The Critical Language Scholarship: Application Tips & Considerations

Critical Language Scholarship Program

The Critical Language Scholarship (CLS) Program is an intensive overseas language and cultural immersion summer program for American students enrolled at U.S. colleges and universities.

  • Students spend 8 to 10 weeks abroad studying one of 14 critical languages.
  • The program includes intensive language instruction and structured cultural enrichment experiences designed to promote rapid language gains. 
  • CLS Program institutes cover approximately one academic year of university-level language coursework during an 8-to-10-week program and are designed to meet the needs of students from a variety of language levels and backgrounds.
  • Some CLS institutes require one to two years of prior language study (or the equivalent), while others accept students with no prior background in the language.
  • The CLS Program is part of a U.S. government effort to expand dramatically the number of Americans studying and mastering critical foreign languages. Participants are expected to continue their language study beyond the scholarship period and apply their critical language skills in their future professional careers.

Term: Summer 8-10 weeks intensive language study abroad
Application Opens: Mid-September
Application Deadline: Late November


Languages Offered

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

  • Azerbaijani
  • Bangla
  • Hindi
  • Indonesian
  • Persian
  • Portuguese
  • Swahili
  • Turkish
  • Urdu

At least one-year prior study required for Advanced Beginning, Intermediate, and Advanced levels of 

  • Arabic
  • Korean
  • Russian

At least two years prior study required for Intermediate and Advanced levels of

  • Chinese 
  • Japanese

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.


  • U.S. citizen or national at the time of application.
  • Open to undergraduates, graduate, and Ph.D. students enrolled in a program during the application cycle, and who will have completed at least one full year of study (three quarters) by the beginning of the program.
  • No minimum GPA requirement, or limit to the number of times an applicant can participate in the CLS Program.

All other factors being equal, preference given to:
• Veterans of the United States Armed Forces
• Applicants with the goal of representing geographic diversity and a diversity of institutions and fields of study
• Candidates with limited or no previous study abroad experience

View all eligibility requirements and selection criteria

Essays & Criteria

  • Three Short Answer Essays (200-300 words) 

  • No letter of Recommendation required 
  • Applicants should demonstrate a strong connection between participating in the CLS Program, and their career and academic goals. 
  • Applicants must also show resiliency and preparation for an intensive and immersive language program.

Resilience and Preparation for the CLS program – 

  •  Applicants should demonstrate how they plan to succeed in a challenging environment abroad by drawing on examples of how they have overcome challenges in the past and demonstrated resiliency and adaptability. 

  • Demonstrate an understanding of the challenges specific to the CLS Program, and provides examples of how they might address those challenges and evidence of an ability to succeed in challenging environments. 

  • Provide specific examples that demonstrate the ability to thrive in the environment of the CLS program 

  • Demonstrate high flexibility and resilience by demonstrating an appreciation for challenging situations as opportunities for growth and learning while having realistic expectations of own adaptability. 

  • Demonstrate clear tolerance and an openness to alternative viewpoints and perspectives. 

Citizen Diplomacy 

  • Applicants articulate how their unique background will contribute to building mutual understanding among the cohort and communities abroad. Demonstrate how they will serve as a strong representative of the CLS program.

  • Demonstrate self-awareness through discussion of how their unique perspective will contribute to a cohort. 

  • Clearly address how they might serve as an effective citizen diplomat, acknowledging the value of a two-way exchange –articulating what they might teach their host community, and what they might learn through an exchange. 

Commitment to Language Study 

  • Explain their interest in the CLS target language, and how they intend to continue their commitment to the language in their academic and career pursuits following the program. 

  • Articulate a specific and creative plan for building on skills and knowledge after the CLS program that optimizes their available resources. 

  • Demonstrate regular use of specific resources to advance their language skills and cultural knowledge. 

  • Illustrate how specific target language and cultural knowledge are connected to their academic and/or professional goals, AND supports statements by drawing a specific connection between linguistic competence and their future plans. 

