Critical Language Scholarship

How to apply



The Critical Language Scholarship (CLS) is an opportunity for American college and university students to learn languages and cultures essential to America’s engagement with the world. Each summer, 500 students spend eight to ten weeks studying one of fourteen languages. The CLS Program promotes intercultural knowledge and rapid language acquisition through rigorous coursework and structured enrichment experiences. The scholarship covers the full cost of tuition, airfare, and room and board while abroad.

CLS also has a program for US undergraduate students with no formal classroom experience in Arabic, Chinese, and Russian to take eight weeks of virtual summer classes in their target language. Click on the link to find out more about CLS Spark.


Participants in the CLS Program will receive: 

  • Language instruction and cultural programming
  • Textbooks and language learning materials
  • Language gains certified using the widely recognized ACTFL OPI (Oral Proficiency Interview) assessment
  • Non-competitive eligibility for U.S. government employment for up to three years after program completion
  • Academic credit issued through Bryn Mawr College
  • International and domestic travel between the student's home city in the US and the CLS Program site abroad
  • Visa application fees, where applicable
  • Room, board, and program-sponsored travel within the host country or location

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

  • US 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
  • COVID-19 testing expenses incurred because of non-vaccination for entry requirements


While most languages offered by CLS require no previous language experience, others require the equivalent of one to two academic years of study. A full list of language levels and prerequisites can be found at this link. To be eligible for the CLS Program applicants must:

  • Be a US citizen or national at the time of application.
  • Be at least 18 years old by May prior to participating in CLS.
  • Be enrolled in an accredited US degree-granting program at the undergraduate (associate, bachelor's) or graduate (master's, doctoral, professional degree) level at the time of application (not at the time of the program; this means seniors are eligible to apply).
    • Applicants in an undergraduate program (associate or bachelor's) must complete at least one full year of study (two semesters or three quarters) by the beginning of the CLS Program in summer (not at the time of application; first-years are eligible to apply).
    • Applicants must be enrolled at this institution in the fall term during which they are applying. Limited exceptions to the enrollment requirement can be found at this link.
  • Applicants may only apply for one language/level each year.
  • Employees in several offices of the US Department of State and their immediate family members may be considered ineligible for CLS. Seek guidance if you think you might be in this situation.

Selection Criteria

Applicants are selected on the basis of merit with consideration of the following:

  • Commitment to language learning – Are you already learning the language now? How will you continue when you get back from CLS?
  • Connection between language and goals – How will this language play a role in your life and career? How will CLS make a difference for you?
  • Preparation for the CLS Program – this includes your language skills but also your maturity and preparedness to spend the summer abroad at a CLS program

How to Apply

The CLS competition at Wesleyan is handled a little differently than other fellowships. There is no campus deadline, but you should still prepare to submit your application at least 24 hours in advance of the national deadline. Advising for CLS is done collaboratively between the Office of Study Abroad and Intercultural Learning at the Fries Center for Global Studies.

  1. Start thinking about CLS in August or September of the year you intend to apply.
  2. Learn about the award: visit the program’s website; check your eligibility, including the language prerequisites, and read about alumni from the program.
  3. Reach out to Associate Director for Intercultural Learning, Anita Deeg Carlin to shape your strategy for this application and your broader plans. 
  4. Seek additional input. Reach out to people who know you: could a friend or family member read your essays and offer feedback? Consider bringing your essay to the Writing Workshop.
  5. Revise your application materials on your own before the national deadline in November.
  6. Semifinalist results are announced in January each year.
  7. Final CLS results should be expected in March; it is possible to be named a finalist or an alternate. Some alternates can become finalists, though this is relatively rare; these “promotions,” as CLS calls them, typically happen before mid-April.