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Articles / Applying to College / How Will Admission Committees View a Foreign Language Deficiency?

How Will Admission Committees View a Foreign Language Deficiency?

Sally Rubenstone
Written by Sally Rubenstone | Feb. 25, 2003

Question: I have a high GPA and good SAT scores but, because I transferred between two high schools and experienced schedule conflicts at both, I don't have any foreign language on my transcript. How will that affect my college admission decisions?

Colleges and universities with more competitive admission practices (as well as the majority of liberal arts colleges--selective or not) do generally expect some language study in high school. Keep in mind, however, that even at the pickiest places in the country, foreign language is not required, though it is usually “highly recommended.” Many schools suggest three years of a single language or two of two different ones. A few prefer four. Rarely, however, are these numbers imperativesâ€"merely guidelines.


Because you have compiled a strong high school record and have good SAT scores, many colleges and universities will overlook your language deficiency. You should not use your lack of language study as a criterion in your search, butâ€"once you begin to finalize a list of target schoolsâ€"you should e-mail admission offices at each one and tell them (in somewhat more detail) what you have told us (i.e., that changing schools and schedule conflicts kept you out of language courses). Ask if this will automatically knock you out of the running. Chances are, it won’t, but it’s wise to find out as soon as possible, before you’ve spent time (and money!) on applications.

When you write each school, point out related achievements, where appropriate (e.g., “I lived with a family in Istanbul last summer and learned some Turkish:” “I study American Sign Language after school,” etc.). Likewise, you can cite other strengths that you hope will “make up for” this one lack, and don’t hesitate to be a bit cute (e.g., "I can’t yet speak Spanish or French but I make the best cherry pie in three counties and could probably win a Jane Austen trivia contest hands down.”).

Keep in mind, however, that while admission officials may be sympathetic to your problem to some extent, they have probably also encountered candidates who, like you, were unable to study language at school but took the initiative to seek out classes in the evening, over the summer, etc. The more selective the colleges on your list, the more likely it is that you will be “competing” with candidates who have gone that extra mile.

Keep in mind, too, that when an institution is a “reach” college in the first place, a candidate who has not pursued the suggested course of study may be at an added disadvantage. On the other hand, “realistic” or “likely” choices will be more apt to forgive deficiencies.

Written by

Sally Rubenstone

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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