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Articles / Applying to College / Will Limited Foreign Language Credits Hurt Admission Odds?

Jan. 29, 2013

Will Limited Foreign Language Credits Hurt Admission Odds?

Question: My student (a 9th grader) is grappling with how many years of foreign language to take in high school. Since it is an elective, it limits her choices to take other things, like continuing in orchestra or exploring the STEM-Project Lead the Way program. Is there any trend or movement in college admissions to substitute the traditional 2-4 year foreign language requirements with fine arts courses or other coursework? How do you suggest that students prepare to fulfill a foreign language requirement, when they do not know what college they will apply to yet?! Is there any wiggle room in the college admission/application process if a student has too few foreign language credits from high school, but has taken rigorous alternative courses instead? Thanks for responding!

As a mother of a high school sophomore, my advice would be, "Let your child take what excites her most, as long as she fulfills minimum language requirements."


But, as a college counselor, my answer is different. I don’t see any trend toward reducing foreign language expectations. At the more selective colleges, three years of the same foreign language is considered minimal and four is preferable. At many other schools, however, including some quite selective ones, two years of language is okay. So if your daughter has Ivy in her eyes, or if your crystal ball suggests that she might be applying to any of the most competitive colleges, I would urge her to continue to fit language into her schedule, even if it means taking summer classes or participating in overseas immersion programs. (The latter can be quite pricey but the former can be found at community colleges close to home or even, if necessary, online.)

Note, however, that most private colleges—especially the more selective schools—are apt to have “recommended” high school classes rather than “required ones.” If your daughter is applying to colleges that expect more than two years of language, but she is in a rigorous STEM program and can’t find time to take foreign language during the school year OR during the summer, then—when the time comes—she should use the “Additional Information” section of her applications to explain the decision she had to make. Admission folks should give her some wiggle room for STEM classes that crowd out language study but not so much for orchestra or for other arts activities (unless your daughter has unique gifts--and accomplishments--in these areas that will jump off the page at admission-decision time).

As a mother myself, I also am torn between what my son would most enjoy taking and what “looks good” on applications, and I realize that there are no easy answers if we want to keep all college options open. My own kid would mutiny before taking an academic class in the summer, so that avenue isn’t available to us, but perhaps your child wouldn’t mind spending six or so weeks immersed in a new language or culture. (Sounds good to ME! ;-))

Bonne chance! Shubhakaamana! Buena suerte! Udachi Buona Fortuna!

(posted 1/29/2013)

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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