Critical Language Scholarship Program | Essay Considerations
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Essay Considerations

Successful applicants to the CLS Program need to address three main questions for the reviewers who select finalists:

  • How does the CLS Program, and learning the language you are applying for, contribute to your future career goals?
  • What specific interests, experiences, or background do you possess that could make you a competitive applicant?
  • How can you show us that you will be successful in the rigorous academic and immersive environment of CLS?

1) Language and Career Goals

Students should begin the application process by considering their field of study and how it is related to the language they are applying to study with CLS. Encourage applicants to take the time to really think about how linguistic and cultural competence can support them in their field. Have them research what people are doing in their field globally. Remember, CLS students come from a wide variety of disciplines – medical, engineering, business, political science, and international relations, as well as arts and the humanities. Each CLS Scholar successfully makes a case connecting their studies with their language goals.

The link between language and career is a foundational element of the CLS Program. Not everyone knows exactly where they’d like to end up, professionally, but this is a chance for applicants to show they have ideas about the professional field they’d like to work in. Applicants should be ambitious but realistic and try to avoid generalities.

2) Perspective and Background

CLS Scholars are diverse and come from all over the U.S., from an array of backgrounds, cultures, and life experiences, and with all sorts of different interests and goals. One of the major goals of the USA Study Abroad Branch at the U.S. Department of State, and the CLS Program, is to increase the number and diversity of American students participating in study abroad. Study abroad serves public diplomacy goals as well as academic. Application reviewers are looking for candidates who are able to articulate how their backgrounds and perspectives will contribute to a diverse and accurate representation of the breadth of American experience abroad.

Every student, regardless of their background, has the space to describe their own unique perspective and viewpoint. Successful applicants think about who they are, where they come from, what experience they might bring to the program, and how they may benefit from sharing this experience abroad with other Americans who are different from themselves. Encourage applicants to take a broad view and think about the uniqueness of their home towns, schools, families, communities, and friends.

3) Flexibility and Preparation

The CLS Program is an intensive, group-based language and culture program. The classes are academically challenging, and even students with previous experience abroad have trouble adapting to an unfamiliar environment. Reviewers who represent fellowship and study abroad departments across the United States want to see applicants who embody characteristics of flexibility and cultural adaptability, and who can show concrete examples of success in the face of adversity. Applicants should acknowledge the challenges they will face and bring it full circle by showing how they will overcome those challenges.

Recognizing potential challenges and showing examples of similar challenges that the applicant has worked through in the past make a strong argument for an applicant’s success on the program. Above all, applicants should avoid two common mistakes: first, saying that they will have a difficult time on program without addressing how they are prepared to adapt and succeed; and second, refusing to acknowledge challenges that all students face in a new environment.