Foreign Language Requirements for College Admissions

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What’s Covered:

 

Does your high school have a foreign language requirement? If you’re like a lot of students, the answer is probably yes. It might be the bane of your existence, or it could be something you love.

 

Many colleges expect to see a certain number of years of foreign language coursework on your high school transcript, too. What do those requirements look like at top schools?

 

Benefits of Studying a Language in High School

 

Starting early makes it easier. 

 

Not everyone has the opportunity to start learning a second language in preschool, but there are many benefits to learning a second language from a young age. Kids can pick up languages more easily and will have the chance to develop a more native-like accent. Studies show that learning a second language also boosts your brain as you are exercising more muscles. 

 

That’s why we recommend learning a language as early as your school offers. If this means in ninth grade, then go for it!

 

It could benefit your career.

 

Foreign languages are directly applicable to work in a number careers — teaching, translation, international business, travel and tourism, and journalism, to name just a few. 

 

There are still other careers in which foreign language study will prove useful, even if it’s not central to your role. For example, some nonprofits work with a large number of ESL learners, and being able to communicate in another language fluently or conversationally will prove extremely useful. If you want to be a doctor, it can be helpful knowing basic Spanish or another common language in the U.S. to better communicate with your patients.

 

If you’re unsure about how many years of foreign language you should study in high school, check out our guide to learn more about the benefits of foreign language study.

 

It can serve as an important communication tool.

 

Do you hope to study — or even live — abroad? A foreign language will certainly come in handy. Even if you’re only traveling to another country for a brief visit, you’ll be able to enhance the experience and enjoy it much more if you’re able to competently communicate in the native language.

 

Or, perhaps you have friends, neighbors, or others in your community who aren’t native English speakers. This is another place where your foreign language skills will prove useful. 

 

You could discover a passion.

 

Who knows? You could even find that you love learning foreign languages! This will open up a number of doors — you can watch foreign language movies and read books originally written in languages aside from English. You can join groups where you speak and travel together. There are plenty of opportunities to pursue.

 

Do Colleges Require Foreign Language Study in High School? 

 

Most colleges want to see students pursuing at least two years of foreign language study in high school, although this may vary by program or major. For example, an international studies program and many humanities majors usually prefer some foreign language study, while STEM majors are less likely to, unless there is a university-wide policy. Often, high schools or districts have foreign language requirements, too.

 

Generally speaking, it’s a good idea to study a language during all four years of high school if you have the opportunity to do so, especially if you’re applying to top schools.

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Foreign Language Policies at Top Colleges

Top 20 National Universities (according to US News)

 

School

Years of Foreign Language Required

Years of Foreign Language Recommended

Princeton University

4

 

Harvard University

 

4

Columbia University

 

3-4

Massachusetts Institute of Technology

 

2

Yale University

 

4

Stanford University

 

3-4

University of Chicago

 

2-3

University of Pennsylvania

 

4

California Institute of Technology

  3

Johns Hopkins University

  4

Northwestern University

2 (not required for McCormick)

 

Duke University

3

 

Dartmouth College

 

4

Brown University

 

4

Vanderbilt University

 

2

Rice University

2

 

Washington University in St. Louis

 

2

Cornell University

3 (College of Architecture, Art, and Planning; College of Arts and Sciences; and the School of Hotel Administration)

Unspecified (College of Human Ecology and College of Engineering)

University of Notre Dame

2

 

University of California—Los Angeles

2 (School of the Arts and Architecture)

3 (Herb Alpert School of Music)

Demonstrated proficiency (College of Letters and Science; Meyer and Renee Luskin School of Public Affairs; School of Theater, Film, and Television)

 

 

Top 20 Liberal Arts Colleges (according to US News)

 

School

Years of Foreign Language Required

Years of Foreign Language Recommended

Williams College

 

4

Amherst College

 

4

Swarthmore College

3

 

Pomona College

3

 

Wellesley College

 

4

Bowdoin College

 

4

Claremont McKenna College

 

3

United States Naval Academy

2

 

Carleton College

 

2

Hamilton College

  3

Middlebury College

  3

Washington and Lee University

 

4

Grinnell College

 

3

Vassar College

 

4

Colby College

3

 

Davidson College

2

 

Haverford College

 

3

Smith College

 

3

United States Military Academy

  2

Colgate University

 

3

Wesleyan University

 

4

 

How to Find the Right College for You

 

Foreign language requirements might be an important factor when choosing the right college for you, but of course they’re not the only factor you should consider. To look for colleges and universities that match your criteria, including size, program availability, location, and more, check out CollegeVine’s school-search tool

 

Then, estimate your chances of admission based on your unique statistics and profile using our chancing engine. Both tools are free to use!

 

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Laura Berlinsky-Schine
Senior Blogger at CollegeVine
Short bio
Laura Berlinsky-Schine is a graduate of Johns Hopkins University, where she majored in Creative Writing and minored in History. She lives in Brooklyn, New York and works as a freelance writer specializing in education. She dreams of having a dog.