Information for Applicants

What is CLS?

You can watch a full information session video online:

Is CLS Right for Me?

Take our quiz and find out if the CLS Program is the right program for you!

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.

If you require assistance or a reasonable accommodation to complete the CLS application, please contact our staff at or 1-877-257-9922.

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 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.

2015 Webinars

In Fall 2015, CLS Program staff will partner with representatives from other organizations to host six webinars to help prospective applicants and campus advisors to understand the CLS application process and provide support. A schedule and links to recorded webinars are below:

  • September 25 - How to advise students for the CLS Program.
    Presented by CLS Program Officer for Recruitment and Selection Bo Knutson, with LaNitra Berger and Kay Agoston of George Mason University.
  • October 16 – CLS Program Information Session.
    This webinar is a general information session that covers the goals of the CLS program, the experiences of students on program, reasons to apply, resources available to students and CLS Application Tips.
  • October 23 – CLS Program Webinar for Community College Students.
    This webinar will focus on Community Colleges, and providing opportunities to students without financial and institutional support. This webinar will be focused on demystifying the application and selection process, laying out the selection criteria for the program, and encouraging students who are attending community colleges to apply for the CLS Program.
  • October 29, 3PM ET – CLS Webinar for MSIs and Groups Underrepresented In Study Abroad .
    This webinar focuses on students in Minority Servicing Institutions and providing opportunities to underrepresented student groups who may not have access to financial and institutional support. The webinar is co-presented by Gretchen Cook-Anderson of IES Abroad and will also feature a recent CLS Arabic Alumna, Jauhara Ferguson of Spelman College.
  • November 3, 4PM ET – CLS Program Webinar for STEM Students.
    This webinar will include alumni of the program who have gone on to use their critical language skills in their STEM professions. This webinar’s focus will be to provide a clear example to students in fields of study that are not traditional in study abroad of how critical language skills can be applied in their future lives.
  • November 5, 4PM ET – CLS Program Webinar for Students With Disabilities and Medical Concerns .
    The CLS Program will host a webinar for Students With Disabilities and Medical Concerns, co-hosted by Monica Malhotra of Mobility International USA. The webinar will be geared towards students with disabilities and medical concerns, and will cover program benefits, the experience of participants, program support, accommodations made for students with disabilities, and application tips.

2014 Webinars

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, the CLS Program covers many of the costs of participating in its overseas institutes, 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 issued through Bryn Mawr College. 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 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)

  • Azerbaijani
  • Bangla
  • Hindi
  • Indonesian
  • Korean
  • Punjabi
  • Swahili
  • 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 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 2015. 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 between submission of these forms and departure 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 applying by language, not for a particular country placement. 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 Program, 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.

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.


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 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 February.

Frequently Asked Questions

Would you like to know more about CLS? Find answers in our frequently asked questions section.