Information For: Applicants
The U.S. Department of State and American Councils welcome all eligible applications and do not discriminate on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, gender, age, or disability.
The CLS Program
The Critical Language Scholarship 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.
Please note that CLS is an intensive group-based language program. Students are required to attend all classes, excursions, lectures, and all other scheduled program activities, except in cases of illness or other excused absences. Failure to comply with these policies will result in dismissal from the CLS Program.
The summer 2014 CLS Application has closed. The application for summer 2015 will be made available in fall, 2014.
Getting Help with Your Application
Because CLS applicants are not required to obtain support from their home institution to apply for the scholarship, the CLS Program does not designate official campus advisors. However, the CLS Program does maintains a list of faculty members and administrators at colleges and universities nationwide who have volunteered to assist students with the CLS application process.
+ Program Benefits
All CLS Program costs are covered for participants as noted below.
Covered costs include:
- International and domestic travel between the participant’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.;
- Applicable visa fees, language instruction, room, board, program sponsored travel within the host country;
- All entrance fees for CLS Program cultural enhancement activities; and
- U.S. academic credit.
The following will not be covered by the CLS Program:
- U.S. passport fees;
- Medical exam fees required for participants; and
- Local travel between your U.S. home address and the airport for CLS Program travel.
+ Eligibility Requirements
2014 CLS Program Eligibility Requirements:
Students in all disciplines, including science and engineering, health and medicine, business, law, social sciences and the humanities, arts and culture are encouraged to apply.
The U.S. Department of State and American Councils welcome all eligible applications and do not discriminate on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, gender, age, or disability.
To be eligible for the CLS Program:
- Applicants must be U.S. citizens.
- At the time of application, applicants must be enrolled at an accredited U.S. degree-granting program at the undergraduate (associate’s, bachelor’s) or graduate (master’s, doctoral, or professional degree) level.
- Applicants must be enrolled in an accredited degree-granting institution that is physically located in the United States or its territories. U.S. students enrolled in a degree-granting program at a foreign college or university are not eligible for the scholarship. Students currently on a semester or yearlong program abroad are eligible as long as they are still currently enrolled as a degree-seeking student at their home college or university, or if they intend to return to their degree-granting program and institution in the U.S.
- Undergraduate students must have completed at least one academic year of study at the college level by the program start date (two semesters or three quarters).
- Applicants must be at least 18 years old by the start of the summer program.
- Applicants must be in acceptable mental and physical health. Grantees will be required to submit a satisfactory Medical Information Form and Physician’s Statement.
- Ability to participate in the CLS Program is contingent upon an applicant’s ability to receive a visa to the CLS institute host country. Although the CLS Program will work with awarded students to secure a visa for the CLS institute host country, the program cannot be held responsible for other countries’ visa requirements and/or the denial of a student’s application for a visa. CLS awards are contingent upon the participant securing a host-country visa, and all awardees must meet deadlines and host country requirements set for obtaining a visa.
Please note that applicants are eligible to apply for one language only. If more than one application is submitted, the applicant will not be considered for a scholarship in any language.
CLS applicants cannot be:
- Employees of the U.S. Department of State, for a period ending one year following the termination of such employment. This provision does not include part- time or temporary employees, consultants, interns at the U.S. Department of State or at U.S. Embassies and Consulates, and contract employees of the Department of State, unless such persons perform services related to the Bureau's exchange programs;
- Employees of private and public agencies (excluding educational institutions) under contract to the U.S. Department of State to perform services related to exchange programs, for a period ending one year following the termination of their services; or
- Immediate families (i.e., spouses and dependent children) of individuals described in the above paragraphs, 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.
For applicants to the Fulbright U.S. Student Program
Participants may not accept both the Fulbright Critical Language Enhancement Award, which provides supplemental critical language study funding for Fulbright U.S. Student Program grantees, and a CLS award in the same academic year. In addition, 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 award and the Fulbright grant.
Persons Arrested for, Indicted for, Charged with, or Convicted of a Felony or a Misdemeanor
A candidate who, at the time of application or at any subsequent time prior to becoming a grantee, has been convicted of commission of a felony or a misdemeanor (excluding minor traffic violations), must inform the cooperating agency in writing of such fact. Similarly, a candidate who at the time of application, or at any subsequent time prior to becoming a grantee, has been arrested for, indicted for, or charged with a felony or a misdemeanor (excluding minor traffic violations), and the criminal matter has not been resolved, must inform the cooperating agency in writing of such fact.
