What’s So Scary About Foreign Language?

There is perhaps no class requirement as feared and loathed as the foreign language one. Maybe it’s the fact that you actually have to speak in class, or that studying grammar requires incredible attention to detail. Maybe your teacher hasn’t figured out how to make the material fun, or there is only one teacher who teaches your language at school and you don’t particularly like him. Whatever it is, students try to justify to me why they should be excused from this piece of the college admissions puzzle more than any other.

Let me explain to you why dropping your foreign language class is a really bad idea.

First, if you are interested in applying to selective or highly selective colleges, admissions officers expect you to take a foreign language all four years of high school. Even though your county, city, or school has different, more lenient high school graduation requirements, do not confuse those with college admissions ones. Places like Boston College or Stanford University have great expectations of the students they admit.

Second, colleges often have their own foreign language graduation or major requirements, compelling students to study 1, 2, 3 sometimes 4 years of one while on campus. If you quit studying a foreign language while in high school, you are putting yourself at a distinct disadvantage in college. Not only will you have to start from square one freshman year, but you may also miss out on the opportunity of placing out of the requirement with your SAT II or AP scores.

Third, colleges value the study of foreign languages and cultures, especially those with a liberal arts curriculum (think Brown University, the College of William and Mary, and Colorado College). These schools understand that second languages prepare you to interact with people and cultures around the world, enter our increasingly globalized business market as a well-positioned player, and study texts that you are using in class in their original language. Research also shows that people who study a second language possess a greater mental flexibility than those who do not, making you an all around better thinker than you would have been otherwise. By choosing not to continue with French, Spanish, or Latin, you are telling colleges that you don’t share their values. So they will assume that you are not a good fit.

There are, of course, exceptions to the rule.

One common exception is when you complete the highest-level course in your language at your high school before senior year. If this sounds like you, there are a few ways, in which you can address this issue. You can start another language, which you will find surprisingly easy to learn given your experience with another foreign language. You can also consider taking a college course at a local community college or university. Or, if neither of those options is realistic, because you can’t fit a new language into your schedule due to your AP load, or you can’t physically get to or afford a college class, then you can explain to colleges that you exhausted every opportunity available to you and that you have replaced your foreign language with an equally rigorous, academic course.

Another exception arises if you don’t wish to apply to selective colleges and universities. Admissions requirements do vary from school to school, but there are a number of institutions out there that do not use a holistic admissions process. Instead, they use a matrix. All you have to do is meet their basic course requirements and fall within what they consider to be acceptable combined GPA and SAT or ACT score, and you’re in.

So before you drop that German or Chinese class, take your ultimate college-going ambitions into consideration. If you don’t, you risk limiting your options.

Posted on May 25, 2015 at 5:52 am

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