The Strategy that Landed Me a CLS Scholarship

April 4, 2019
Maya Mundell

A Ph.D. student recently reached out to me; he needed advice on how to best apply for the CLS scholarship.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with CLS, it’s a scholarship program geared towards increasing the number of Americans studying what the U.S. government considers critical languages. These languages include Arabic, Azerbaijani, Bangla, Chinese, Hindi, Indonesian, Japanese, Korean, Persian, Punjabi, Russian, Swahili, Turkish, and Urdu.
Proficiency in one or more of these languages opens up opportunities in a variety of international and Foreign Service careers. Learn more about the Critical Language Scholarship program here .
Fortunately, I was able to give the Ph.D. candidate some concrete advice that was given to me before I submitted my own CLS application a couple of years ago.
Before I even knew about the CLS program, an Arabic student and CLS recipient on campus told me that I should apply to the program in order to supplement the Arabic curriculum that was used at Cornell. Along with encouraging me to apply, he gave his best advice and told me what he did to improve his chances of winning the scholarship. Here’s what he told me…. “Make sure you emphasize how you will continually use the language in your future studies and career. Show them (the selection committee) that the target language is instrumental to your future academic and career goals. And give specific examples on how you plan to use the language, paint a clear picture for them.” I took his advice and proceeded to construct the strongest application that I could. I was awarded the scholarship and studied in Oman in 2013. Afterward, I knew that taking his advice and combining it with my already proven scholarship winning strategies was the key to my success. Like my fellow CLS alumnus told me, you should definitely emphasize how you will continually use the language and how it’s instrumental to your career and academic success.
But, make sure to also… 1. Show how you will better serve others with the language skills you will gain through the scholarship program. Remember, service to others is what really makes your scholarship application memorable. The selection committee usually doesn’t want to dole out money to self-absorbed students; they feel more comfortable giving money to those who show they will carry on the scholarship’s tradition and share what they’ve gained from the scholarship. For example, I had established an Arabic tutoring club on campus after I came back from my first study abroad program in Jordan. In my CLS application, I expressed my need to better master Arabic in order to be a better resource for the students I was already serving on my campus.
2. Highlight all your activities and goals centered on the language. Have you participated in any clubs dedicated to the target language? Any volunteer work where you’ve had to use the language? Have you done any research using the language or about the language? Are you working towards undertaking any of these types of activities but need additional support? All that information is relevant and should be reflected in your application. 3. Clearly convey how you will use the target language in your current and future work. Are you studying the target language independently because courses aren’t offered at your university? Are you studying (or plan to study) the language in order to better prepare yourself for future academic work? How do you plan to use the target language in your future career? Think about these questions and include this information in your essays.
4. Identify instructors, professors, supervisors , or any other people who can speak about your relationship with and dedication to the target language. Contact your recommenders early and provide them with a resume/CV outlining your relevant experience. This is a type of coaching your recommenders need to write and construct the best recommendation letters possible. It’s important to keep in mind that CLS is a competitive program and the selection committee considers many factors before making their final decisions. I’m sharing these strategies and advice in hopes that you’ll use this information to increase your chances of winning the scholarship. So keep these tips in mind while applying and put your best foot forward. You got this, you’ll be fine, and always remember that if you don’t get it the first time, you can try again. Oh, just a quick tidbit, CLS not only covers all travel, accommodation, and academic expenses, it also gives students a stipend (which is something like an allowance) which students can save and manage on their own! So, if you needed an another reason to push you to apply for the program, here it is.