The Ins and Outs of a Critical Language Scholarship

Discover and Apply for Scholarships The Ins and Outs of a Critical Language Scholarship

A Comprehensive Guide to Getting a Critical Language Scholarship

Do you want to hone your language skills? Getting a critical language scholarship can help you achieve that goal!

You can get monetary help to travel abroad and learn one of the critical languages. Sounds tempting? Read our guide to find all you need to know about these programs and figure out how you can get this scholarship.

Why Are Critical Language Scholarships Awarded?

Students who wish to learn languages relevant to U.S. politics, economy, and business—called critical languages—can receive a scholarship. The critical languages are sought after by:

  • U.S. government
  • U.S. defense
  • Intelligence sectors
  • Private organizations
  • Non-profit organizations

The funds you receive don’t need to be repaid and are there to finance study-abroad programs. Both college and high-school students can apply.

You usually don’t even need to have previous study experience in the language of your choice. You can find scholarships for beginner, intermediate, and advanced levels.

Which languages are considered critical? The most commonly listed ones are:

  • Arabic
  • Chinese
  • Indonesian
  • Indic—Bangla, Hindi, Punjabi, and Urdu dialects mostly
  • Japanese
  • Korean
  • Persian—Farsi, Dari, Kurdish, Pashto, and Tajiki dialects mostly
  • Portuguese
  • Russian
  • Swahili
  • Turkic

Which Critical Language Scholarship Program Can You Apply For?

There aren’t many critical language scholarships—the most popular ones are:

  1. The Critical Language Scholarship (CLS) Program
  2. National Security Language Initiative for Youth (NSLI-Y)
  3. Boren Awards Regional Flagship Language Initiatives

The Critical Language Scholarship (CLS) Program

The Critical Language Scholarship (CLS) Program is the U.S. government program designed to encourage students to learn critical languages through a summer study abroad program.

It covers the tuition, airfare, accommodation, and meal expenses and lasts eight to ten weeks.

The college scholarship is offered for these levels and languages:

Beginner, Intermediate, and Advanced Levels
ArabicIndonesianPunjabi
AzerbaijaniJapaneseRussian
BanglaKoreanSwahili
ChinesePersianTurkish
HindiPortugueseUrdu

National Security Language Initiative for Youth (NSLI-Y)

This is a fully-funded, merit-based scholarship awarded by the U.S. Department of State. The scholarship is for high-school students only. All the costs are covered—including travel fare, visa fees, accommodation, three meals, tuition, health care coverage, and similar.

The available languages are:

  • Arabic
  • Chinese (Mandarin)
  • Hindi
  • Indonesian
  • Korean
  • Persian (Tajiki)
  • Russian
  • Turkish

Students at every level are welcome to apply. The program can take you to locations such as:

  • Belarus
  • China
  • Egypt
  • India
  • Indonesia
  • Jordan
  • Korea
  • Moldova
  • Morocco,
  • Russia
  • Taiwan
  • Turkey
  • Ukraine

Boren Awards Regional Flagship Language Initiatives

Boren Awards Initiatives offers study-language-abroad scholarships for undergraduates. Graduate students can apply for Boren Fellowships.

The program can last from eight to 52 weeks. The maximum amounts depend on the duration, as listed here:

  • 8–11 weeks—$8,000 for a summer program and STEM majors only
  • 12–24 weeks—$12,500
  • 25–52 weeks—$25,000

The initiatives and languages this program includes are listed in the table below:

The InitiativeLanguages
The African Flagship Languages Initiative (AFLI)
  • French
  • Swahili
  • Akan/Twi
  • Wolof
  • Zulu
The Indonesian Flagship Language Initiative (IFLI)Indonesian
The South Asian Flagship Languages Initiative (SAFLI)
  • Hindi
  • Urdu
The Turkish Flagship Language Initiative (TURFLI)
  • Turkish

Where To Look for Critical Language Scholarships

If you wonder where to look for these scholarships, the answer is on the web. You can revise the listed scholarship websites or look into other foreign language scholarships that aren’t tied to critical languages.

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The Critical Language Scholarship Application Process

The application process differs for every scholarship. Find the information about how to apply for a specific program on its website, or contact the advisors. You can get in touch with the staff in the following ways:

Scholarship ProgramContact Information
CLS Program
  • Email at cls@americancouncils.org
  • Call at 877-257-9922
NSLI-Y
  • Email at nsliy@americancouncils.org
  • Call at 866-790-2086
Boren Awards
  • Email at boren@iie.org
  • Call at 800-618-6737

Note that some of these programs may ask for a scholarship essay or a recommendation letter.

What you also need to pay attention to is:

  1. Eligibility requirements
  2. Deadline

What Are the Eligibility Requirements?

You can qualify for these scholarships if you meet the requirements listed in the table:

Scholarship ProgramEligibility Requirements
CLS Program
  • Be a U.S. citizen or national
  • Be enrolled in an accredited U.S. undergraduate or graduate study program
  • Complete at least one year of study—if you are an undergraduate
  • Be at least 18 years old
  • Don’t have a parent working for the U.S. Department of State or U.S. Agency for International Development
NSLI-Y
  • Be a U.S. citizen
  • Have a cumulative grade point average (GPA) of 2.5 or higher
  • Be between 15 and 18 years of age
  • Be enrolled in grades 9–12 at the time of the application
  • Don’t be a current or past participant of the U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA) exchanges
  • Don’t have a parent working for the U.S. Department of State or U.S. Agency for International Development
Boren Awards
  • Be a U.S. citizen
  • Graduate high school or earn a GED
  • Be at least 18 years of age
  • Plan to study in a country that isn’t in Western Europe, Canada, Australia, or New Zealand
  • Don’t be a citizen of a country where you plan to study
  • Be enrolled in an accredited U.S. undergraduate or graduate study program

When Are the Deadlines?

When you need to apply depends on the scholarship you want. These are the deadlines for each program:

Scholarship ProgramDeadline
CLS Program
  • November 17
NSLI-Y
  • November 5
Boren Awards
  • June 1—early deadline
  • March 1 of the following year—last deadline

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