Applying for a Critical Language Scholarship

**Note – I wrote most of this post last summer, while I was still in Japan on my first CLS, but I never published the post for some reason. I’ve decided to just post it now, as is, but realize that I am referring to events that took place last year (2013).

Well, it’s inevitable that I would eventually give in and make a post about this. What is the best way to apply for a Critical Language Scholarship? I will preface this by explaining how exactly I found out about the Critical Language Scholarship in the first place, and my experiences with the application and selection process.

Back in my freshman year of college, I first started talking to my parents about studying abroad in Japan. Although at that point I had not declared my second major in Japanese Studies, I knew that if I were to study abroad, Japan would definitely be my destination. My mom, determined not to pay the full tuition price for study abroad programs (which, I must say, are unbelievably high), began to scour the internet for scholarship opportunities. It was my mom who first came across the Critical Language Scholarship, and really encouraged me to apply for it.

When I first started to read about the CLS Program, it seemed too good to be true! With more research my mom and I started to put together the reality of just how competitive it is, and how slim my chances were of actually receiving the scholarship. Despite this, when the Fall 2012 semester rolled around, I started working on my CLS application. At the same time, I was filling out several other study abroad program/scholarship applications, as obviously the chances of receiving the CLS are so slim that I knew I couldn’t rely on receiving it.

After sending in my application, I essentially forgot about it. I had a lot going on at the time (other study abroad applications, exams, final critiques etc), so I honestly don’t think the CLS entered my mind at all until after the end of winter break.

Around that time in January, I got an email from the CLS program saying I had made it past the first round of selections. I was surprised! Since I knew I must be in the pool of students whose applications were good enough for serious consideration, my hopes started rising (as did my parents’). I started thinking about the CLS all the time and how awesome it would be if I were to receive it.

It was in the middle of a critique in February when out of force-of-habit, I refreshed my email on my iPhone, and saw a new message from the CLS program, titled something along the lines of “CLS Results.” My heart dropped down to my stomach. I opened the email, and found out I had been awarded the scholarship! I was in a room full of people, but I hopped up and ran straight out the door to call my parents and tell them the news.

So obviously I did something right in my application.

Here is a summary of things I included in my application that (I think) are key to why I was awarded the scholarship:

  • I talked a lot about why I care about learning about other cultures and seeing the world from more than an American-centric perspective.
  •  I talked about how my parents both immigrated to the United States, and how that shaped my worldview as I grew up.
  • I emphasized that I began learning Japanese in middle school, and made the effort to continue my studies ever since.
  • I talked about hosting exchange students throughout middle and high school, and my own experience as an exchange student in Japan.
  • I explained that my previous experience in Japan was very short, and has left me wishing I could go back ever since.
  • I reasoned that the previous time I traveled to Japan, I knew very little about the language and culture, and now that I know much more, I feel that I can take much better advantage of the opportunity to return there.
  • I explained why I decided to declare both of my majors (Fine Art and Japanese Studies), and why they are related.
  • I summarized my plans of my future career as an artist as well as an ambassador of cultural understanding, tolerance and respect, and how they tie together.
  • I emphasized that as an artist I am not only interested in the academic side of participating in the CLS program, but also am interested in Japanese Art, Art History, Architecture, etc, and want to take advantage of what the CLS has to offer beyond just classroom requirements and assignments.

Other things to note:

  • I did not have perfect grades when I applied! I had “good” grades, but my GPA was far from the ideal 4.0. During my freshman year I got some bad marks that I am still trying to make up for. Although I thought this would ruin my application, clearly it didn’t. When I found out I had passed the first round of selections back in January year, I emailed a CLS coordinator asking if I could send in an updated transcript to reflect the increase in my GPA after Fall 2012 semester grades came out. She replied that since I has passed the first round, my grades clearly were not a problem, and not something I should worry about. So don’t let imperfect grades discourage you!
  • I was in the fall semester of my sophomore year when I applied. Although most other accepted applicants seemed towards the end of their undergraduate careers, or even graduate/PhD students, don’t let this discourage you if you’re still in the first year or two of your undergrad education!
  • I did not know about the CLS Applicants Facebook group until February, after I had already found out I received the scholarship – so I missed out on all of the extra info exchanged in that group. But this didn’t hurt me at all, clearly. Don’t get too obsessed with reading through all of the posts or trying to “figure out” the system.
  • I had excellent letters of recommendation, from my Japanese language teachers. I really think this matters a whole lot. Build good, respectful, and trusting relationships with your teachers! It really pays off when you really need an opportunity – sometimes a letter of recommendation can totally swing things your way. When I look back and remember that my grades weren’t perfect, I think my letters of recommendation might have somehow made up for that.

I honestly thought there was no way I would ever receive a Critical Language Scholarship. I only filled out and sent that application to humor my mom. Although I know it is tempting to read too far into the statistics of how likely it is to receive a Critical Language Scholarship (which are very slim), don’t let your doubts lead you to throw away your application. From what I understand, many people apply for a CLS year after year and never receive one, and others (like me) receive it on their first try. It’s a very competitive scholarship and there are a lot of variables (many of which you cannot control) that are part of the selection process. Basically, if you want to apply, absolutely go for it! You never know. I am the last person I would expect to receive this opportunity – but I somehow did! **Updated-(Twice!)

So just go for it – and put your heart and soul into selling yourself in those application essays.

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