Statement of Purpose (500 words) 

  • Applicants articulate their long-term academic and career goals, and how their target language is central in achieving those goals. 


Program Benefits

The CLS Program covers most of the costs of participating in its overseas institutes, including:
• International and domestic travel between the student's U.S. home city and the program site
• Visa application fees
• Language instruction, room, board, program-sponsored travel within the host country
• All entrance fees for program activities
• Oral Proficiency Interview (OPI) language assessments
• Two units (six quarter credits) of U.S. academic credits issued through Bryn Mawr College

The following expenses are not covered by the CLS Program:
• U.S. passport fees
• The cost of medical exams and any follow-up visits necessary to pass the medical review process, as determined by the CLS Program.


Award recipients will be selected on the basis of merit with consideration for:

  • Commitment to language learning;
  • Connection between language and goals;
  • Preparation for the CLS Program;
  • Adaptability, sensitivity and resilience; and
  • Contribution to the CLS Program and program goals.

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 by early March.

Program Structure

The program is an intensive, and highly structured study abroad program. 

  • 8 - 10 weeks over the summer, academically challenging with a focus on language learning. 

  • Cohort style with 15 hours of class each week 

  • Participants opt into a language agreement/commitment. 

  • All students have a language partner – either a local student or community member to practice speaking outside of the classroom. 

  • Cultural classes and activities 

  • Excursions to explore the cultural heritage of the host country 

  • Live with homestay families where possible 

  • CLS is not an independent travel, research, independent study or internship program 

Cohorts are diverse: 

  • All fields of study 

  • All tyles of institutions and regions of the US 

  • Different levels of experience with language and travel 

  • Over 40% identify as students of color 

  • 24% receive Pell grants (financial need) 

  • CLS does not discriminate on the basis of disability or medical condition 

  • Inclusive student support structures 

CLS Spark - Virtual Intensive Beginning Language Study!

  • CLS Spark – virtual institutes offering beginning Chinese, Arabic and Russian – only open to beginning level students with limited to no formal classroom experience. 

    • Structured intensive language study – virtual group instruction provided by host institutions abroad 
    • 10 hours per week of virtual live classes and cultural activities 

    • Inclusive program support from a dedicated program officer 

    • Professional development opportunities and support during the program 

  • Open to Undergraduate students only  - students earning an associate or bachelor's degree.

    • 8 weeks – students can complete two semesters or 1 year of coursework through Bryn Mawr College 
    • Certified OPI Certificate to demonstrate language proficiency 

    • Noncompetitive eligibility for federal government positions 

    • CLS Spark participants are automatically considered semifinalists for the next CLS program overseas (in-country) institutes!

Essays & Criteria: CLS Spark

  • Three short answer essays (250-350 words) 

  • No letter of Recommendation required 

  • Applicants should articulate readiness and resolve for contributing to a group based intensive virtual program 

  • Applicants should focus on the impact of CLS Spark on their ACCESS to language and intercultural learning opportunities 

Statement of Motivation 

  • Address personal, academic and professional goals, and consideration of how participation in CLS Spark will contribute to achieving those goals. Applicants should also discuss their readiness to successfully complete an intensive online language program. 

Statement of Experience 

  • Applicants address how their unique background and experiences will contribute to building a supportive, understanding, and diverse cohort of language learners. 

Access to language learning 

  • Applicants will address how they have used the educational opportunities available to them, and how CLS spark will help them overcome barriers preventing them from pursuing language study. 


  • Do your Homework: 

  • Do research to connect the career path you are on to one of these languages/cultures 

  • Watch the application tips video  

Seek help on your campus 

  • Study Abroad, Fellowships and Scholarship offices 

  • Academic advisors 

  • Writing centers 

Application opens: Early October.

Deadline: Mid-November.

Semifinalists notified in late January (by email) 

Finalist notification in March (two weeks to decline or accept the offer). After which alternates would be offered. 

Program Begins in June.