Critical Language Scholarship

The Critical Language Scholarship (CLS) Program is a fully funded summer overseas language and cultural immersion program for American undergraduate and graduate students. With the goal of broadening the base of Americans studying and mastering critical languages and building relationships between the people of the United States and other countries, CLS provides opportunities to a diverse range of students from across the United States at every level of language learning. CLS is a program of the U.S. Department of State.

CLS seeks participants from a variety of fields, backgrounds, and career paths, with the goal of building a cadre of Americans who speak critical languages at high levels in government, business, arts and culture, science and engineering, health and medicine, education, research, and other fields.


CLS provides instruction in thirteen critical languages: Arabic, Azerbaijani,  Chinese, Hindi, Indonesian, Japanese, Korean, Persian, Portuguese, Russian, Swahili, Turkish, and Urdu. You apply by language, not for a particular country placement.

Participants in the most CLS Program languages are not required to have previous experience studying most of the languages. However, please note that applicants to the Arabic, Chinese, Korean, and Russian programs are required to have completed one year of language study prior to program start while those applying to the  Japanese program are required to have completed 2 years of study.

Programs range from 8 to 10 weeks, beginning in early to mid-June with a pre-departure orientation in the U.S. Students must attend the full program and participate in all program activities. Students in all disciplines including business, engineering, law, medicine, sciences and humanities are encouraged to apply.


In order to apply for the CLS Program you must, at the time of submitting your application:

  • Be a U.S. citizen;
  • Be currently enrolled in a U.S. degree-granting program at the undergraduate or graduate level;
  • Be at least 18 years old by May 15th of the year of the CLS Program;
  • Current undergraduate students must have completed at least one year of general college course-work by the CLS program start date (one year is defined as two semesters or three quarters);
  • Applicants must be currently enrolled at your institution of application in the fall term. There are limited exceptions to the enrollment requirement, see the CLS website for details. Those planning to graduate in the December or May prior to summer program start ARE eligible to apply!

Information on eligibility is available at:

Selection Criteria

Award recipients will be 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
  • Uniqueness of background and perspective in representing the United States abroad.

Application Information

Interested UW-Madison students apply directly through the CLS website by the November deadline.

The CLS Application for the 2024 Summer Program is now CLOSED.

Start your application at:

The deadline was Tuesday, November 14, 2023 by 8:00pm EST.

Please contact the IRIS Awards Office ( with any questions and for support and guidance on the application – we’re here to help!

CLS Spark Program

CLS Spark is a virtual initiative for U.S. undergraduate students to learn languages essential to America’s engagement with the world. Designed to leverage best practices in online language learning developed by the CLS Program during the pandemic, CLS Spark provides American students the opportunity to study critical languages virtually when they may not have access to studying these languages on their campuses. Participants will spend the summer learning either Arabic, Chinese or Russian through online classes and activities facilitated by native speakers at a host institution abroad.

A program of the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, the CLS Program and CLS Spark are part of a U.S. government initiative to expand the number of Americans studying and mastering foreign languages that are critical to national security and economic prosperity.

CLS Spark offers 10 hours of virtual language instruction per week, as well as monthly cultural activities and professional development workshops and support that are facilitated by native speakers at a host institution abroad.

The CLS Application for the 2024 Summer Program is now CLOSED.

Start your application at:

The deadline was Tuesday, November 14, 2023 by 8:00pm EST.

Learn more about CLS on its website:

The CLS Program will host frequent webinars, Q&A sessions, and alumni panels for students throughout the fall. A full calendar with these events and corresponding registration links is available at:

The CLS program is by direct application; there is no campus review process. But the IRIS Award Office is here to help and support all UW-Madison applicants!

Contact Sarah Linkert in the IRIS Awards Office at or 608.264.0720 with questions, to request an appointment to review draft CLS essays, and anything else CLS-related!

A list of previous UW-Madison recipients over the years can be viewed here.