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Foreign Language Requirement for College Admissions

Learn How Many Years of a Foreign Language You Need to Get Into College

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Foreign language requirements vary from school to school, and the exact requirement is often not clear for any individual school. For example, is the "minimum" requirement really adequate? Do language classes in middle school count? If a college requires 4 years of a language, does a high score on the AP fulfill the requirement?

In general, competitive colleges require at least two years of foreign language classes in high school. As you'll see below, Stanford would like to see three or more years, and Harvard urges applicants to take four years. These classes should be in the same language -- colleges would much prefer to see proficiency in one language than a superficial smattering of several languages.

When a college recommends "two or more" years of a language, they are clearly signaling that language study beyond two years would strengthen your application. Indeed, 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 strength in a second language carries a lot of weight with admissions counselors.

That said, students who have just the minimum can win admission if their applications demonstrate strengths in other areas. Some less competitive schools don't even have a high school language requirement and assume some students will simply study a language once they get to college.

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). Check with the schools to which you apply to find out exactly what their Advanced Placement policies are.

The chart below shows the foreign language requirement at several competitive colleges. If you'd like to see the exact wording used by admissions offices to describe foreign language requirements, read page two of this article. To see a college's complete profile, click on the school name in the chart below.

Foreign Language Requirements for College Admissions

School Language Requirement
Carleton 2 or more years
Georgia Tech 2 years
Harvard 4 years recommended
MIT 2 years
Stanford 3 or more years
UCLA 2 years required; 3 recommended
Univ. of Illinois 2 years
Univ. of Michigan 2 years required; 4 recommended
Williams 3 years required; 4 recommended
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