Have you ever dreamed of traveling around the world? It’s an excellent way to get off your college campus, learn new things, and take in international cultures. With the Boren Scholarship, you can get the study abroad experience while in school without having to foot the bill for the entire trip yourself.

The Boren Scholarships and Fellowships are one of the best ways to do this. Tailored for students interested in national security, these competitive fellowships can be tricky to win. 

Here, we offer a comprehensive guide that includes everything you need to know about applying for the Boren Scholarships. We cover everything from eligibility requirements to essential details about the Boren Awards timeline and strategies to maximize your chances of winning the award.

Without further ado, let’s begin!

What Is the Boren Scholarship?

Also known as the Boren Awards for International Study, the Boren Scholarship is a language study abroad program. It helps undergraduates and graduate students by funding their long-term cultural and linguistic immersion in international cultures.

Language Study and Security Protocols

The program’s core mission is to provide the United States government with ample candidates who are familiar and proficient in critical languages. It takes them off-campus and primarily focuses on teaching students the most critical languages to national security.

Since this is a national security education program, the best applicants are those interested in working for the United States government after schooling. Boren scholars can go on to have promising careers in national security, international diplomacy, and more.

Study Abroad

The Boren Awards give preference to an application that expresses interest in year-long immersion and language experiences abroad.

Besides the year-long programs they offer, the Boren program also offers awards for semester-long projects and a summer program for STEM students.

National Security Education Program

When you complete the Boren Scholarship, you must work for the US government for at least a year. 

The position you fill in working for the government can vary widely. Some people end up working in ROTC, while others go off to work with the Peace Corps. Others end up working closely with the United States Department of State.

Suppose you have long-term aspirations to work closely with the government—even better. You are the committee’s ideal candidate.

Boren Scholarships and Fellowships

Note that there are two different types of Boren Awards: the Scholarships and the Fellowships. For this article, we will be focusing solely on the scholarship designed for undergraduate students. The fellowships are for graduate students. 

What the Boren Scholarship Provides

The Boren Scholarship provides aid toward a trip to world regions of current interest to the US government, such as African, Eurasia, Latin America, the Middle East, and Central/Eastern Europe.

The minimum duration of the time spent abroad must be at least 12 weeks, except for the STEM summer program.

The program only covers a stay in one country, so programs like a semester at sea are not eligible.

The different award amount and program lengths are approximate to the following:

  • 8-11 weeks—the max award amount is $8,000 for a STEM summer program.
  • 12-24 weeks—the max award amount is $12,500.
  • 25-52 weeks—the max award amount is $25,000.

The actual funding amounts may vary based on the budget section. You’ll need to fill out this information on the application. The funding also accounts for any other financial aid.

How to Know If You’re Eligible for the Boren Scholarship

Before you start the Boren application process, take a moment to consider the eligibility requirements to ensure you meet the qualifications. 

Eligibility Requirements

Here are the specific requirements they also look for in an application:

  • Must be a US citizen when you apply
  • Must have graduated high school or have a GED
  • Must be planning an international trip to a country that is not in Western Europe, Australia, Canada, or New Zealand
  • Must be planning to study in a country where they are not a citizen
  • Must be enrolled in school for the entire duration of the program (school must be an accredited body)

These are the basic items you’ll need to have to complete an application for the Boren Awards. However, to increase your chances of winning the Boren Scholarship, you also want to demonstrate additional accomplishments and capabilities.

What Makes for a Strong Application

The selection committee looks for the following characteristics in an application:

  • Commitment to study abroad and learn the language
  • Commitment to working with the US federal government long-term
  • Focus on United States national security 
  • A significant length of time planned for study abroad
  • Appropriate flexibility, maturity, cultural adaptability, and academic preparation

Depending on your university, a language study program may be able to substitute your study abroad program. You might also need to take an academic leave of absence from campus or take online-only classes that don’t require your presence on campus while abroad.

The selection committee is looking for candidates whose study abroad program preferences most closely align with the current government preferences, including languages studied, countries visited, length of time spent abroad, and commitment to working in the US government following the program.

An application doesn’t necessarily have to demonstrate any level of language proficiency. However, the application process does require a self-assessment of your perceived language proficiency.

The most competitive candidates will have an application that illustrates an excellent academic record with the potential to succeed in the study abroad program. They also want the application to show that language study recipients are willing to commit to an international education either for academic or career goals and a general interest in learning the language. 

Finally, they’ll consider how your application proves your aptitude to learn a new language and apply what you’ve learned to government work.

The selection committee will look for connections between the international study abroad and the applicant’s career goals in any application. Ideally, Boren scholars will hope to work for the US Departments of State, Defense, or Homeland Security.

Application Steps for the Boren Scholarship

There are six separate components to the Boren application:

1. Select Program Choice and Study Plan

First up in the application process, you’ll need to decide on your program choice and language study plan.

