In my opinion, the two chief criteria they look for are:
1. a proven commitment to your language of study
2. a proven ability to adapt to new and changing circumstances. This can include environment, people, food, etc.
Hope this helps.
Thanks for your post! In addition to the feedback from CLS Alumni, you might also find it helpful to visit the Frequently Asked Questions section on the CLS website: http://www.clscholarship.org/faq.htm.
I have to agree with Maria. I think that two biggest things are commitment and flexibility. They want to know that you're not going to waste their time and money, so make sure to include your future plans to use the target language. They also want to know that you're going to take advantage of every opportunity they provide you, so make sure to include something that demonstrates that you're flexible.
Regarding the other aspects you mentioned:
GPA: This is obviously important, but it's not crucial to have a 4.0. I can't say what the CLS committee's standards for this are, but I can say personally that when I was accepted I had a 3.5.
Volunteering: This looks good on any application. Make sure to discuss any volunteering you've had that can demonstrate the two things that were mentioned before: commitment and flexibility.
Other language skills: If you've studied another language formally, this looks good. It shows that you know how to learn a new language, which is a unique process for everybody.
Hope this helps.
My advice is to separate yourself from the crowd. I think that my application accented the fact that I was a non-traditional student and had worked for years in the nonprofit field of supporting people with disabilities. I think that I presented my life's experience and career goals as something that was unique for the Program.
The other scholars I met in this program were amazing, and I have to wonder how many great applications didn't make it. I would imagine that everyone applying has a good (to great) GPA, most probably have volunteer experience and language experience, too. Standing out is difficult. But, everyone is unique and has something special to offer. The trick is getting it on to paper! (I'm currently lost in a thicket of scholarship applications so I know how you feel.)
Although I had a 4.0 GPA, my extracurricular volunteering resume was not as fleshed out.
My advice would be to demonstrate a certain well-roundedness--include any previous study or travel abroad, indicate that you have plans to use the target language in some concrete way, and more than that make the case that you will continue to not only use the target language but also advance your knowledge of it.
I was of the impression that CLS is a very practical program. To win it you don't necessarily to be the perfect student with an intimidating resume, but you do need to convey your dedication to studying the language and why.
I agree with everyone about all the aspects they mentioned but I of course have to throw my rather extensive two cents in. First, you are on the right path, asking questions, and already showing dedication to the program by directing them toward alums on "ExchangesConnect" so I only have three further pieces of advice for you :
1. Make a genuine commitment to spread what you learn, and let them know you have done that. Be willing to tutor and help and teach at any turn - it will very obviously solidify everything for you, and perpetuate the good this program does - what I believe to be the two main goals of these tax-payer dollars.
2. In both of my summers on CLS I met the most intelligent people I ever have, hands down. That being said, it was literally (with the two groups combined) 60 different types of intelligent. What that means to me, is let them see your intelligence. Don't take that final question for granted...why you? Don't tell them its because you want to rule the world or work in the government (unless those are true) but explain its because your quick wit in English makes water come out people's noses and you HAVE to know what it would be like to get that so fluent in Arabic that Nasser himself would have coughed up the Nile. Its ridiculous - but its human and endearing and makes it obvious that you will be able to socially connect with both the Americans accompanying you and the locals to whom you may be the one and only lasting impression of an American. It actually answers why YOU...
3. Breathe. Regardless of if you get the scholarship or don't, go or can't, try again or avoid all mention of the name, you will learn from yourself as you go through the process. Filling out applications for potentially lifechanging experiences is if nothing else, incredibly humbling - realizing how many opportunities can come your way just because someone somewhere believes in you, regardless of where you come from. The fact that we as Americans have the opportunity to try is awesome in and of itself. So when the results are in, way down the line, smile and realize what I already know about you - with the will to travel, love, learn, and speak you will get there eventually and inshallah (incase you take arabic it means "God-willing") CLS can help you figure out how...
If you desire extended rants - I'll tell you anything else you want to know!
another important thing, in addition to everything stated above, is to show them that you're passionate about the language and the culture. this is especially relevant if you are applying for the beginning level of a language, where prior experience and classes are not expected. my group (punjabi 2010) had all types of students, from near-fluent ph.ds to a non-indian bhangra teacher who wanted to understand the music she choreographed to; no student is there for exactly the same reason as another, but the common thread is always that they are truly passionate about learning and understanding the language and culture. you have to show the cls people that this is not just a hobby, a passing interest, or just one other language in a sea of many that you may want to learn; show them that there is something special and personal to your choice.
there's no real way of knowing what gpa they're looking for, as they don't list any specific requirement. however, i honestly believe that grades and academics are not everything and are not necessarily the deciding factor in who gets the scholarship. they are looking for more than just a record - they want to see who you are as a person and why you are the best fit for an intense program in a drastically different cultural and social setting. it's a big plus that you've lived/studies abroad - highlighting that experience will work in your favor.
Don't worry so much about GPA or experience abroad - just show your dedication to the language and explain how you plan to continue using it. And be SINCERE.
I had never been out of the country before (except to Canada), and I had to use an example of how I became best friends with my western Pennsylvanian freshman roommate despite our social, religious, political, and even language differences on my application (in response to the prompt about prior experiences abroad or how we knew we'd be okay at adapting to a new culture). You don't have to have a perfect resume or GPA. Everyone on the program is from a different background (myself from poverty - you can imagine how out of place I felt surrounded by mostly people whose parents have doctoral degrees). I think that the reviewers will see through a shallow application in which you try to play to what you think they want to hear. You should let your personality shine through!