Critical Language Scholarship Program | About the Program
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About the Program

Program Overview

The Critical Language Scholarship (CLS) Program is an intensive overseas language and cultural immersion group-based program for American students enrolled at U.S. colleges and universities. Students spend eight to ten weeks abroad studying one of 14 critical languages. The program includes intensive language instruction and structured cultural enrichment experiences designed to promote rapid language gains.

CLS Spark, an initiative of the CLS Program, provides opportunities for American undergraduate college and university students to study Arabic, Chinese and Russian virtually at the beginning level. Designed to leverage best practices in online language learning, CLS Spark provides American undergraduate students the opportunity to study critical languages virtually when they may not have access to studying these languages on their campuses.

The CLS Program, a program of the U.S. Department of State, is part of a wider government initiative to expand the number of Americans studying and mastering foreign languages that are critical to national security and economic prosperity. CLS plays an important role in preparing students for the 21st century's globalized workforce and increasing national competitiveness. 

Most languages offered by the CLS Program do not require applicants to have any experience studying critical languages. The CLS Program seeks participants with diverse interests, and from a wide range of fields of study and career paths, with the purpose of representing the full diversity of the United States. Participants are selected based on their commitment to language learning and plans to apply their language skills to their future academic or professional pursuits.

The Critical Language Scholarship Program is sponsored by the U.S. Department of State with funding provided by the U.S. Government and administered by American Councils for International Education.

Languages and Levels 

The CLS Program offers instruction in fourteen critical languages:

One Year of Study Required
Two Years of Study Required

Program Structure

CLS Program institutes cover approximately one academic year of university-level language coursework during an eight- to ten-week program and are designed to meet the needs of students from a variety of language levels and backgrounds. Some CLS institutes require one to two years of prior language study (or the equivalent), while others accept students with no prior background in the language.

Formal classroom language instruction is provided for a minimum of 15 hours per week. Extracurricular activities are designed to supplement the formal curriculum, including regular one-on-one meetings with native speaker language partners for conversational practice, as well as cultural activities and excursions designed to expand students’ understanding of the history, politics, culture and daily life of their host country.

Applicants may only apply once per application cycle for a single language. Applicants who submit multiple applications will be considered ineligible.

Program Benefits

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 U.S. and the CLS Program site abroad; 
  • Visa application fees, where applicable; and 
  • Room, board, and program-sponsored travel within the host country or location.

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

  • U.S. 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. 

U.S. Department of State

The U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA) works to build friendly, peaceful relations between the people of the United States and the people of other countries through academic, cultural, sports, and professional exchanges, as well as public -private partnerships. Critical Language Scholarship recipients are among the more than 30,000 exchange program participants that are overseen annually by ECA. Other programs the Bureau manages include the Fulbright Program and the Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship Program.

American Councils for International Education

American Councils for International Education advances scholarly research and cross-border learning through the design and implementation of educational programs that are well grounded in key world languages, cultures and regions. We contribute to the creation of new knowledge, broader professional perspectives, and personal and intellectual growth through international training, academic exchange, collaboration in educational development, and public diplomacy. With a presence in the U.S., Russia and Eurasia for nearly four decades, in addition to representation in over thirty countries across Asia, the Middle East and Southeastern Europe, American Councils strives to expand dialog among students, scholars, educators and professionals for the advancement of learning and mutual respect in the diverse communities and societies in which we work.

Founded in 1974 as an association for area and language professionals, American Councils has focused its expertise on academic exchange, professional training, distance learning, curriculum and test development, and research. In its four decades, American Councils has developed into one of the premier American education and international training organizations, offering quality-assured, intensive overseas language study and research programs for U.S. undergraduates, graduate students, teachers and scholars.