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Articles / Admissions / How Could Foreign-Language Options Affect High School Choice?

April 27, 2020

How Could Foreign-Language Options Affect High School Choice?

Question: I have a rising 9th grader applying to various high schools. Currently, she is enrolled in a high-school level Spanish II as an 8th grader. One of the schools to which she is applying said that she would need to repeat Spanish II; the others have said she could continue to Spanish III. BUT, the one school put a bug in her ear to switch to French (not offered at her current school). If she continued on the Spanish track, she would end up taking AP Spanish Language and Literature classes her junior and senior years. If she switched to French, she would only take French up through Level IV. Is one route considered more beneficial than the other?

I don't think that any of these foreign-language options are so terrific … or so heinous … that they should have a major influence on the school that you choose. So, ultimately, you should make your final decision based on different factors. In order to have the broadest possible college options when the time comes, your daughter should aim for four years of the same foreign language, although this exceeds the expectations at the vast majority of colleges. And it sounds like she could achieve this goal at each of the high schools on her list. Obviously, having AP classes on the transcript will “look better" to colleges than simply reaching the fourth year of a language. However, if your daughter is applying to the most uber-selective places and she has taken plenty of AP's in otherareas, the lack of AP foreign language won't be a liability.

But, if we put the college admissions perspective aside for a minute, which option do you think is best for your daughter? Unless she has some special reason for learning French (e.g., you have French-speaking relatives or live in a part of the country where French is a common first or second language), then she will probably find that Spanish is a far more pragmatic choice as she navigates today's world. Moreover, she already started Spanish in middle school–a foundation she will lose if she switches to French next fall.

In addition, it's not clear to me why your daughter would have to repeat Spanish II at one of the high schools. Well, it's actually not unusual for high schools to count two years of a foreign language taken in middle school as just one. My own son, for instance, took Spanish in 7th and 8th grades and then went into Spanish II in high school, which was the norm for the middle-school Spanish students in our district. In his case, it was an apt policy because he got stuck with the “bad" teacher for those first two years, and the level of Spanish instruction he experienced in middle school was quite awful. I doubt that he and his classmates would have been prepared to go into Spanish III. (I'd actually worried that he wouldn't be prepared for Spanish II 😯 ) Yet there was a small group of students in his grade who had the “good" Spanish teacher in 8th grade. The 8th graders in this one section finished the school year way ahead of the rest of their peers, and so the high school officials did let those kids test into Spanish III right from middle school. Similarly, your daughter might need the extra year of Spanish that she would get by repeating Spanish II … OR she could be bored out of her mind. :cry: It seems reasonable to “The Dean" that the high school would allow her to take a placement test before assigning her to a Spanish class. Has that come up at all?

Bottom line: All of the foreign language options will be fine from a college's point of view, but you do need to consider which would be preferable for your daughter's long-term personal goals and short-term sanity. You also need to decide if the language situation will play a starring role in the high school choice or if there are other opportunities that will loom larger when it's time for the final verdict.

Written by

Sally Rubenstone

Sally Rubenstone knows the competitive and often convoluted college admission process inside out: From the first time the topic of college comes up at the dinner table until the last duffel bag is unloaded on a dorm room floor. She is the co-author of Panicked Parents' Guide to College Admissions; The Transfer Student's Guide to Changing Colleges and The International Student's Guide to Going to College in America. Sally has appeared on NBC's Today program and has been quoted in countless publications, including The New York Times, The Washington Post, USA Weekend, USA Today, U.S. News & World Report, Newsweek, People and Seventeen. Sally has viewed the admissions world from many angles: As a Smith College admission counselor for 15 years, an independent college counselor serving students from a wide range of backgrounds and the author of College Confidential's "Ask the Dean" column. She also taught language arts, social studies, study skills and test preparation in 10 schools, including American international schools in London, Paris, Geneva, Athens and Tel Aviv. As senior advisor to College Confidential since 2002, Sally has helped hundreds of students and parents navigate the college admissions maze. In 2008, she co-founded College Karma, a private college consulting firm, with her College Confidential colleague Dave Berry, and she continues to serve as a College Confidential advisor. Sally and her husband, Chris Petrides, became first-time parents in 1997 at the ripe-old age of 45. So Sally was nearly an official senior citizen when her son Jack began the college selection process, and when she was finally able to practice what she had preached for more than three decades.

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