About CLS

Program Overview

The Critical Language Scholarship (CLS) Program is an intensive overseas language and cultural immersion program for American students enrolled at U.S. colleges and universities. Students spend eight to ten weeks abroad studying one of 15 critical languages. The program includes intensive language instruction and structured cultural enrichment experiences designed to promote rapid language gains.

CLS, 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. Please note that CLS is an intensive group-based language program.

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.


The CLS Program offers instruction in fifteen critical languages:

No Previous Study Required 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 20 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.


To be eligible for the CLS Program you must:

  • Be a U.S. citizen at the time of your application.
    • Non-citizens including Permanent Residents are not eligible, even if they anticipate naturalization by the beginning of the program.
  • 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.
    • Your program must result in a degree. Applicants who are taking stand-alone or continuing education classes are not eligible.
    • Your institution must be an accredited U.S. institution. Students earning degrees at foreign institutions that are not based in the U.S. or its territories are not eligible, even if those institutions are accredited by a recognized U.S. accrediting agency.
    • You must be enrolled at this institution in the fall term of 2018. Limited exceptions apply; please read the following information carefully:
      • If you are not taking classes at your home institution in the fall term, please confirm that you are, in fact, enrolled. Institutions have different requirements to maintain enrollment status and you will be required to provide a signed letter from your registrar stating that you were enrolled during the fall term.
      • If you are taking a leave of absence to participate in an organized term- or year-long study abroad program, or to participate in a substantive internship program, you may request an exception to the enrollments requirement. Exceptions may only be granted in these two cases, and decisions will be made on a case by case basis.
      • In either case, you must submit a signed letter from your home college or university in the U.S. explaining your situation and your intention to re-enroll following the completion of your study abroad or internship program. You must also submit documentation from the program provider explaining the opportunity and confirming your participation. This documentation may be submitted to American Councils by email at cls@americancouncils.org.
    • You must successfully complete academic requirements for the fall term in order to remain eligible for the CLS Program. Students who withdraw or fail to maintain a passing grade average are not eligible to participate in the program.
  • Be at least 18 years old by May 15, 2019.
  • If in an undergraduate program (bachelor's or associate's), complete at least one full-time equivalent year of study (two semesters or three quarters) by the beginning of the CLS Program in summer 2019.
  • 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 may apply for a second award. Applicants who have successfully completed the CLS Program two or more times are not eligible to apply again.

The following persons are ineligible for the CLS Program:

  • Employees of the U.S. Department of State who work in offices under the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Academic Programs, in the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA), for a period ending one year following the termination of such employment;
  • Employees of private and public agencies under contract or grant with the U.S. Department of State who perform services related to the Critical Language Scholarship Program, for a period ending one year following the termination of their services; or
  • Immediate family members (i.e., spouses and dependent children) of the individuals described in the above paragraphs, for a period ending one year following the termination of such employment or service. This provision does not disqualify self-supporting members of families who live apart from their parents.

These provisions do not extend to part-time or temporary employees, consultants, or interns of the U.S. Department of State (including at U.S. Embassies and Consulates), or to contract employees of the U.S. Department of State, unless such persons perform services related to the Critical Language Scholarship Program.

For applicants to the Fulbright U.S. Student Program
Applicants to the CLS Program may apply for and receive both a CLS Program award and a Fulbright U.S. Student Program award in the same academic year. However, participants may not accept both a CLS Program award and the Fulbright Critical Language Enhancement Award, which provides supplemental critical language study funding for Fulbright U.S. Student Program grantees, in the same academic year.

If a participant receives a Fulbright grant with a mandatory pre-departure orientation in Washington, D.C. that falls during the CLS Program period, he or she may need to choose between accepting the CLS Program award and the Fulbright grant.

Felony and misdemeanor convictions
Applicant situations involving a felony or misdemeanor conviction will be reviewed on a case by case basis. Minor traffic violations do not need to be reported as misdemeanors. Please note that the applicant may also be asked to submit supporting documentation.

University disciplinary action
Applicant situations involving university disciplinary action will be reviewed on a case-by-case basis. Please note that the applicant may also be asked to submit supporting documentation.

Failure of an applicant to fully report felony and misdemeanor convictions or university disciplinary action will result in termination of the application.

Participation Requirements

The health and well-being of participants and staff are top priorities of the CLS Program. The CLS Program is a rigorous immersion program and may be physically and emotionally challenging. Each student must be committed to working hard and participating fully in the group program, beginning with the mandatory pre-departure orientation through the completion of the oversea program.

