Boren Scholarships - What Makes a Competitive Application

Consider the preferred countries, languages, and fields of study

Generally, Boren Awards are made to students who will study less commonly taught languages in countries that are critical to national security, but underrepresented in study abroad. We also give preference to students majoring or minoring in certain fields of study. For a full list of preferences please visit the full list of Boren Scholarships Preferences. However, as we cannot list all countries, languages, and fields that are critical to U.S. national security, we are interested in applications for non-preferred areas where the candidate can make a compelling case that such study can contribute significantly to U.S. national security and the goals of the program.

Study abroad for a longer period of time

To encourage greater language and cultural immersion, preference is given to applicants proposing a full academic year, or at least two consecutive semesters, of study abroad. Applicants planning to go abroad for only one semester are encouraged to lengthen the time abroad by adding a summer before the fall semester.

Consider government service

Preference is given to students who are committed to a career in the federal government. Investigate different areas of federal service that you believe will best meet your own goals, based on your academic studies and the region of the world in which you plan to study.

Identify an appropriate study abroad program

Not all study abroad programs are right for every student. Some are designed for beginning language learners and some are designed for advanced language learners. Some are geared toward social science majors and some are geared toward other majors. Some include strong experiential learning, while others follow a classical classroom model. No one model is right for all students. Therefore, you should investigate many different study abroad programs and decide on the program that best meets your individual goals. IIEPassport is an online resource that may be helpful in identifying study abroad programs. Please consider additional factors to find a study abroad program.

Include serious language study

Not all study abroad programs include strong language programs. Investigate the language program carefully and ask your language instructors for advice. Choose a program that is appropriate or someone at your current proficiency level. Be sure to include a plan for continuing to study the language once you return from your study abroad program. Since the Boren Scholarships focus on less commonly studied languages, it is o.k. if you have never studied the language before. But you should do all that you can do now to at least familiarize yourself with the language. If you are asking the Boren Awards to make a commitment to your studies, then you should make a similar commitment.

Make a compelling case for national security

The first application essay asks students to explain the significance of the proposed country, region, and language to U.S. national security. While the Boren Awards recognizes a broad definition of national security, the applicant should make a specific, detailed, and focused argument. Strong applicants will generally make arguments that relate to both their academic background and their future career plans.

Tie your current academic plan, your proposed study abroad program, and your future career goals into one strong narrative that makes the case for your Boren Scholarship

The application includes two essays, both of which include several questions. Do not answer these questions one by one. Instead, you should write two integrative and comprehensive essays that clearly answer all of the questions asked.

Get strong recommendations

The strongest letters of recommendation come from faculty members who know you and can comment on your proposed study abroad program. Share your essays with your recommenders. A better letter is one that talks about how you have studied certain subjects and how that has prepared you to complete your proposed program successfully than one that simply says that you received an A or were in the top X percentage of your class. The application requires two letters of recommendation, and a third is optional. You should only include a third letter if you believe it will strengthen your application. 

Work with your study abroad advisers and your campus representatives

Study abroad advisers can help you find the most appropriate study abroad program. Boren campus representatives support students applying for Boren Awards. Often, study abroad advisers and Boren campus representatives are the same person. Seek them out well before the application deadline and seek their advice as you complete the application. Note that each campus representative will set its own on campus deadline prior to the final scholarship deadline. Visit the Campus Representative section to find your campus representative and your on campus deadline. If you do not have a campus representative, you are still eligible to apply for the Boren Scholarships. IIE will work with you to answer any questions about the application process.

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