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What Foreign Language Will I Need to Take in College?

written by: Sean Trotman•edited by: Amanda Grove•updated: 8/18/2010

You are thinking about going to school and the thought crosses your mind, but I've never taken a foreign language before! Or you're not sure whether your high school credits qualify. What do I need to do?

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    Almost all universities and many community colleges require some extent of foreign language exposure in high school (or junior college if transferring to a university) for admission. In general, this is a liberal arts requirement. Foreign language requirements for college admission differ, however, from school to school.

    For the most part, colleges expect at least two years of foreign language classes prior to admission into the school. In the case of the more competitive universities, the more years of foreign language an applicant has, the better their chance of acceptance will be. Some notable schools that require more than two years of foreign languages include Stanford University (three), Williams College (three), and Harvard University (four recommended). This does not necessarily mean that only meeting the minimum requirement will prevent the student from getting accepted into the college, assuming the student has strengths and notable accomplishments in other areas.

    Most colleges also tend to prefer that a student has experience and accomplishments in one or two languages as opposed to minimal expertise in a handful of different foreign dialects.

    An especially high score on an Advanced Placement language exam will usually be considered sufficient by most colleges. Like the admission requirements, policies on these tests will also depend on the college so it is imperative to check before making any assumptions.

    Colleges are not alone in requiring a certain amount of foreign language classes. Some scholarship foundations even have foreign language conditions to be eligible for their financial awards. Bright Futures Scholarships in the State of Florida, for example, offer three different amounts of awards based on a variety of things the student accomplishes in high school. Among them, there are a certain amount of foreign language requirements.

    Some career-specific colleges, such as business colleges or technical schools will commonly lack foreign language requirements. Boston University, Syracuse University, and MIT are among these colleges. Other schools, such as ITT Tech, will have foreign language requirements that vary based on degree program and other factors.

    Overall foreign language requirements for college admission will hinge on the specific college and its policies, but the general minimum for language classes is two years. It is important to note, though, that exceeding the minimum requirements will improve an applying student's chances of admission to the school. Some colleges have higher expectations for foreign language classes than others and some will even consider a high score on an AP language exam an adequate substitute for the necessary foreign language classes. It is also not uncommon to find career-specific schools with little to no foreign language requirements. It is the responsibility of the student to determine what these policies are as it can be critical to their admission to the college.

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    What's Required?