How many years of a foreign language are required to get into college?

It would be nice if the question had a simple answer.  Unfortunately, like many other questions, such as how many PreAP classes should I take? How many years of math should I take? The answer is IT DEPENDS.

Everything else being equal, taking 4 years of everything and all PreAP classes can’t hurt right?  Right, on paper that can only help you but if you have taken that hard a class load, you probably have paid in the quality of  life in your high school years, and the benefit of PreAP classes assumes that you received A’s in all your classes, otherwise you are probably better off getting an A in a regular class.

Back to the question of foreign language requirements.  This articles makes the following points:

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.

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.  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.

Here is a sampling of 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

Here is another interesting chart from the Univ. of Michigan

School, college, or division English2 Foreign Language Math Science3 Social Studies Other4 Total Units
Literature, Science, and the Arts5 4 26 3 3 3 5 20
Engineering7 4 2 4 4 2 4 20
Nursing8 4 2 4 4 2 4 20
Music, Theatre & Dance 4 2 3 3 3 5 20
Kinesiology 4 2 3 3 3 5 20
Art & Design 4 2 3 3 3 5 20

Notice that only Engineering and Nursing require 4 years of Math!

I think it’s great that high achieving kids have the OPPORTUNITY to go for the highest level, what I resent is the culture that EVERYONE should think this way.  Not all kids have the same capability and if a kid does not desire or is capable of the highest level, they shouldn’t be made to feel inferior.  There are thousands and thousands of universities and each student only needs to be admitted to ONE.  It may not be their top choice, but you know what? even with a 4.0 GPA nobody is guaranteed their first choice.