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Foreign Language Requirements And College Admissions Explained

Spanish.  French.  German.  Italian.  Chinese.  Russian.  While for some high school students learning a foreign language can come quite naturally, for others it can be an incredible and painful struggle.    So, do you really need to take a foreign language in high school?  Will colleges require you to have studied a second language in order to attend their institution?  As with so many other aspects of the college process, the answer is:  Yes and no.

When deciding whether or not to pursue a foreign language in high school, you should ask the following:

  • Does the state that I live in require me to study a foreign language for a certain amount of time in order to graduate?
  • Does my school district require me to study a foreign language for a certain amount of time in order to graduate?
  • Do the colleges to which I wish to apply require me to have studied a foreign language for a certain amount of time in order to be admitted?

State Requirements:   Every state in the U.S. has a different policy on how world languages fit into the educational system.  Some require that a foreign language be taught as early as elementary school.  Others mandate that students must study a foreign language for a certain number of credits to be able to graduate (usually 1-2 years worth of classes).  Still others have no language requirement at all.

School District:  Individual school districts may also be able to set their own policies on foreign language requirements, though they must be sure that their requirements meet at least the state’s minimum standards.  That means that even if you’ve met your state’s requirements for foreign language, if you haven’t completed those dictated by your school district, you still may not be able to graduate.

Colleges:  While many colleges do require that the student have at least 2 or more years of a foreign language to gain admission, others will only  “recommend” this.  Others don’t see the need for it at all.   So,even if you achieve both your state and school district requirements for world languages, you may still not meet the criteria for admission to some schools if you don’t complete a few years of language study.  High School foreign language requirements for most colleges can typically be found on the school’s website (along with their requirements for other subject areas, as well).

The more selective the school, the more likely that it will have a foreign language requirement and the more likely that the requirement will be for more years of study.  And, even if you meet the minimum foreign language requirement indicated by the school, at the more competitive institutions, going above and beyond the minimum with consistent study in a given language is seen as a desirable credential in the admissions process.

Ultimately, before making any final decisions about whether to drop that French class that you’ve been sweating through, or trying to figure out if you should take that third year of Chinese, you should double-check your state and school district policies, first, and then look into the requirements of some colleges which you may be considering.  After all, you want to be sure that whatever your course selection strategy is for foreign languages in high school, you are not shutting any doors that you’d rather keep open.

Andrea Aronson

College Admissions Consultant

Westfield, NJ


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