The Critical Language Scholarship (CLS) Program is an intensive overseas language and cultural immersion program for American students enrolled at U.S. colleges and universities. Students spend eight to ten weeks abroad studying one of 14 critical languages. The program includes intensive language instruction and structured cultural enrichment experiences designed to promote rapid language gains.
CLS, a program of the U.S. Department of State, is part of a wider government initiative to expand the number of Americans studying and mastering foreign languages that are critical to national security and economic prosperity. CLS plays an important role in preparing students for the 21st century's globalized workforce and increasing national competitiveness.
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.
The CLS Program is a program of the U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs.
The CLS Program offers instruction in fourteen critical languages:
|No Previous Study Required||One Year of Study Required||Two Years of Study Required|
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.
To be eligible for the CLS Program you must:
- Be a U.S. citizen at the time of your application.
- Non-citizens 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.
- Your program must result in a degree. Applicants who are taking stand-alone or continuing education classes are not eligible.
- Your institution must be an accredited U.S. institution. Students earning degrees at foreign colleges or universities that are not based in the U.S. or its territories are not eligible.
- You must be enrolled at your home college or university in the Fall Semester of 2017. Please read the following information carefully:
- If you are not taking classes at your home institution in the fall semester, please confirm that you are, in fact, enrolled. Institutions have different requirements to maintain enrollment status and you will be required to provide a signed letter from your registrar stating that you were enrolled during the fall semester.
- If you are taking a leave of absence to participate in an organized semester- or year-long study abroad program, or to participate in a substantive internship program, you may still be considered eligible. You will be required to submit documentation of your study abroad or internship program. Decisions will be made on a case by case basis.
- In either case, you must submit a signed letter from your home college or university in the U.S. explaining your situation and your intention to re-enroll following the completion of your study abroad or internship program.
- Be at least 18 years old by May 15, 2018.
- Undergraduate students must complete at least one academic year of study (two semesters or three quarters) by the beginning of the CLS Program.
Please note that you will be asked to select one CLS language. You will not have the option to request a particular country or location. You are eligible to apply for one language only. If you submit more than one application, you will not be considered for a scholarship in any language.
The following persons are ineligible for the CLS Program:
- Current employees of the U.S. Department of State who work in offices under the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Academic Programs, in the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA), or for a period ending one year following the termination of such employment;
- Current employees of private and public agencies under contract or grant with the U.S. Department of State who perform services related to the Critical Language Scholarship Program, or for a period ending one year following the termination of their services; or
- Immediate families (i.e., spouses and dependent children) of the individuals described in the above paragraphs, or for a period ending one year following the termination of such employment. This provision does not disqualify self-supporting members of families who live apart from their parents.
These provisions do not include part-time or temporary employees, or consultants, or interns of the U.S. Department of State (including at U.S. Embassies and Consulates), or contract employees of the U.S. Department of State, unless such persons perform services related to the Critical Language Scholarship Program.
For applicants 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.
Felony and misdemeanor convictions Applicant situations involving a felony or misdemeanor conviction will be reviewed on a case by case basis. Minor traffic violations do not need to be reported as misdemeanors. Please note that the applicant may also be asked to submit supporting documentation.
University disciplinary action Applicant situations involving university disciplinary action will be reviewed on a case-by-case basis. Please note that the applicant may also be asked to submit supporting documentation.
Failure of an applicant to fully report felony and misdemeanor convictions or university disciplinary action will result in termination of the application.
If selected for a CLS award, you will be required to submit a medical information form and physician's statement for review by an independent medical professional. Results of the medical review will determine if you meet medical requirements necessary for program placement and participation in the CLS Program. You must also inform the program of any changes in your health status between submission of these forms and departure in order to participate in the program.
In order to participate in the CLS Program, finalists must receive an appropriate visa from their country of study (deadlines vary by country).
- The decision to issue a visa rests solely with the government and consular mission of the country to which a student is traveling. The CLS Program, American Councils for International Education and the U.S. Department of State will assist you with your visa application, but cannot influence a foreign government's decision of whether or not to issue a visa.
- CLS Program finalists and, in some cases, alternates may be required to work closely with CLS Program staff on preparing their paperwork well in advance of regular deadlines in order to receive a visa.
If you are selected for a CLS Program award, as a requirement of your participation you must agree to the terms and conditions of the award. A copy of the terms and conditions for the 2017 summer program is linked below. Note that award terms and conditions are revised on an annual basis and may change before the 2018 summer program.
Language Levels and Prerequisites
The CLS Program provides instruction in fourteen critical languages. Please note that not all levels are offered for each language (Chinese, Japanese and Russian require a minimum of two years of college-level study or the equivalent; Arabic and Persian require a minimum of one year of college-level study or the equivalent). The chart below provides information about the levels offered for each CLS language.
In order to determine which language level to choose, please review the information provided. Compare your level of experience to the scale provided below.
Offered at all levels (Beginning, Advanced Beginning, Intermediate and Advanced)
Requires at least one academic year of prior target language study or the equivalent (Advanced Beginning, Intermediate and Advanced)
Requires at least two academic years of prior target language study or the equivalent (Intermediate and Advanced only):
CLS Language Levels and Terminology
- Beginning Level: No previous study of the language, or less than one academic year of study or the equivalent.
- Advanced Beginning Level: At least one academic year of target language study or the equivalent.
- Intermediate Level: At least two academic years of target language study or the equivalent.
- Advanced Level: At least three academic years of target language study or the equivalent.
If you are currently taking college-level coursework, please apply for the next highest level. For instance, if you will have completed first year Arabic or the equivalent by the start of the CLS summer programs, you should select Advanced Beginning Arabic.
Many CLS Program participants have experience learning or using a CLS language outside of a traditional college-level language course. They may have used the language at home with family members, taken language courses offered in the local community, private tutoring or online language tutorials, or they may have spent time abroad. In addition, a college-level course may cover more material over the course of an academic year than a high school program typically covers. In all of these cases, applicants will need to consider what level is most appropriate for them to choose as part of the CLS application process.
The CLS Program is not able to personally advise applicants regarding their language level, but these are some general guidelines that may help you select the most appropriate level:
Ask a professional to assess your skill level: Work with a language teacher at your home institution or a nearby school that offers the target language. Ask them to assess your language level and determine where you would be placed in the target language curriculum at your school. For instance, if the instructor would place you in second year Arabic at your school, you would apply for the Advanced Beginning level of Arabic on the CLS application.
Identify what you know and do not know: Review textbooks and related materials used in college-level classrooms for your CLS language to see how much you already know, and where you begin to experience difficulty.
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
- Related costs for a mandatory pre-departure orientation in Washington, D.C.
- Visa fees, language instruction, room, board, program-sponsored travel within the host country
- All entrance fees for program activities
- U.S. academic credit issued through Bryn Mawr College
The following expenses will not be covered by the CLS Program:
- U.S. passport fees
- Medical exam fees required for finalists