Does Middle School Foreign Language “Count” at College Admission Time?

Question: I am a parent who happens to also be a school guidance counselor in a middle school. My question is this… If a student takes high school classes in middle school, such as a foreign language class, will colleges accept those credits or does the student need to continue on with their foreign language classes in high school? I have students in middle school taking high school credit foreign language classes in out if school, and who can thus theoretically complete their high school foreign language graduation requirements in middle school. Will this be good enough for college?

Most colleges will accept whatever courses the high school itself accepts. For example, my own son is in 7th grade right now and just started taking Spanish this fall. In our system, 7th grade and 8th grade Spanish are combined to count as one year of high school Spanish. So my son will go into Spanish 2 when he starts 9th grade and, presumably, Spanish 3 in grade 10 and Spanish 4 in 11. If he were to stop taking a foreign language at that point, colleges will call his foreign language experience “Four years,” giving one year’s credit to his middle school language undertaking. However, at our local middle school, students who take Latin get a full year’s credit for both 7th and 8th grade classes. So they will start high school in Latin 3, and the vast majority of colleges will count all three years for these kids, even though the lion’s share of their foreign language study was completed in middle school.

Note, however, that the more selective colleges and universities often prefer four years of the same foreign language. If applicants have taken a year or two of this language in middle school and then continue for at least a couple years in high school, they should be fine, wherever they apply. But, if a student is aiming for one of the hyper-competitive colleges and gets credit for two years of foreign language in middle school and then takes only one year in high school, I would call this a “double-whammy”–two strikes against him (or her). Admission evaluators will consider this to be a weak language program because not only is the student a tad shy on language credits to begin with, but also the bulk of these credits were done during middle school. Even if those middle school years will officially “count,” they’ll look shakier on the transcript to some admission folks than if all three years of the language had been from high school. Of course, if the student were to take the SAT Subject Test in this language and do very well, it would go a ways towards mitigating concerns about the strength of the language preparation.

As for the students you cite who complete all their language requirements in middle school … I would definitely advise against this for those who hope to attend the more selective colleges. Other colleges that require just two (or maybe three) years of language but aren’t as competitive overall will almost always recognize whatever the school system recognizes So if your students have officially finished their language requirement in your district before they even begin high school, most every college will accept that …. but some of ’em (the pickier ones, that is) won’t like it.

Finally, keep in mind that some colleges and universities (particularly the public ones) have specific admission “requirements,” but many institutions–including the Ivies and most of the other highly selective schools–have only “recommendations.” So, while a weak language program (which, in my opinion, would include one that is top-heavy with credits from middle school) won’t be a check mark in the plus column for an applicant, it won’t be a deal-breaker either.