Each applicant situation involving a felony or misdemeanor conviction will be reviewed on a case-by-case basis. If the applicant has been convicted of a felony, the application will not be selected for a grant, unless the review of the case merits an exception. If the applicant has been convicted of a misdemeanor, the application shall generally be eligible for selection pending review of the individual case. Minor traffic violations do not need to be reported as misdemeanors.
If the candidate is arrested for, indicted for, or charged with a felony or a misdemeanor, the application (and, if already made, the selection) may be suspended until the criminal matter is resolved. The candidate must inform the cooperating agency in writing of such fact. If a grantee is convicted, the grant may be revoked. Before selection, all such statements should be submitted to American Councils. After selection, all grantees should notify the administrating organization for their site.
After a revocation, the grantee is considered as not having received the grant and will not be an alumnus or alumna of the Critical Language Scholarship Program.
Note: Failure of an applicant to fully report felony and misdemeanor convictions or university disciplinary action will result in termination of the application.
University disciplinary action
Applicant situations involving university disciplinary action will be reviewed on a case-by-case basis. Applicants with a history of university disciplinary action will generally be eligible for selection, pending review of the individual case.
+ Language Levels and Prerequisites
The CLS Program provides instruction in thirteen 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 using the language to the level you are applying to study.
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 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.
Keep in mind that for all applicants applying above the beginning level, the target language evaluation form is required, so you will need to identify someone to work with to procure an evaluation.
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.
+ Letters of Recommendation and Language Evaluation Form
Each applicant must provide two letters of recommendation. If applying for a language at the advanced beginning, intermediate, or advanced level, the applicant must also provide a language evaluation form. If applying for a language at the beginning level, you do not need to submit a language evaluation form with your application.
- If the applicant is currently enrolled in a language course, the language evaluation form must be submitted by the applicant’s current instructor of the target language.
- If the applicant is not currently taking a language course, the language evaluation form should be submitted by the applicant’s most recent language instructor in the target language.
- If the applicant has not studied the target language formally, but is applying at the advanced beginning level or above, s/he must identify someone who can accurately assess his or her target language skills.
Letters of recommendation 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 instructor who completes the language evaluation form may also complete one of the letters of recommendation. Neither the letters of recommendation nor the language evaluation form may be completed by anyone who is related to the applicant.
Do not submit a language evaluation form for a language other than your CLS target language (e.g., from a Spanish or French professor). Such language evaluations will not be considered.
CLS applications are reviewed by language faculty, area specialists, study abroad professionals and fellowship advisors as part of the selection process. During the first round of review, all applications are read by two outside reviewers. During the second round, top applications are submitted to selection panels.
Award recipients will be selected on the basis of merit with consideration for:
- Academic record and potential to succeed in a rigorous academic setting;
- Ability to adapt to a different cultural environment;
- Plan for continuation of study of the language; and
- Plan to use the language in future career.
All applicants will be contacted by email in mid-January with notification of whether their application passed the initial review process. Applicants who pass the initial review process will be notified of their status as a scholarship recipient, alternate or non-recipient in mid-February.
+ Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
+ Application Process: General
Is the program limited to students of specific disciplines?
No, in fact the CLS Program encourages students of diverse disciplines and majors to apply. Law students and medical students are also encouraged to apply. You must be able to clearly articulate in your application how your selected language relates to your academic field of interest and future career goals.
Do I need to have my application reviewed by a campus representative before it is submitted to the program?
You do not have to go through any particular office on your campus in order to apply to the CLS Program. However, the CLS Program urges you to contact offices on campus to see if they can offer suggestions on how to strengthen your application. This might be a Scholarships Office, Fellowship Office, Merit Awards office, a Study Abroad Office or International Programs Office, or your advisor. A campus writing center might also provide some helpful feedback on your essays.
Am I obligated to seek employment in the U.S. government following graduation?
No, the CLS program does not have a service requirement. However, it is expected that you will continue to use your language in your future academic studies and professional career. Previous CLS recipients have sought and found successful employment in various fields not only in government, but also in academia, business, public health, non-profit organizations, law, etc.
I do not have a U.S. passport, or my passport is old. Do I need to get or renew my passport before the application deadline?
No, but please note that most CLS Programs will require a visa, and the timeframe for procuring a visa may leave very little time to manage a new passport application or a renewal. If you are offered a Critical Language Scholarship award and do not have a U.S. passport with at least two blank pages and that is valid through December 2014 (March 2015 for Russia) at the time of notification, the CLS Program may require you to expedite a new passport at your own expense, depending on the country of study and current visa requirements for that country. Up-to-date passport information can be found at: http://travel.state.gov/passport/passport_1738.html.
