9 FAQs on the Critical Language Scholarship (CLS) Program

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

Critical Language Scholarship
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Here, students spend eight to ten weeks abroad studying one of 15 critical languages.

Furthermore, the program includes intensive language instruction and structured cultural enrichment experiences designed to promote rapid language gains.

In fact, CLS is a program of the U.S. Department of State. Specifically, it is part of a wider government initiative to expand the number of Americans studying and mastering foreign languages.

CLS plays an important role in preparing students for the 21st century’s globalized workforce and increasing national competitiveness.

Below, you can learn about the Critical Language Scholarship Program from A-Z. The following FAQs will help you discover more about the program.

How competitive is the Critical Language Scholarship Program?

With an acceptance rate of less than 10%, the Critical Language Scholarship is one of the most competitive scholarships in the United States.

Besides, it is one of the most prestigious language programs for U.S. citizens.

How long is the acceptance period?

In fact, CLS Program institutes cover approximately one academic year of university-level language coursework during an eight- to ten-week program.

Specifically, it aims to meet the needs of students from a variety of language levels and backgrounds.

How many levels available are there?

Generally, there are four language levels available, including:

  1. Beginning Level: No previous study of the language, or less than one academic year of study or the equivalent.
  2. Advanced Beginning Level: At least one academic year of target language study or the equivalent.
  3. Intermediate Level: At least two academic years of target language study or the equivalent.
  4. Advanced Level: At least three academic years of target language study or the equivalent.
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Additionally, 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.

In fact, you can check the language levels and prerequisites of the program in advance here.

How are applicants selected for the CLS Program?

The selection committee will select recipients on the basis of merit, with consideration for:

  • Academic record and potential to succeed in a rigorous academic setting;
  • Commitment to language learning;
  • The 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.

Nevertheless, all other factors being equal, the CLS Program gives preference to veterans of the United States Armed Forces.

Also, all other factors being equal, the committee will select applicants with the goal of representing geographic diversity and a diversity of institutions and fields of study.

Besides, preference may be given to candidates with limited or no previous study abroad experience.

All in all, you can review the full set of selection criteria here.

Who can apply for the program?

Actually, the Critical Language Scholarship Program seeks participants from a variety of fields, backgrounds, and career paths.

Furthermore, the participants must be students with the goal of building a cadre of Americans who speak critical languages at high levels in various fields, such as:

  • Government,
  • Business,
  • Arts and culture,
  • Science and engineering,
  • Health and medicine,
  • Education,
  • Research, and other fields.
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All in all, the CLS Program is a nationally competed award open to all eligible U.S. undergraduate and graduate students in every field.

However, you can review the full set of eligibility requirements for the CLS Program below.

How can I be eligible for the CLS Program?

Particularly, to be eligible for the CLS Program you must be:

  • A U.S. citizen or national at the time of your application,
  • 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, and
  • At least 18 years old by May 15th, 2021.

However, if you are in an undergraduate program (associate’s or bachelor’s), you must complete at least one full year of study (two semesters or three quarters) by the beginning of the CLS Program in summer 2021.

Furthermore, you may only apply once, for one language program, each summer. Thus, applicants who submit multiple applications will be considered ineligible.

Besides, participation is limited to a total of two CLS awards for any individual. Hence, applicants who have been selected for and participated in the CLS Program one time may apply for a second award.

On the other hand, applicants who have successfully completed the CLS Program two or more times in overseas locations are not eligible to apply again.

However, this limitation does not include participation in a CLS Virtual Institute.

Who is deemed ineligible for the Critical Language Scholarship Program?

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.
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However, these provisions do not extend to:

  • Part-time or temporary employees, 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.

Can I apply for the scholarship as a Fulbright Program recipient?


In fact, 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.

Therefore, 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.

What is needed to apply for the CLS Program?

Before applying for the Critical Language Scholarship Program, you must prepare the following documents in advance.

1. 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.

Furthermore, the results of the medical review will determine if you meet the medical requirements necessary for participation in the CLS Program.

Also, you must inform the program of any changes in your health status between the submission of these forms and the start of the summer program to participate.

2. Passport

All participants must enter the host country on a U.S. passport.

However, 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.

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

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

3. Visa

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

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