Question: Is a fourth year of foreign language a significant leg up for elite admissions?
While a fourth year of a language is surely a plus, itâ€™s so prevalent among elite-college applicants that itâ€™s not going to be a leg up at decision time, and certainly not a â€œsignificantâ€ leg up, as you suggest. In fact, itâ€™s not uncommon for candidates to have five years of one language on their transcripts because they begin high-school level language study in eighth grade. Many applicants have four years plus A.P., and some exhaust their high school offerings and elect foreign language classes on college campuses.
You will, however, get some extra brownie points if the foreign language in question is one not typically studied by high school studentsâ€”Chinese, Japanese, Arabic, Greek, even Russian, etc. (but if youâ€™re a native speaker then you lose that â€œhookâ€ as well!).