Skip to main content

The Best of the Borens


Over the past twenty-five years, BYU students have received a small number of Boren Awards. But in 2022, BYU claimed the No. 1 ranking among U.S. universities for the most students receiving awards, ending up with twelve Boren Scholarship winners and a Boren Fellow. So, what’s going on? Why are so many BYU students receiving this prestigious national foreign-language scholarship?

What are Boren Awards?

  • Boren Awards provide funding for intensive study of language and culture abroad.
  • Winners come from a wide range of majors and fields.
  • Students focus on immersive learning in one of more than sixty critical languages.

Boren Scholarships provide up to $25,000 to U.S. undergraduate students to study languages and culture in areas of the world that are critical to U.S. interests and are underrepresented in study abroad programs. The catch? Award recipients must show a commitment to work in public service after graduation.

There are two types of awards:

  • Fellowships fund research and language study proposals by graduate students in regions critical to U.S interests. Students receive $12,000 to $25,000 for twelve to fifty-two weeks of study and research.
  • Scholarships fund study abroad by undergraduate students in regions critical to U.S. interests. Recipients are awarded between $8,000 and $25,000 for eight to fifty-two weeks of study.

You might also hear about the National Security Education Program (NSEP), a U.S. Department of Defense major initiative that creates a pipeline of foreign language and cultural expertise for the U.S. federal workforce. Boren Awards are two of eight NSEP programs, along with the Language Flagship and National Language Service Corps.

Why do Borens matter?

The scholarship allows students to focus on language proficiency and cultural awareness and to participate in local internships without having to worry about how to finance their education while studying abroad. Students also have an amazing opportunity to work in government service and add to their skill set after they finish their education at BYU.
Rita Cortez, Managing Director, BYU Language Flagship Center

I reside in the D.C. metro area. The Boren enabled me to take my Arabic language skills to the next level. It also enabled me to live in Jordan for nine months while I completed research for my master’s degree. With financial support from Boren, I accrued minimal debt while fulfilling my academic goals.
The Boren Scholarship was key in securing my federal government employment. The Schedule A hiring priority and regular emails from the Boren team were invaluable. I onboarded with two other Boren recipients. The scholarship is widely respected in my professional community, and it continues to wow my agency’s hiring teams and truly opens doors in the federal government.
Annie Samhouri, Immigration Officer, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services
BYU Alumna, Boren Award Recipient 2012

The program took my language skills to the next level. Boren pushed me out of the campus nest, even beyond the BYU Arabic study abroad. It forced me to lean further into Arab and Egyptian cultural communities without the university’s institutional safety net.
The year abroad prepared me to survive and thrive in the professional reality of working on various teams with varying dynamics or “cultures.” It’s one thing to spend a few months with a curated/hosted study abroad program. It was another to be a sole student on the ground having to build community in the midst of long-form culture shock. Being comfortable with different modes of sociocultural engagement is a critical skill in any team-oriented career. This was especially helpful in a role where I lived in a variety of developing countries with rotating, small, on-the-ground teams. The mindfulness and thriving skills developed in the NSEP program set me up for success in otherwise lonely, grinding settings.
Clay Adair, Refugee Officer, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services
BYU Alumnus, Boren Award Recipient 2007

Which languages do Borens support?

If you were trying to choose a language to study for a national security career, what would it be? One approach is to think about what the government needs. BYU is a place where these key languages are taught, supported by National Resource Center grants from the U.S. Department of Education.
Every year we see greater numbers of students applying that show the strength and variety of BYU language programs, which teach languages such as Korean, Portuguese, Russian, Japanese, and Swahili. While missions certainly can be a catalyst, they aren’t the only pathway to high proficiency and interest in sought-after languages.
We are such a unique university because we have so many less commonly taught languages—and students who want to learn them.
James Mayo, International Scholarship Coordinator, Kennedy Center

What is the best advice for students interested in applying?

It really is an essay competition. At BYU, we have James Mayo, who gives excellent guidance.
Don’t worry that you’re not studying something directly related to national security. Make a case about your background and connect it to national security.
You can’t know the future—but have a plan for your next steps when you get the Boren and know what you’re going to do with it. That shines through in your essays. Having an idea about the person you want to be and how you plan to serve the world has been useful for me.
Elena Guañuna, BYU Law 2L
Boren Fellow, Singapore 2023