You’ll need to choose from several different study program options, or you can design your plan for studying overseas. 

The 2021 program flagship language initiatives include:

  • The AFLI – supports the study of African languages including Swahili, French, Wolof, Zulu, or Akan/Twi. 
  • The IFLI – supports the study of Indonesian. 
  • The SAFLI – supports the study of South Asian languages such as study Urdu or Hindi.
  • The TURFLI – supports the study of Turkish. 

All proposals will require a language component. You’ll also need to illustrate how the plan complements your current school curriculum and how it fits into the United States’ national security needs.

2. Submit a Detailed Budget

Up next in the application process, you’ll need to provide a detailed budget for your program. It must include everything from room and board (on or off campus), travel and transportation, tuition and fees, required textbooks, health insurance, and other local expenses. 

Don’t underestimate this part – costs can add up quickly. When in doubt, provide too much detail as opposed to not enough.

Some of these figures will be easy to find online; others will take some brainpower, estimations, and detailed calculations. 

It can help talk to any students from your academic campus who have participated in the same program. They can provide essential insight into some of the more detailed costs.

Your campus study abroad program may also be able to help you calculate an accurate idea of your estimated expenses. 

The tip to remember here is not to underbudget. It’s far better to estimate a higher cost than the actual price than it is to estimate a much lower amount. At the same time, you will need to be mindful of the maximum award amount.

3. Write Two Essays

The application process requires two separate essays, closely related to the mission of the program itself. 

The first essay is on the topic of national security. It needs to focus on a country, language, or general region of importance to US national security. The essay must address:

  • How immersing yourself in this language, country, or region will impact your national security career goals
  • How the skills you will gain from the program will contribute to your year of service
  • How your experience will build upon previous professional, internship, volunteer, extracurricular, or academic experience

The second essay is on the topic of your study abroad program. This essay should describe your study program in great detail. In it, you should include everything such as activities, courses, language opportunities, and support features.

When you’re writing the second essay, be as detailed and descriptive as possible to paint the selection committee a picture of your stay. 

4. Request Reference Letters

You need to include either two or three reference letters in your application. Who you choose to write them is up to you. 

Ideally, you want to find people who know you very well and can expand upon aspects of your character, personality, or experience that will showcase you as a prime candidate.

It’s a good idea to provide your recommenders with copies of both of your personal essays, so they don’t merely repeat what you’ve already said.

5. Provide Transcripts

Request your transcripts from your current university or college as soon as possible. Once you have an official copy, you’ll need to include this in your application.

6. Conduct Language Assessment

The final component of the application is a self-assessment to gauge how the applicant sees themselves in terms of linguistics and adaptability. The Boren Awards provides this assessment grid to help Boren scholars determine their language level.

The Boren Scholarship Annual Timeline

The Boren annual timeline is similar each year, with each deadline varying by only a few days. The exact dates will depend on your campus schedule. Generally speaking, these are the deadlines to keep track of when applying:

  • August – Application cycle open for the next year’s round of scholarships.
  • Sept/Oct – Create a Boren Scholarship account and begin familiarizing yourself with the application.
  • November – Preferred/Priority campus deadline; this varies depending on your school.
  • Early January – Campus deadline to submit an online application; this varies depending on your school.
  • Mid-January – Campus evaluation and feedback.
  • Late January – Campus deadline for the final application.
  • Early Feb – Boren national deadline to submit the application.
  • Mid-April: Recipients of the award announced and notified. 

Tips and Strategies to Help You Win the Boren Scholarship

Besides demonstrating an interest in national security and study abroad, you can take additional steps to strengthen your chances of winning:

  • Visit websites like Go Government, USAJobs, Fedscope, and FBI Jobs to learn more about federal government positions and how your program could help your future work.
  • Start the application process early and ask for help from your school’s study abroad program on campus, your foreign language teachers, previous Boren scholars, or a mentor you trust.
  • Find (or build) the right program. The Boren scholarship gives preference to those interested in programs that most closely align with US national security goals. Ensure you understand these goals first before selecting or building your plan.
  • Discuss specific roles you may be able to fill in the US Government with the skills you’ll gain in your experience.
  • Make the closest ties you can to the experience you hope to have abroad with national security and what that means to you. Boren recognizes a broad definition of national security, including global disease, population growth, sustainable development, and economic competitiveness.
  • Self-reflect and share honestly. Don’t include things in your plan that you don’t intend to do. Be honest about your intentions, and they will see that in your application.


While the Boren Scholarship won’t be the right fit for every person who wants to study abroad in college, it can be an excellent opportunity for those interested in linguistics, government work, and national security. The Boren Awards program allows students to leave campus and dip their toes into the world of international travel while giving the US government a leg up in terms of national security skills.

If you’re an underrepresented student interested in applying for the Boren Scholarship, use the GrantEd Calculator at your convenience. We can help you calculate your financial needs, put your application together, and track your progress as you work toward this goal.

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