Each participant must:

  • Be able to stay alert and to focus attention for up to several hours at a time during classes, while participating in cultural activities, and when receiving staff instructions.
  • Attend the pre-departure orientation and all daily classes and activities, as dictated by the program schedule and for the duration of the program (program dates will be announced prior to the deadline for accepting the award, if offered).
  • If taking prescription medications, be able to maintain proper dosage without assistance from instructors or others (except in emergency situations).
  • Perform necessary self-care, including maintaining adequate nutrition and hydration, dressing appropriately for environmental conditions, maintaining personal hygiene, and managing known medical conditions.
  • Comprehend and follow detailed instructions on travel, risk management, personal care, hazard avoidance, and other topics.
  • With reasonable accommodations, be able to navigate transportation independently between program-provided housing and the institute site, a maximum of approximately one hour each way.
  • Work effectively as a member of a team despite potentially stressful and difficult conditions. This may require problem solving on an interpersonal or group level as well as a willingness to accept differences.
  • Contribute to a safe learning environment. No inappropriate verbal or physical behavior toward others, either in person or online, is tolerated for any reason.
  • Effectively communicate ideas and concerns on an individual and group level.

Note that some program dates may overlap with the spring or fall academic term at your institution, and it may be necessary to work with your institution to accommodate the program dates.

Medical Review

If selected for a CLS award, you will be required to submit a medical information form and physician's statement to the CLS Program for review by an independent medical professional. Results of the medical review will determine if you meet medical requirements necessary for program placement and participation in the CLS Program. You must also inform the program of any changes in your health status between submission of these forms and the start of the summer program in order to participate.


All finalists must receive an appropriate visa from their country of study (deadlines vary by country).

  • The CLS Program, American Councils for International Education and the U.S. Department of State will assist you with your visa application, but cannot influence a foreign government's decision of whether or not to issue a visa. The decision to issue a visa rests solely with the government and consular mission of the country to which a student is traveling.
  • CLS Program finalists and, in some cases, alternates may be required to work closely with CLS Program staff on preparing their paperwork well in advance of regular deadlines in order to receive a visa.
  • Failure to meet deadlines or respond in a timely manner to CLS Program staff requests may result in not being issued a visa and therefore not being able to participate in the program.
  • Finalists may be required to submit their passports for visa processing in the spring, prior to the program start date. This may require finalists to cancel or reschedule planned international travel in order to participate on the CLS Program.

Additional Requirements

If you are selected for a CLS Program award, as a requirement of your participation you must agree to the terms and conditions of the award. A copy of the terms and conditions for the 2018 summer program is linked below. The award terms and conditions are revised on an annual basis and may change before the 2019 summer program.

2018 Terms and Conditions of Award

Privacy Policy Use of Personal Data

Your privacy is important to us. American Councils for International Education (American Councils) follows a few fundamental principles with regards to your data

  • We are thoughtful about the personal information we ask you to provide and the personal information that we collect about you.
  • We store personal i nformation for only as long as we have a reason to keep it.
  • We aim for transparency on how we gather, use, and share your personal information.

By starting an application to the CLS Program, you agree to our privacy policy, which incorporates and clarifies these principles. You can review our full privacy policy here, or linked at the bottom of each page.

Language Levels and Prerequisites

The CLS Program provides instruction in fifteen critical languages. Please note that not all levels are offered for each language (Chinese and Japanese require a minimum of two years of college-level study or the equivalent; Arabic, Korean, Portuguese, and Russian require a minimum of one year of college-level study or the equivalent). The lists below provide information about the levels offered for each CLS language.

In order to determine which language level to choose, please review the information provided. Compare your level of experience to the scale provided below.

Offered at all levels (Beginning, Advanced Beginning, Intermediate and Advanced)

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

Requires at least one academic year of prior target language study or the equivalent (Advanced Beginning, Intermediate and Advanced)

  • Arabic
  • Korean
  • Portuguese
  • Russian

Requires at least two academic years of prior target language study or the equivalent (Intermediate and Advanced only):

  • Chinese
  • Japanese

CLS Language Levels and Terminology

  • Beginning Level: No previous study of the language, or less than one academic year of study or the equivalent.
  • Advanced Beginning Level: At least one academic year of target language study or the equivalent.
  • Intermediate Level: At least two academic years of target language study or the equivalent.
  • Advanced Level: At least three academic years of target language study or the equivalent.

If you are currently taking college-level coursework, please apply for the next highest level. For instance, if you will have completed first year Arabic or the equivalent by the start of the CLS summer programs, you should select Advanced Beginning Arabic.

Many CLS Program participants have experience learning or using a CLS language outside of a traditional college-level language course. They may have used the language at home with family members, taken language courses offered in the local community, private tutoring or online language tutorials, or they may have spent time abroad. In addition, a college-level course may cover more material over the course of an academic year than a high school program typically covers. In all of these cases, applicants will need to consider what level is most appropriate for them to choose as part of the CLS application process.

The CLS Program is not able to personally advise applicants regarding their language level, but these are some general guidelines that may help you select the most appropriate level:

Ask a professional to assess your skill level: Work with a language teacher at your home institution or a nearby school that offers the target language. Ask them to assess your language level and determine where you would be placed in the target language curriculum at your school. For instance, if the instructor would place you in second year Arabic at your school, you would apply for the Advanced Beginning level of Arabic on the CLS application.

Identify what you know and do not know: Review textbooks and related materials used in college-level classrooms for your CLS language to see how much you already know, and where you begin to experience difficulty.

Program Benefits

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.

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.