applicant must provide two recommendations. Recommendations may be provided by an academic advisor, a current or past professor or someone who knows the applicant in a professional or volunteer capacity. If you are a first year undergraduate student, please consider limiting the number of recommendations from high school teachers. The recommendations may not be completed by anyone who is related to the applicant.

Transcripts: Each applicant must submit an unofficial transcript from the college or university they are currently attending, as well as transcripts from colleges and universities attended in the past. First-year students must submit an unofficial transcript showing their courses in progress. High school transcripts are not necessary. If you are selected for an award, you will be required to submit an official transcript from your current college or university. Any unexplained discrepancies between the unofficial and official versions of the transcripts will result in an automatic cancellation of the award with no appeal.

Note: There is no on-campus interview process or internal UA deadline for this scholarship. All application materials must be submitted to the online application portal by the national deadline.

Selection Criteria

Commitment to Language Learning
Successful Applicants:
– Articulate a motivation for learning the language for which they are applying.
– Show that they have leveraged available resources to develop appropriate foreign language skills and cultural knowledge for the CLS Program.
– Show commitment to further developing their language skills and culture knowledge after participating in the CLS Program.

Connection Between Language & Goals
Successful applicants:
– Show that the specific language and cultural knowledge they gain on the CLS Program will have an impact on their academic, personal, and professional development.
– Show that the language and cultural knowledge they gain is integral to their future plans.

Preparation for the CLS Program
Successful applicants”
– Show that they understand the challenges of the CLS Program as a group-based, intensive academic study abroad program, and that they are prepared to meet these challenges.
– Articular how their academic, professional and personal experiences have prepared them to succeed on the CLS Program.

Adaptability, Sensitivity & Resilience
Successful applicants:
– Exhibit maturity and self-awareness when considering potential challenges they may face abroad.
– Show the ability to interact with people and situations that require adaptation.

Contribution to the CLS Program and Program Goals
Successful applicants:
– Have considered what their unique experiences, perspectives and/or background might contribute to the program.
– Make a good case for how they will contribute to the mission of building mutual understanding between teh people of the United States and the peopel of their host communities.

Additional Considerations
All other factors being equal:
– the CLS Program gives preference to veterans of the U.S. armed forces.
– applicants are selected with the goal of representing geographic diversity and a diversity of institutions and fields of study.

Preference may be given to candidates with limited or no previous study abroad experience.

Timeline for Award Notification

September: Application Opens
November: Application Closes
December: Round 1 reading begins
December/January: Round 1 reading closes
January/February: Semifinalists notified
March: Finalists notified
March-May: Alternates promoted on a rolling basis
June: Pre-departure orientations in Washington, D.C.
August: Students return

Need Help With Your Application?

Email your UA CLS Campus Advisor, Dr. Tayler Kent (, who will be available to assist you with the preparation of your application materials and answer any questions you have.

Be sure to check the official CLS website and watch this Online Information Session video before you apply. It will also be beneficial to attend one or more CLS on-campus information sessions, which typically occur once during each Spring and Fall semester.