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.

+ Overview

Who Can Apply

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.

The CLS Program is a nationally competed award open to all eligible U.S. undergraduate and graduate students in every field (see additional eligibility requirements below).

Getting Help with Your Application

The CLS Program does not designate official campus advisors because CLS applicants are not required to obtain support from their home institution to apply for the scholarship. However, the CLS Program maintains a list of faculty members and administrators at colleges and universities nationwide who have volunteered to assist students with the CLS application process. If you do not have a designated CLS representative at your university, we recommend you contact your university’s study abroad, fellowship or career office.

Find CLS advisors on your campus.

Top Five Reasons to Apply to CLS

You will make enormous language gains. The intensive and immersive nature of the CLS program means that in two months, you have the potential to make gains that might otherwise take you years of class time and study. On average, CLS participants gain the equivalent of one-year of study in U.S. classrooms over a single summer.

CLS will help you grow as a person and a student. Your study abroad experience will open your eyes to new people and places and introduce perspectives you could get nowhere else. These perspectives will be important to your personal and professional goals.

Critical languages make you more competitive in the job market. No matter what field you are pursuing, in our globalized world, employers are often looking for employees that are culturally competent and have a global perspective.  The CLS experience will give you an advantage over the competition as you enter the job market.

Countries such as India, Turkey, China, Azerbaijan, Korea, Japan, and Indonesia make up some of the world’s fastest growing or most important economies. With the language and cultural expertise you gain through CLS, you can be a part of those burgeoning economic climates and get the on the ground experience that will set you apart.

You will become part of a vast community of language learners. Your CLS cohort will be made up of America’s brightest and most dedicated students, many of whom will go on to become leaders in their field. Make contacts that will serve you well into the future! You’ll also become a member of the 4 million-strong Department of State Alumni network.

Besides the practical aspects of CLS, you’ll make lifelong relationships with unique people. CLS emphasizes the diversity of its participants. You’ll meet people from different backgrounds and build your network with people from all over the country!

CLS participants are citizen ambassadors. You may be the first American that someone from your host country meets.  You will have the opportunity to teach people about our country and culture and build relationships between the people of the United States and your host country.

Find Out More About CLS

You can watch a full information session video online:


In Fall 2014, CLS Program staff hosted three webinars to help prospective applicants and campus advisors to understand the CLS Application process and provide support. Recordings of these sessions are available below:

+ Program Benefits

The CLS Program is fully funded from start to finish. From the time you step foot out the door to the time you arrive home, all program related expenses are covered, including:

  • Domestic and international 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; and
  • All entrance fees for CLS Program cultural enhancement activities;

The CLS Program provides academic credit. The CLS program offers a year’s worth of graded credit that you can apply to your college career.

The following expenses 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.

+ 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 to the scale provided below.

Offered at all levels (Beginning, Advanced Beginning, Intermediate and Advanced)

  • Azerbaijani
  • Bangla
  • Hindi
  • Indonesian
  • Korean
  • Punjabi
  • Turkish
  • Urdu

Requires at least one academic year of prior target language study or the equivalent (Advanced Beginning, Intermediate and Advanced)

  • Arabic
  • Persian

Requires at least two academic years of prior target language study or the equivalent (Intermediate and Advanced only):

  • Chinese
  • Japanese
  • Russian

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.

+ Eligibility Requirements

In order to apply for the CLS Program you must, at the time of submitting your application:

  • Be a U.S. citizen.
    • 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.
    • Your program must result in a degree. Applicants who are taking stand-alone or continuing education classes are not eligible.
    • Your institution must be physically located in the United States or its territories. Students earning degrees at foreign colleges or universities are not eligible. Students earning degrees at U.S.-based institutions located abroad are not eligible.
    • You must be enrolled at your home college or university in the Fall Semester of 2014. 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.

In order to participate on the CLS Program you must, by the beginning of your program:

  • Be at least 18 years old
  • Be in acceptable mental and physical health. Grantees will be required to submit a satisfactory Medical Information Form and Physician's statement and must inform the program of any changes in their health status in order to participate in the program.
  • Undergraduate students must have completed at least one academic year of study (two semesters or three quarters).
  • 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 travelling. 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.

