Information for Advisors

Who Advises for CLS?

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.

To find CLS Advisors on your campus, visit this page:

Search for CLS advisors on your campus

Faculty and staff in language, literature, and other humanities departments; international relations or political science; STEM fields; study abroad; honors program or fellowship advising; and other areas can all play a role in advising students who are applying for CLS.

Find CLS Finalists and Alumni on Your Campus!

A full database of CLS Program alumni from 2006-present is available in the CLS Alumni Database. Search for CLS alumni by name, home institution, language, year, and field of study.

The Role of CLS Advisors

The CLS Program relies on faculty, administrators, and staff members at universities across the U.S. to share information about the CLS Program with their students, and to advise students who are interested in applying for the opportunity. Although applicants are not required to obtain support from their home institutions to apply for the scholarship, we value the role that advisors play in supporting students in applying for nationally-competed awards like the CLS Program.

The CLS Program maintains a directory of advisors at colleges and universities nationwide who have volunteered to assist students with the CLS application process.

Each advisor who joins this network is asked to:

  • Advocate for and promote the CLS Program on campus, both to students and to other faculty members and administrators;
  • Support students in applying for the award;
  • Stay up-to-date on application and program requirements; and
  • Serve as a point person for staff from the CLS Program and the U.S. Department of State for their outreach efforts.

Campus advisors have access to a range of resources and opportunities provided by the CLS Program to assist them in these efforts, including:

  • Printed and electronic promotional materials;
  • Periodic email updates with program information and news;
  • Pre- and post-program press releases for campuses with CLS finalists and participants;
  • Access to an advisors toolkit containing additional resources for advising students;
  • Invitations to attend regional, limited-participation advisor workshops and training events; and
  • The opportunity to read and evaluate applications for the CLS Program each winter.

Program Timeline

October Application opens
November Application closes Recommendations due
December Round 1 reading begins
December/January Round 1 reading closes Round 2 reading begins
January/February Semifinalists notified Round 2 selection panels
March Finalists notified
March - May Alternates promoted on a rolling basis
June Pre-departure orientations in Washington, D.C. Advisors recieve program press releases
August Students return

Considerations for Advising a CLS Applicant

Successful applicants to the CLS Program need to address three main questions for the reviewers who select finalists:

  • 1) How does the CLS Program, and learning the language you are applying for, contribute to your future career goals?
  • 2) What specific interests, experiences, or background do you possess that could make you a competitive applicant?
  • 3) How can you show us that you will be successful in the rigorous academic and immersive environment of CLS?

1) Language and Career Goals

Students should begin the application process by considering their field of study and how it is related to the language they are applying to study with CLS. Encourage applicants to take the time to really think about how linguistic and cultural competence can support them in their field. Have them research what people are doing in their field globally. Remember, CLS students come from a wide variety of disciplines – medical, engineering, business, political science, and international relations, as well as arts and the humanities. Each CLS Scholar successfully makes a case connecting their studies with their language goals.

The link between language and career is a foundational element of the CLS Program. Not everyone knows exactly where they’d like to end up, professionally, but this is a chance for applicants to show they have ideas about the professional field they’d like to work in. Applicants should be ambitious but realistic and try to avoid generalities.

2) Perspective and Background

CLS Scholars are diverse and come from all over the U.S., from an array of backgrounds, cultures, and life experiences, and with all sorts of different interests and goals. One of the major goals of the U.S. Study Abroad Branch, and the CLS Program by extension, is to increase the number and diversity of American students participating in study abroad. Both programs also view study abroad as an exchange, and not only an opportunity for U.S. students—that is, the programs serve public diplomacy goals as well as academic. Application reviewers are looking for candidates who are able to articulate how their backgrounds and perspectives will contribute to a diverse and accurate representation of the breadth of American experience abroad.

Every student, regardless of their background, has the space to describe their own unique perspective and viewpoint. Successful applicants think about who they are, where they come from, what experience they might bring to the program, and how they may benefit from sharing this experience abroad with other Americans who are different from themselves. Encourage applicants to take a broad view and think about the uniqueness of their home towns, schools, families, communities, and friends. 

3) Flexibility and Preparation

The CLS Program is an intensive, group-based language and culture program. The classes are academically challenging, and even students with previous experience abroad have trouble adapting to an unfamiliar environment. Reviewers who represent fellowship and study abroad departments across the United States want to see applicants who embody characteristics of flexibility and cultural adaptability, and who can show concrete examples of success in the face of adversity. Applicants should acknowledge the challenges they will face and bring it full circle by showing how they will overcome those challenges.

Recognizing potential challenges and showing examples of similar challenges that the applicant has worked through in the past make a strong argument for an applicant’s success on the program. Above all, applicants should avoid two common mistakes: first, saying that they will have a difficult time on program without addressing how they are prepared to adapt and succeed; and second, refusing to acknowledge challenges that all students face in a new environment.

Principal Advisors

The CLS Program works with a limited number of verified staff at universities to serve as "Principal Advisors" for the CLS Program. If you have any questions about the Principal Advisor status, please write to us at

If you are a Principal Advisor for your campus, you can log into the Principal Advisor portal at

Advisor FAQs

How are applicants selected for the CLS Program?

