Parlez-Vous Francais? Translating Language Requirements in the College Process

Parlez-Vous Francais? Translating Language Requirements in the College Process

My Beginner’s Chinese professor noted an interesting phenomenon at the beginning of the year, “To speak three languages is being trilingual, to speak two languages is being bilingual, to speak one language is being an American.”

Foreign language requirements vary from school to school, and the exact requirement is often not clear for any individual school. There are a lot of questions surrounding how many years of language is right number. Is the minimum requirement really adequate? Do language classes in middle school count? What about AP exams?

In general, colleges require at least two years of foreign language classes in high school (though many more selective schools will require at least three). Most often, middle school courses do not count. These classes should be in the same language because colleges prefer to see proficiency in one language than a superficial smattering of several languages. Colleges also look at the classes that are available for your school, so if your school offers a wide variety of languages and different levels for those languages leading up to an AP class or a literature class, admission officers are more likely to expect you to have taken advantage of that.

No matter where you apply for college, a demonstrated proficiency in a second language will strengthen your application. Life in college and after college is becoming increasingly globalized, so some fluency in a second language carries a lot of weight with admissions counselors.

If you score a 4 or 5 on an AP language exam, most colleges will consider that evidence of adequate high school foreign language preparation and you’re likely to get course credit in college. However, for some schools, be prepared to take a placement exam. For those who want to study areas like international relations or major in romance languages, it might be especially important to have a foundation in a language (or two).

For some students, college is the time to start studying a new language, often because there are opportunities like exchange programs and terms abroad. Elizabeth Wilkins, a freshman at Dartmouth College, said, “I took five years of Spanish starting in eighth grade and finishing up with the AP exam. Now that I’m at college, I’m not required to take a foreign language because I scored a 5 on the exam, so I rarely, if ever, use Spanish. I’m really interested in learning French here though.”

Ultimately, it’s up to you to evaluate costs versus benefits of determining how many years to study a language!