Competitive Scholarships: What is the Boren Scholarship and Fellowship?

Funding, Scholarships & Financial Aid

Competitive Scholarships: What is the Boren Scholarship and Fellowship?

The following is part of a series of posts by different mentors looking to introduce you to the world of competitive scholarships that can give American and international students opportunities to see the world, explore interesting research within their field, and afford an elite education! Below is a piece on the Boren Awards, prestigious scholarships for language study! 


What exactly are the Boren awards? The Boren awards (the Boren Scholarship for undergrads and Boren Fellowship for graduate students) are a unique opportunity for students wishing to start or improve their knowledge of a foreign language. The award funds language study for dozens of critical languages such as Arabic, Chinese, or Russian for periods ranging from a summer term up to a full calendar year. While Boren recipients typically spend their time overseas learning their target language, a domestic component can also be added to the proposal which allows students to study at language programs within the United States, such as the Middlebury Language Schools, one of the most prestigious schools for foreign language study.

I. Is the Boren a good fit for you? 

The goal of the Boren program is to further the training of future experts in languages and cultures that are underrepresented in the United States and are of national interest for national security, foreign policy, and long-term scholarship. As such, a commitment to public service is an important tenet of the award. Following graduation, recipients are expected to work for the U.S. Federal Government to fulfill a contractual service agreement. This is very important, because anyone looking to participate in the program should be prepared to fulfill this requirement post-graduation. The Boren award is part of the National Security Education Program which provides both career advice and an alumni network for Boren recipients. However, if you’re thinking you’d like to pursue graduate school, don’t despair. Those that seek to continue their education after the Boren award, a deferment for the service requirement can be obtained.

II. Are you eligible? What programs are available? 

The Boren awards are open to all majors, and a special STEM track exists to accommodate students who typically do not have the time for extensive language training, but find themselves interested in immersing themselves in such an experience. There is also a special African Flagship Languages Initiative that provides additional funding for students pursuing critical needs African languages. 

III. What is the application like? 

The application consists of a personal statement, program proposal and budget, letters of recommendation, transcripts, and a tentative overseas affiliation (but don't let this deter you from applying, because the affiliation can be arranged after selection). Most schools have an advisor to help with the process of applying to competitive scholarships, including the Boren. However, below you'll find some special tips to help you apply... 

IV. How do you prepare? 

Since the Boren application entails a fair bit of planning it is good to start thinking early about what country makes the most sense for your language study and at what university you would like to study. As an applicant for Mandarin Chinese, I carefully considered various programs both in Mainland China and Taiwan until deciding upon the one offered by the National Taiwan University in Taipei. In addition to researching language programs, it is also important to estimate living and transportation costs since the application requires a budget.

A strong application makes a clear link between the target language and an issue of national security (broadly defined) and demonstrates that the applicant has the track record and capacity for academic success and has done due diligence in finding a program that is a good fit for the language study in question. Since the Boren is different from other prestigious scholarships due to its focus on national security and language study, it is wise to start planning and researching programs well in advance of the late January deadline. This will increase your knowledge of the application and your chances for success. 

Good luck!