Award recipients are selected on the basis of merit, with consideration for:

  • Academic record and potential to succeed in a rigorous academic setting;
  • Commitment to language learning;
  • Connection between target language and career/academic goals;
  • Ability to adapt to an intensive program and a challenging cultural environment; and
  • Contributions to the CLS Program and program goals.

All other factors being equal, the CLS Program gives preference to veterans of the United States armed forces.

All other factors being equal, applicants are selected with the goal of representing geographic diversity and a diversity of institutions and fields of study.

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

Each application is initially read by two independent evaluators chosen from a pool of faculty and administrators at colleges, universities, and international education institutions across the United States. Last year, evaluators from 260 U.S. institutions participated in the selection process. Top applicants are reviewed by panels of academic and international education experts, who convene in Washington, D.C. in early February.

What does the ideal CLS applicant look like?

The CLS Program welcomes applications from students who represent the full diversity of the United States. Students of all disciplines, majors, and varying language abilities are encouraged to apply. Participants in the 2018 CLS Program represented:

  • Public and private institutions, community colleges and minority serving institutions;
  • 49 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico; and
  • A wide variety of fields of study, including 21% from STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) fields.


  • 42% identified as students of color
  • 3% reported having a disability
  • 80% undergraduate students and 20% graduate students
  • 21% first-generation college students
  • 27% Pell grant recipients

Please review the U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs Diversity Statement for further information.

While CLS is a merit-based award, the CLS Program does not have a minimum GPA requirement and conducts a holistic review process based on each applicant’s completed application, academic record, and input from two recommenders.

My campus does not offer courses in any critical languages. How can my students make a case for their continued language study plan without access to any courses?

One misconception is that successful CLS applicants must come from universities with strong existing critical language programs. Although the application writing process will undoubtedly be easier for these students, the CLS Program is premised in part on the insufficient availability of U.S.-based instruction in critical languages. As such, we seek out and encourage students to apply who lack access to other opportunities.

There are many ways for an applicant to continue their studying and learning of a language, including but not restricted to taking courses at their home institution. Self-study, virtual study, or engagement with a campus or local immigrant community are all creative ways for a student to remain engaged with their application language.

One of my students is an alternate for the CLS Program. When can they expect to hear a final decision, and what are their odds of becoming a finalist?

Once initial CLS finalist notifications are sent in late February or early March, finalists have about two weeks to either accept or decline the award. Alternates are not ranked, but are promoted, with approval from the Department of State, on a rolling basis until all scholarship spots are filled. The number of students promoted from alternate to finalist status varies from year to year and from language to language depending on how many finalists decline the scholarship. It’s impossible to predict the likelihood of any student’s promotion to finalist. There is no cut-off date for the promotion of finalists other than the date that each summer institute is scheduled to arrive in Washington, D.C. for pre-departure orientation.

How can I help a student who is not sure what language to choose? Are any languages relatively more or less competitive than others?

Many applicants to the CLS Program want to know what language represents their best chance of being awarded a scholarship, and we want to encourage applicants to avoid this mentality. Although the CLS Program is very selective in the sense that only 10% of applicants will end up participating on the program, every applicant who can provide a compelling response to each of the required essay questions can make themselves competitive. Applicants who try to “game the system” typically are not able to make convincing connections between their career goals and the study of the language they are applying to.

Encourage applicants to consider how the goals of the CLS Program—developing a broad base of American professionals who are proficient in languages critical to U.S. economic prosperity and national security—match their own goals, and how they can use the investment of the CLS Program to contribute back to their communities. Success will grow out of sincere application to these goals.

We also recommend that in addition to working with CLS advisors, applicants speak with teaching faculty and instructors who may be able to help them reflect on what is happening in their chosen field internationally, and make a connection between their career goals and knowledge of a critical language.

Can CLS provide general feedback on applications from my institution?

Because of the high volume of applications the CLS Program receives, we cannot provide individual feedback on applications or a set of applications.

The CLS Program receives approximately 5,500 applications each year for approximately 550 available scholarships. Depending on how many students apply to a particular language and language level in a given year, the selection rate can be even more competitive. There are many more well-qualified applicants than the CLS Program can support. For advisors who wish to understand the selection process more thoroughly, we recommend volunteering to serve as an evaluator for the CLS Program. In reading a larger volume of applications and evaluating them according to the selection rubric, advisors can gain critical insight into the process and use the experience to advise students in future application cycles.

How do I become an evaluator for the CLS Program?

A survey is sent to advisors each fall to collect information from those interested in reading and evaluating applications for the CLS Program.

To select a diverse student body that reflects the range of institutions, geographic regions, and fields of study in U.S. higher education, the professionals who evaluate applications must reflect a similar diversity of perspective. From the responses to the evaluator survey, we select a group of both new and experienced evaluators based on the total number of applications received.

How can I find out if there are any previous CLS award recipients from my institution?

The CLS Program keeps a list of program alumni that is searchable by institution name here:

Alumni are a great resource to help promote the program to students on your campus and demonstrate the impact of study abroad generally and the CLS Program specifically.

I have a student with questions about a specific language or program site and wants to talk to someone who has done the program? Can you help me connect my student with an alumnus or alumna of the CLS Program?