Critical Language Scholarship Program: How to Apply & Get Accepted

The Critical Language Scholarship (CLS) Program is a summer study abroad opportunity for American college and university students to learn languages essential to America’s engagement with the world.

Critical Language Scholarship Program is a United States Department of State cultural and educational exchange program that offers approximately 600 undergraduate or graduate-level students from the United States the opportunity to participate in an intensive language study abroad.

The CLS Program is part of a U.S. government effort to expand dramatically the number of Americans studying and mastering critical foreign languages. Students of diverse disciplines and majors are encouraged to apply. Participants are expected to continue their language study beyond the scholarship period, and later apply their critical language skills in their future professional careers.

Each summer, Critical Language Scholarship Program provides rigorous academic instruction in fifteen languages that are critical to America’s national security and economic prosperity. CLS participants are citizen ambassadors, sharing American values and promoting American influence abroad.

Why You Should Study Abroad with the Critical Language Scholarship Program

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.

How to Apply for Critical Language Scholarship Program

Critical Language Scholarship Program

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

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.

Also be sure to watch the official CLS Application Tips video, which is designed to help you write focused, effective essays that speak to the selection criteria for the CLS Program.

We recommend this video for every student applying to the CLS Program.

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

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 the target language and career/academic goals;
  • Ability to adapt to an intensive program and a challenging 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.

The full set of selection criteria may be reviewed here.

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 U.S.

Last year, evaluators from over 250 U.S. institutions participated in the first round of selection.

Top applicants are reviewed by panels of academic and international education experts, who convene in Washington, D.C. in early February.

Applicants will be notified of final decisions about their selection by early March, 2021.

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, Washington, D.C., and the CLS Program site
  • Visa application fees
  • Costs associated with the mandatory pre-departure orientation in Washington, D.C.
  • Language instruction, room, board, program-sponsored travel within the host country
  • All entrance fees for program activities
  • Oral Proficiency Interview (OPI) language assessments
  • U.S. academic credit issued through Bryn Mawr College.

The following expenses will not be covered by the CLS Program:

  • U.S. passport fees; and
  • The cost of medical exams and any follow-up visits necessary to pass the medical review process, as determined by the CLS Program.

Languages Offered

  • Arabic
  • Azerbaijani
  • Bangla
  • Chinese
  • Hindi
  • Indonesian
  • Japanese
  • Korean
  • Persian
  • Portuguese
  • Punjabi
  • Russian
  • Swahili
  • Turkish
  • Urdu

Eligibility Requirements

Note that the information below pertains to the Summer 2021 CLS Program and is subject to change in future application cycles.

To be eligible for the CLS Program you must:

  • Be a U.S. citizen or national at the time of your application (Others, 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 at the time of your application.
  • Be at least 18 years old by May 15, 2021.
  • If in an undergraduate program (associate’s or bachelor’s), complete at least one full year of study (two semesters or three quarters) by the beginning of the CLS Program in summer 2021.
  • You may only apply once, for one language program, each summer. Applicants who submit multiple applications will be considered ineligible.
  • Participation is limited to a total of two CLS awards for any individual. Applicants who have been selected for and participated in the CLS Program one time may apply for a second award. Applicants who have successfully completed the CLS Program two or more times in overseas locations are not eligible to apply again. This limitation does not include participation in a CLS Virtual Institute.

The following persons are ineligible for the CLS Program:

  • Employees of the U.S. Department of State who work in offices under the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Academic Programs, in the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA), for a period ending one year following the termination of such employment;
  • 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, for a period ending one year following the termination of their services; or
  • Immediate family members (i.e., spouses and dependent children) of the individuals described in the above paragraphs, for a period ending one year following the termination of such employment or service. 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

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. 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. 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.

Participation Requirements

The health and well-being of participants and staff are the top priorities of the CLS Program.

The CLS Program is a rigorous immersion program and may be physically and emotionally challenging.

Each student must be committed to working hard and participating fully in the group program, beginning with the mandatory pre-departure orientation through the completion of the program.

Note that some program dates may overlap with the spring or fall academic term at your institution, and it may be necessary to work with your institution to accommodate the program dates.

Each participant must:

  • Be able to stay alert and to focus attention for up to several hours at a time during classes, while participating in cultural activities, and when receiving staff instructions.
  • Attend the pre-departure orientation and all daily classes and activities, as dictated by the program schedule and for the duration of the program (program dates will be announced prior to the deadline for accepting the award, if offered).
  • If taking prescription medications, be able to maintain proper dosage without assistance from instructors or others (except in emergency situations).
  • Perform necessary self-care, including maintaining adequate nutrition and hydration, dressing appropriately for environmental conditions, maintaining personal hygiene, and managing known medical conditions.
  • Comprehend and follow detailed instructions on travel, risk management, personal care, hazard avoidance, and other topics.
  • With reasonable accommodations, be able to navigate transportation independently between program-provided housing and the institute site, a maximum of approximately one hour each way.
  • Work effectively as a member of a team despite potentially stressful and difficult conditions. This may require problem solving on an interpersonal or group level as well as a willingness to accept differences.
  • Contribute to a safe learning environment. No inappropriate verbal or physical behavior toward others, either in person or online, is tolerated for any reason.
  • Effectively communicate ideas and concerns on an individual and group level.

Medical Review

If selected for a CLS award, you will be required to submit a medical information form and physician’s statement to the CLS Program for review by an independent medical professional.

Results of the medical review will determine if you meet the medical requirements necessary for program placement and participation in the CLS Program.

You must also inform the program of any changes in your health status between the submission of these forms and the start of the summer program in order to participate.


All participants must enter the host country on a U.S. passport. In most cases, it is not possible for individuals with dual citizenship to participate in the CLS Program in the country of his or her other nationality due to host country laws or policies requiring citizens to enter the country using the passport issued by that country alone.

In some cases, this may also apply to students whose parents hold citizenship in the host country.

Applicants are responsible for determining whether they have or are eligible to have, dual citizenship with the host country, and to address any potential consequences before accepting a CLS award.


All finalists must receive an appropriate visa from the CLS host country (deadlines vary by country).

  • 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. The decision to issue a visa rests solely with the government and consular mission of the country to which a student is traveling.
  • 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.
  • Failure to meet deadlines or respond in a timely manner to CLS Program staff requests may result in not being issued a visa and therefore not being able to participate in the program.
  • Finalists may be required to submit their passports for visa processing in the spring, prior to the program start date. This may require finalists to cancel or reschedule planned international travel in order to participate on the CLS Program.

Military Affiliation

The CLS Program welcomes applicants with affiliation to the U.S. armed services. All applicants with military affiliation, including all U.S.

Department of Defense military and civilian personnel, service academy cadets, service members of active and reserve components, as well as inactive service members, including members of the Individual Ready Reserves (IRR), may be subject to passport or visa requirements, special waiver requirements, prohibition of travel to the host country, and/or other restrictions.

Prior to completing the CLS application, all applicants with affiliation to the U.S. armed forces should carefully review the CLS Program’s instructions on this topic and seek advice from the appropriate commanding officer.

Additional Requirements

If you are selected for a CLS Program award, as a requirement of your participation you must agree to the terms and conditions of the award.

A sample of the terms and conditions can be found online at the address below.

The award terms and conditions are revised on an annual basis and may change before the 2021 summer program.

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