Critical Language Scholarship Program | Selection
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How are applicants selected for the CLS Program?

Award recipients are selected on the basis of merit, with consideration for:

  • Academic record and potential to succeed in a rigorous academic setting;
  • Commitment to language learning;
  • Connection between target language and career/academic goals;
  • Ability to adapt to an intensive program and a challenging cultural environment; and
  • Contributions to the CLS Program and program goals.

All other factors being equal, the CLS Program gives preference to veterans of the United States armed forces.

All other factors being equal, applicants are selected with the goal of representing geographic diversity and a diversity of institutions and fields of study.

Preference may be given to candidates with limited or no previous study abroad experience.

Each application is initially read by two independent evaluators chosen from a pool of faculty and administrators at colleges, universities, and international education institutions across the United States. Top applicants (semi-finalists) are then reviewed by panels of academic and international education experts, who convene in Washington, D.C. in early February. The U.S. Department of State reviews and approves the finalists and alternates for the CLS award.

For the 2019 CLS Program, 431 professionals representing 48 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, and 301 institutions participated in the selection process.

What does the ideal CLS applicant look like?

The CLS Program welcomes applications from students who represent the full diversity of the United States. Students of all disciplines, majors, and varying language abilities are encouraged to apply. Participants in the 2018 CLS Program represented:

  • Public and private institutions, community colleges and minority serving institutions;
  • 49 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico; and
  • A wide variety of fields of study, including 21% from STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) fields.


  • 42% identified as students of color
  • 3% reported having a disability
  • 80% undergraduate students and 20% graduate students
  • 21% first-generation college students
  • 27% Pell grant recipients

Please review the U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs Diversity Statement for further information.

While CLS is a merit-based award, the CLS Program does not have a minimum GPA requirement and conducts a holistic review process based on each applicant’s completed application, academic record, and input from two recommenders.

How do I become an application evaluator for the CLS Program?

A survey is sent to CLS advisors each fall to collect information from those interested in reading and evaluating applications for the CLS Program.

To select a diverse student body that reflects the range of institutions, geographic regions, and fields of study in U.S. higher education, the professionals who evaluate applications must reflect a similar diversity of perspective. From the responses to the evaluator survey, we select a group of both new and experienced evaluators based on the total number of applications received.