Please note that 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 on 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 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.

Felony and misdemeanor convictions Applicant situations involving a felony or misdemeanor conviction will be reviewed on a case-by-case basis. If a candidate has been convicted of a felony, the applicant 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 applicant will generally be eligible for selection, pending review of the individual case. 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. Applicants with a history of university disciplinary action will generally be eligible for selection, pending review of the individual case. 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.

+ Letters of Recommendation

Each applicant must provide two letters of recommendation.

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 letters of recommendation may not be completed by anyone who is related to the applicant.

+ Selection

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.

Each applicant will be contacted by email in mid-January with notification of the status of their application following the initial review process. Applicants who move past 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, students enrolled in a degree-granting program in any field of study are eligible to apply. The CLS Program actively seeks applicants in diverse fields of study, including STEM fields, law, medicine, and others. Applicants must clearly articulate how the target language relates to their 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?
No, 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 make use of resources available on your campus 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 helpful feedback on your essays. 

The CLS Program does maintain a list of faculty members and administrators at colleges and universities nationwide who have volunteered to assist students with the CLS application process. Find CLS advisors on your campus.  

Am I obligated to seek employment in the U.S. government following graduation? 
No, the CLS program does not have a service requirement. However, alumni are expected to continue to use the target language in future academic studies and in their professional careers. Previous CLS recipients have sought and found successful employment 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 CLS institutes in most locations 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 after you have been selected. 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 2015 (March 2016 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:

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 program site?
No. Site placement for languages where more than one location 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 CLS applications, they consider each applicant’s references, transcripts, and essays. Since the applicant pool varies each year, the percentage of each level represented within a language also varies. More than anything, the CLS Program seeks 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 experience studying the target language, 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 through a speaking test known as the Oral Proficiency Interview (OPI) administered by testers certified by the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL). Please visit the ACTFL Proficiency Guidelines website ( to learn more about proficiency levels. Please visit the outcomes page to learn more about proficiency testing results for the CLS Program:

+ Application Process: Transcripts, Academic Record

What is the minimum GPA for the Critical Language Scholarship?
There is no minimum required GPA for CLS applicants. 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 provide transcripts from these institutions as part of the application. 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 an unofficial transcript from your U.S. institution, and it must clearly show your enrollment status for the terms during which you studied abroad. If it does 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 log in 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 need to come from professors?
We require that each application have two letters of recommendation. At least one of your recommendations should come from someone familiar with your academic performance, preferably at the university level. Both letters should be written by someone who can speak to your suitability for the program.

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, 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 (, 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. CLS will accept recommendations from high school teachers, but we strongly advise submitting no more than one letter from a high school teacher.

+ 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 will be graduating at the end of my fall term. Am I still eligible?
Applicants must be enrolled in a degree-seeking program at the time of their application regardless of their graduation date. As long as you meet all other eligibility requirements, you may graduate in the fall and retain your eligibility for the program.

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, you are ineligible to apply to the CLS Program if you are not enrolled in a degree program at the time of application, even if you plan to begin a program after CLS.

Is the scholarship only offered to students enrolled in a U.S. 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?
Yes, 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), 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, CLS participants must be 18 years old by the start of the program, 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?
CLS alumni 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 demonstrate the steps they have taken to maintain 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?
Yes, 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, please refer to the “Language Levels and Prerequisites” section to determine which level to select. 

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 Prerequisites” 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 of any other awards received. The CLS Program requires your participation in the mandatory pre-departure orientation in Washington, D.C. through the length of the intensive summer 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, dependents are discouraged 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 assistance with accommodations for dependents. CLS is an intensive language learning program with extensive mandatory program activities, and 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, D.C. Pre-Departure Orientation mandatory?

CLS Program dates vary by institute location, but may start as early as late May and 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.

I will be overseas in the spring prior to the summer CLS institutes. Can the CLS Program cover my international travel to Washington, D.C. for the pre-departure orientation?
No, the CLS Program can only cover U.S. domestic travel to Washington, D.C. for the pre-departure orientation. The CLS Program is unable to provide international airfare to participants for the pre-departure orientation or to reimburse any portion of this expense.

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 cases where it does not conflict with the academic and cultural program.

+ Questions?

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