Please note that visa fees are covered by the scholarship, but passport application fees are not, including the costs of expediting a passport.
+ Application Process: Language and Program Site Questions
Can I apply for programs in more than one language?
No, you must choose to apply for only one language offered by the CLS Program.
May I select a site or indicate a site preference if I am applying for a language that has more than one institute program site?
No. Site placement for languages where more than one site is offered will be made based on a variety of factors as determined by the CLS Program institutes and the U.S. Department of State. The CLS Program will not be able to accommodate site change requests before or during the program. Additional oral and written language testing may be required before site placement is finalized.
How many applications do you usually receive for my target language?
The number of applications submitted for each CLS language varies each year. We have no way of anticipating how many applications we will receive for any given language, or for different language levels.
What percentage of applicants for beginning, advanced beginning, intermediate, and advanced levels do you admit?
We do not have a quota for each level of students accepted per language. When reviewers evaluate applications for the CLS Program, they look at each applicant’s references, transcripts, and essays. Because the applicant pool varies each year, the percentage of each level represented within a language also varies. More than anything, the CLS Program looks for well-rounded, adaptable students with a strong work ethic and a commitment to using their CLS language in their careers.
I have studied the target language, but not in a U.S. university setting. Which level should I apply for?
The CLS Program is not able to conduct a review of on-line resources, private tutoring, or independent study materials, or to personally advise applicants regarding their language level. Please refer to the “Language Levels and Pre-requisite section” to determine which level to select.
I have not studied the target language, but have been very successful at learning other foreign languages. Can I apply at the level of advanced beginning, intermediate, or advanced anyway, because I am a very fast learner?
No. Acceptance into the advanced beginning, intermediate and advanced levels of any CLS language is based on material mastered, not linguistic aptitude.
What level of proficiency can I expect to achieve after participating in the program?
The CLS Program is equivalent to approximately one academic year of language study. Language proficiency gains are measured before and after the program by means of a speaking test administered by testers certified by the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL). Please visit the ACTFL Proficiency Guidelines website (http://actflproficiencyguidelines2012.org/) to learn more about proficiency levels. Please visit the outcomes page to learn more about proficiency testing results for the CLS Program: http://www.clscholarship.org/outcomes.
+ Application Process: Transcripts, Academic Record
What is the minimum GPA for the Critical Language Scholarship?
There is no specific GPA required for the CLS Program application process. Application reviewers and selection panel members will evaluate your academic record together with your letters of recommendation, the strength of your application, your commitment to using your target language in your studies and career, and your ability to adapt to a different cultural environment.
Do I need to submit official transcripts or are unofficial transcripts acceptable?
You may upload either an official or unofficial transcript in the online application system. If you are a freshman in college and do not yet have first term grades, you must still submit an unofficial transcript to show your courses in progress. If you are unable to upload a current transcript, you may list all of your coursework and grades in the field provided.
I transferred from a community college or was dually enrolled in a high school and a college. Do I need to provide transcripts from these previous institutions?
If the credits transferred to your present university, you do not need to list these institutions for now. If you are chosen as a finalist, we will ask you to provide official transcripts from your present and past institutions.
I am currently studying abroad (or have in the past, or will during the coming semester). Do I need to submit the unofficial transcripts from my U.S.-based institution as well as my study abroad institution? If so, how do I do that?
You must submit your unofficial transcript from your U.S. institution for your application, and it must clearly show your enrollment status for the terms during which you studied abroad. If they do not, you should provide both an unofficial transcript from your U.S. based institution and an unofficial transcript from your study abroad institution. You should submit these transcripts by merging them into one PDF; if you have difficulty with this, please contact us.
+ Application Process: Letters of Recommendation and Language Evaluation Form
Where can I find information on how to submit letters of recommendation?
For information on submitting references online, please login to your online application and go to section seven: “Recommendation Requests.” Enter the contact information for your recommendation writers and click on “Save.” Once you have done so, you can send a notification email to your recommendation writers with instructions on how to submit a letter on your behalf. You can also track the progress of your recommendation.
Do my letters of recommendation and language evaluation form need to come from professors?
We require that each application have two general letters of recommendation and, for applicants applying at the advanced beginning, intermediate or advanced level, a language evaluation. The program expects that your general letters of recommendation come from an academic contact, preferably at the university level.
