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Articles / Applying to College / Are Language Study Requirements Waived for Bi-Lingual Student?

Feb. 13, 2013

Are Language Study Requirements Waived for Bi-Lingual Student?

My oldest son, who is a junior in HS, grew up bilingual (in the US). He is fluent in both languages. Do colleges disregard this fact, when they are looking for the 2-4 years of the same foreign language in HS on the college application? Or do they acknowledge his foreign language skill as a substitute for the HS language course requirement? (He had only 2 years of HS Spanish, but decided to follow other interests for his Junior and Senior year). I would love to get an answer for this, as nobody seems to know how this works in his case. Do you?

If your son is applying to colleges that expect only two years of foreign language, then obviously his two years of Spanish will suffice. But for the more selective schools (the ones that want three and even four years of foreign language … and, preferably, of the SAME language), then this requirement (or, more commonly, "recommendation") will NOT be fulfilled because of the fact that your son is bi-lingual.


Of course, admission folks will treat being bi-lingual as a plus ... something that makes your son different from many other applicants. But they'll view it more like a skill ... as if he were a pilot or plumber ... rather than as an academic accomplishment. The snazzier, snootier schools feel that there is great value in the process of learning an unfamiliar language from the ground up in a classroom. So they will not count your son’s fluency in a second language as providing that experience. In particular, these colleges are big on the idea of studying the literature of a foreign culture, which many bilingual teenagers have not done.

Note, however, that if your son is having a really hard time fitting additional Spanish classes into his schedule because he’s pursuing another academic passion at a high level, he can always use the “Additional Information” section of his applications (or a supplementary letter) to explain why he has taken only two years of language classes. If he is able to point out that he is familiar with not only the language but also the culture and literature of his second-language country, colleges will give him some latitude for the shortfall on his transcript. So this shortfall won’t be a deal-breaker for him, but the admission committees would still prefer to see additional years of a foreign language studied in school.

I hope this finally answered your question.

(posted 2/12/2013)

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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