Critical Language Scholarship

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. Each summer, students spend eight to ten weeks abroad studying one of 15 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.

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

This award does not require university endorsement. However, we strongly recommend that you work closely with NCA as you prepare your application.


National Deadline: November 16, 2021 @8PM ET

The CLS Program offers instruction in fifteen critical languages: 

No previous study required in

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

One Year of Study Required in

  • Arabic
  • Korean
  • Portuguese
  • Russian

Two Years of Study Required in

  • Chinese
  • Japanese

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.

Eligibility Criteria

To apply, you must:

  • Be a U.S. citizen or national at the time of your application.
  • 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.
  • You must be enrolled at this institution in the fall term of your application year.  Limited exceptions apply.
  • If in an undergraduate program (bachelor's or associate's), complete at least one full year of study (two semesters or three quarters) by the beginning of the CLS Program in summer 2020.
  • 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 can apply for a second award.  Applicants who have successfully completed the CLS Program two or more times are not eligible.

Please refer to the CLS website for a more detailed list of the eligibility criteria.

Selection Criteria

Award recipients will be 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.

Please carefully review the detailed descriptions of the selection criteria on the CLS website.

  • Transcripts
  • Short-answer essays (4)
  • Personal Statement
  • Recommendation forms (2)

You can view a sample application form here.

  • In the fall, attend an NCA Learning Series session on the Critical Language Scholarship
  • Complete two NCA forms:
  • Launch your online application (application opens mid-September)
  • NCA is available starting early- to mid-October to provide feedback on CLS essays.
  • We are happy to obtain official transcripts free of charge for any student who requests one from us no later than two weeks prior to the national deadline.
  • Complete and submit application by National Deadline
  • Watch the online information session and the application tips video offered by the CLS program.
  • Information on this page is intended to supplement, not supplant, your own careful review of the official CLS website. If you find any discrepancy between the two, the CLS website takes precedence.
  • Though you should seek out others’ advice and feedback on your application, the essays should be your original work (no one should be writing your essays for you). UC’s Student Code of Conduct applies.

If you're interested in language learning opportunities, you may want to explore these other options, too:

  • The U.S. Department of State has launched a new website to serve as a resource for information on language scholarships and training programs offered by the federal government, available now at
  • With the launch comes a message to the U.S. higher education community from the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Academic Programs at the Department of State's Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs Caroline Casagrande. Download a PDF of her statement.