The language evaluation is not required for those applying for a language at the beginning level. For those at the advanced beginning, intermediate or advanced level, the language evaluation form should be completed by your current (or most recent) instructor of the language you seek to study on the CLS Program. If your instructor is unavailable, please ask someone who knows the language of your choice and who is familiar with your language capabilities to write your language reference.
Please note that all letters of reference must be submitted in English and cannot be completed by a family member.
I sent the request for a recommendation letter or language evaluation, but was told that no one has received anything. What should I do?
Log into the CLS application to make sure your notices were sent. The application system will indicate that you have sent out a notice, and it will also provide further updates on any recommendation activity (notice sent, read, saved, submitted).
If you can see that you have sent out a notice, please ask those filling out a recommendation to check their spam filter and/or quarantine service. If they do not see a message from us, you can re-send a notification. If they still have not received a message, they can contact our office to have a direct link sent to them.
It is also possible to download a PDF form and submit a scan by email (firstname.lastname@example.org), or by regular mail addressed to:
American Councils for International Education
Attn: CLS Program
1828 L Street Northwest, Suite 1200
Washington, D.C. 20036
I am a freshman in college and the fall semester just started a few weeks ago. We haven’t turned in much homework or taken any quizzes yet, so I don’t think my professors know my work very well. Can I use high school teachers for my recommendation letters?
We strongly encourage students to find professors or university-affiliated instructors (such as a graduate student teaching assistant) to complete their CLS recommendations. Professors regularly write letters of support for applicants to scholarship programs and have a strong grasp of how to write a competitive letter. However, we understand that your college career is only a few weeks old, so it may be more challenging to get a strong reference from a professor. The CLS Program selection process will accept recommendations from high school teachers, but we strongly advise submitting no more than one letter from a high school teacher.
We’re only a few weeks into the semester, so my new language instructor doesn’t know me very well. Can I use a previous instructor for my language evaluation?
Even though your new language instructors for the fall term might not have a long history with you, they do have the most accurate sense of your current language abilities. You might want to take the opportunity to schedule an office visit and discuss the language evaluation form, and speak with your teacher in your target language. This will supplement your written course work and give your instructor a more informed sense of your proficiency level.
Do beginning-level applicants need to submit a language evaluation form?
It depends. Beginning-level applicants who have never studied the language formally should only submit two general letters of recommendation. You will not be required to submit a language evaluation.
However, if you are applying at the beginning level, but have studied the language formally, you should submit one language evaluation in addition to your two general letters of recommendation.
I speak a CLS language that is not offered at my university or city. Who should I ask for the language evaluation?
This can be a challenge, and will depend on the resources available to you. You should consider asking the chair of your language department or department of international studies for recommendations. It might be possible to arrange for a phone interview with an instructor at another institution to assess your language skill level and serve as a language reference.
I’m a heritage speaker of the target language, but haven’t taken courses in it. Can my language evaluation form be submitted by a professor or tutor who has often spoken to me in the target language?
If you think that a university-affiliated instructor of your target language can accurately assess your language level, you may ask them to fill out the language evaluation form. If you are working with a tutor, you might want to consider the tutor’s academic credentials and level of experience assessing language ability for academic purposes.
+ Application Process: Sample Eligibility Cases and Questions
I will be graduating in the spring. Am I still eligible?
Yes, graduating seniors and others who will complete their degree program before the start of the CLS Program are eligible to apply, as long as they are enrolled at the time of application.
I am not currently enrolled in a degree program, but will be starting a graduate degree in the fall. Am I eligible to apply?
No, if you are not currently enrolled in a degree program, but plan to start a program next fall, you are not eligible to apply.
Is the scholarship only offered to students enrolled in a US degree program?
Yes, this scholarship is only offered to students currently enrolled in a degree-granting program at an accredited U.S. college or university physically located in the U.S. or its territories. Check with your registrar if you are unsure whether your school is accredited in the U.S.
I am a U.S. citizen enrolled in a degree program at a foreign university. Am I eligible to apply?
No, U.S. students enrolled in a degree-granting program at a foreign college or university are not eligible for the scholarship.
I am studying abroad this semester, next semester, or for the entire academic year. Am I still eligible for the Critical Language Scholarship?
As long as you are still currently enrolled as a degree-seeking student at your home college or university (and your home institution is accredited and physically located in the U.S. or its territories), or if you intend to return to your degree-granting program and institution in the U.S., you are still eligible for the CLS Program.
I am a high school student, but I am earning college credits through dual enrollment. Am I eligible for the CLS Program?
