Travel Abroad with a Language Scholarship!

3 Jan

Tap, tap, tap. . .

That is the impatient tapping of my foot as I sit here checking my email every 15 minutes (literally–I’m just that sad) to hear back on a scholarship I applied for.  They say we’ll hear by email in January, and last year the results came out the first Friday of the month.  Ergo, my tap, tap, tapping.  Wait, I need to check my email again. . .

Okay, I’m back!  Since I am stuck here waiting until at least tomorrow, maybe another week, I thought I’d share the news about this awesome opportunity for students interested in studying abroad.

I have actually been surprised at how few people are aware of the Critical Language Scholarship Program.  Started in 2006, the CLS Program is hosted by the U.S. Department of state, Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs.  The goal of the program is to offer intensive study for students interested in studying critical foreign languages. At the end of the program you will have 1 year’s worth of language study. Last year (2012) 631 scholarships were awarded out of 5,000+ applications.  It is a highly competitive program, but what an opportunity!  I really hope I get to do it this year!  For more information on the particulars see the website.


  • Website
  • Facebook
  • Application–Opened up October in 2012 for the 2013 year.  The applications are currently closed for summer 2013, but they should reopen in October again I think.  Just watch the website for the application dates.

The eligibility requirements are simple:

  • You must be a U.S. Citizen
  • You must be 18 years old by the time the program starts in the summer.
  • You must be currently enrolled at the time of your application in a U.S. degree-granting program at the undergrad or graduate level.
  • Undergraduates must have finished at least one year of college by the program’s start date (meaning you can apply as a freshman, but you must have started in the fall.
  • Applicants must be in acceptable mental and physical health. 
  • You cannot:
    • Have a felony or misdemeanor conviction
    • Be a full-time employee of the U.S. Department of State or one of their private/public agencies or be immediate family of someone so employed.
    • Accept this at the same time you have a Fulbright Award.

Languages available are:

  • Arabic (At least one year of college-level study required).
  • Azerbaijani (Beginners accepted).
  • Bangla (Beginners accepted).
  • Chinese (At least two years of college-level study required).
  • Hindi (Beginners accepted).
  • Indonesian (Beginners accepted).
  • Japanese (At least two years of college-level study required).
  • Korean (Beginners accepted).
  • Persian (At least one year of college-level study required).
  • Punjabi (Beginners accepted)
  • Russian (At least two years of college-level study required).
  • Turkish (Beginners accepted).
  • Urdu (Beginners accepted).

There are many reasons why I would recommend applying for this scholarship:

  • You Get To Study Abroad!–>  To further promote the acquisition of the language, the program sends the students to countries where the languages are spoken.  So, if  you are learning Chinese, you would participate in the program in China.
  • The Whole Program is Free!–>The only thing you have to pay for is your passport and travel to the airport.  The CLS Program will pay for your:
    • Travel to and from the program location
    • The mandatory Washington, D.C. pre-departure orientation
    • Visa Fees
    • Room
    • Board
    • Group-based intensive language instruction
    • Program-sponsored travel w/i your target country
    • All entry fees for the program’s cultural trips/activities
  • It is Open to Graduate Students Too!-> A lot of programs today are only open to undergraduate students, but this program is also available for graduates students.  They are especially grateful when law students and medical students to apply, but everyone has a good chance.  The program wants to encourage a diverse group of people to learn languages that are critical to the nation’s safety, and so they ask for all majors or degrees to apply.
  • Eight of the Languages are Open to Beginner’s!–> Azerbaijani, Bengla, Hindi, Indonesian, Korean, Punjabi, Turkish, and Urdu.  The rest require at least a year’s previous study (which amounts to 2 semesters of the language in college).  If you enjoy the program, you can apply again the next year.

The application is extremely straightforward.  Here is a sample of the 2012 Application.   They may change the requirements next year, but this year they asked for:

  • Completed Application (submitted online) including several essays, none longer than 500 words and most only one paragraph long.  The essays are not difficult really. Mostly they asked for:
    • Ways you acquired the language outside of traditional classes
    • How you decided to study the language and what you have done to study it or the region where it is spoken
    • How you intend to build on what you learn at CLS.
    • Why CLS will be the best way for you to learn the language.
    • Previous experiences abroad or in a challenging learning environment. 
    • Personal qualities that make you a good fit for their program.
  • 2 References (preferably submitted online, but they can come from anywhere).–> Ideally, one reference will speak to your target language capabilities, but, if you are a beginner, you can just send in references from professors or people who speak to your willingness and ability to be a great student in a difficult and new learning atmosphere.  Just make sure to ask for these ahead of time, since professors are notoriously slow to turn them in.
  • Unofficial Transcript (from graduate and undergraduate school if necessary).


  • The biggest thing they look for is whether you will continue your studies after CLS is over and whether you will use it in your chosen career. Reflect this in your essays.
  • Ask for recommendations extremely early!  The application will not be available until Octoberish, but you need to have the professors ready to send the letters as soon as possible.  One of mine was asked more than a month in advance and turned it in at 11:57 when it was due at 11:59.
  • Same thing for your Passport–Get it ahead of time!
  • Keep track of the textbooks and professors you use in language courses, since the application will ask you for these.
  • They do ask for signs that you can study in a challenging environment so taking a few more difficult study paths might be helpful?  Not sure about this, but I would imagine that previous study abroad experience, summer studies, etc. would be helpful.

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