The CLS Application

The Critical Language Scholarship (CLS) program, sponsored by the U.S. Department of State, provides fully-funded opportunities for U.S. students to participate in intensive summer language institutes all over the globe. The program has been in existence since 2006, and has sponsored over 3,000 students to pursue the study of 13 critical languages. In 2013, I studied in Malang, Indonesia with CLS.

I remember the nerve-racking application process–the pressure to get pristine letters of recommendation, to have outstanding essays, to prove to an admissions committee that I could survive in an intensive environment, and agonizing wait for my application results. Applying to CLS is in no means easy, but it can be far worth it in the end. Here are a few tips I have put together for future CLS applicants:

1) Don’t let age or experience scare you away–GO FOR IT!

I participated in CLS after my first year of undergrad. While the majority of CLSers are in their last few years of undergrad or are grad students, there are always a couple of youngsters who are accepted. So don’t shrink away because you don’t think you’ll match up to other applicants (I had a lot of friends who dropped their application when they started comparing themselves to older, more experienced students), just go with your gut and let your own story come through.

2) Find out what makes you STAND OUT

CLS, like most big-name scholarship programs, receives thousands of applications for a handful of spots. Find something that makes you different. This may be your area of study (STEM majors anyone?), previous experience studying the language, or plans to engage members from the host country. I spoke mostly about my science background and interest in global public health.

3) Make clear connections to your CAREER PLANS

CLS aims to equip its students with languages they can use in their future careers. If you want to become a CLS finalist, you have to connect your target language to your career plans.

4) Start EARLY

The CLS application isn’t due until mid-November, but you should start waaaayyyy before that. Remember that you not only have to write 4 essays, but you also need 2 letters of recommendation, a transcript, passport, wavier, and several other demographic forms to fill out. You should start thinking about what professors to ask in late September. When I started my application, I had only been in college for six weeks, so finding professors who I thought could write me good letters was certainly not easy. CLS weighs your letters very highly in their selection process–so try to ask someone who can talk about your academic and professional potential. By mid-October, you should have a pretty good idea of what you want to put in your essays. I sent off my first draft to my university’s scholarship office about one month before the application was actually due.

5) Get ADVICE from your university’s scholarship office 

If your university has a scholarship office, use it! I first found out about CLS through this office, and the staff there were so helpful. If your school doesn’t have this type of office, ask trusted professors and mentors.

6) If you’re an alternate, don’t give up HOPE

I was originally selected as an alternate, and after watching alternate after alternate be promoted to finalist, I had pretty much given up hope for CLS. But, just as I was about to pull my CLS application, I got a notification that I had been promoted to finalist status in mid-April. So don’t give up after the initial wave of alternate decisions have been announced–there is always still hope.

I hope these quick little tips will help you in your application! I never in a million years thought I would have the opportunity that CLS is giving me. This will truly be a life-changing summer, and I wish all future CLS applications the best!



  1. Hi my name is Kiaya and I will be applying for the CLS program for summer 2015. I will be starting my freshman year at Texas A&M this fall, and I wanted to know how you chose the professors to write your rec letters seeing as they only knew you for such a short amount of time. Also, now that your trip has come and gone ( i think ) I wanted to know if you liked the CLS program and found it valuable?

    Thank you for posting the advice! I needed it !!


  2. Hi! I'm Sarah and I am applying to the program for summer 2015. I would really like to talk to someone personally who was able to write essays that the application readers found to be acceptable. It would be great if I could talk to you about the what they are looking for in the essays. Thank you so much for this post!! It is very helpful!!


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