The CLS Program requires that all applicants be enrolled in a degree-granting program at an accredited U.S. university at the time of application. Typically, dual enrollment programs are not degree-granting. In addition, by the start of the program, CLS participants must be 18 years old, and must have completed a full year of college.
I am currently enrolled at a college/university but I am not presently taking any classes. Am I eligible to apply for the program?
Please check with your registrar to ensure that you are still officially enrolled without taking any classes. If so, you are eligible to apply for the program. Please be aware that if you are chosen as a finalist, you will need to demonstrate that you were officially enrolled by providing an official transcript or a statement from the registrar’s office.
I participated in a previous CLS Institute. Provided that I meet the other eligibility requirements, can I apply for another grant?
Previous CLS participants are encouraged to apply to the program again, but are not given preference in selection. Past participants should make a clear case for why participating in another summer institute is important to their goals and language development, and should make a clear case for how they have worked to keep up the language skills that they gained from the previous CLS Program.
Please note that if you are applying to study a language other than the language you previously studied with the CLS Program, you will need to make a clear case for how you are continuing to study or use your first CLS language. In addition, you should specify how you will use both your first CLS language and the new language.
I grew up speaking the language that I am applying to study on the CLS Program, and/or I have family members who speak the language that I am applying to study on the CLS Program. Am I eligible to apply?
Applicants with a family background in the language are eligible to apply for the CLS Program. If you do not already know the language (little to no experience speaking, reading, writing or listening), we recommend applying for the beginning level. If you do have some experience with the language (speaking, reading, writing or listening), please refer to the “Language Levels and Pre-requisites” section to determine which level to select.
If you are applying for the advanced beginning, intermediate or advanced level, your application must include a language evaluation form prepared by a language instructor or someone capable of assessing your target language abilities.
I have studied the target language, but not in a U.S. university setting. Do my high school courses/tutoring sessions/study abroad experiences qualify me to apply for the CLS Program?
The CLS Program welcomes applications from those who have studied or learned the language in non-university settings, but expects these applicants to adequately demonstrate that they have the necessary language background for the level they select. Please refer to the “Language Levels and Pre-requisites” section to determine which level to select.
+ If Awarded a CLS Scholarship
Can I receive more than one scholarship or fellowship and can I hold them concurrently?
The program urges you to apply for any applicable funding for languages studies. In most cases you can receive more than one scholarship, but not at the same time. For instance, in most cases you can receive a Critical Language Scholarship for the summer and another award for the following fall. There are exceptions to these rules, so we ask all award recipients to let us know if you have received any other awards. The CLS Program requires your participation from the mandatory pre-departure orientation program through the length of the intensive institutes. No exceptions will be made for attendance of other orientation programs during the CLS Program or for early departures from the CLS Program to attend other program events. PLEASE NOTE: You cannot receive funding from both a Critical Language Scholarship and a Fulbright Critical Language Enhancement award during the same year.
Are dependents allowed or may dependents accompany me while I am on the CLS program?
Dependents are not supported with CLS Program funding. Since this is a group-based program, we also discourage dependents from traveling to the country to be close to a participant. Dependents are not permitted to live in CLS-provided housing, and participants will not be allowed to live in non-program housing with dependents. Additionally, dependents may not participate in any program activities or excursions, and the program coordinators will not be able to provide any assistance with accommodations for dependents. Further, as an intensive language learning program with mandatory program activities, participants should expect to have little free time to spend with dependents.
I have other commitments in June. Can I join the program a few days late? Is the Washington, DC Pre-Departure Orientation mandatory?
CLS Program dates vary by institute location, but may start as early as late May, or may finish in the third week of August. All participants are required to attend a mandatory Pre-Departure Orientation in Washington, D.C., and to travel with the group to the CLS Program site. No exceptions will be made to this policy. For instance, if you are overseas on a study-abroad program that ends later in the summer, you will need to make arrangements to finish your program early in order to attend the Pre-Departure Orientation for your CLS Program site. If you are not able to do so, you will need to decline your CLS award.
Will I be able to conduct independent research or hold an internship while I am on the program?
No, the CLS Program is an intensive group-based language program, and classes and program activities are mandatory. You will not have time to conduct independent research or internship activities.
I have plans to attend a wedding/graduation ceremony/participate in a conference during the summer. Can I leave during the CLS Program, especially if I am sure to make arrangements that would not interfere with classes?
No. Travel away from the host country is not permitted, even in a case where it does not conflict with the academic and cultural program.
I have a question not listed on the FAQ. Whom should I contact?
If your question is not answered on the FAQ or program details, please write email@example.com.