How much foreign language is enough?

This is another common question I hear from my PrepWell Academy students as they begin to solidify next year’s class schedule.

Aside from “a love of learning” (which is the best motivation), there may be other reasons to extend your foreign language study during high school. Namely, the impact it may have on your college admissions prospects. Here are some factors to consider:

What type of schools do you aspire to?

Highly-Selective Liberal Arts Colleges

  • expect 4 years of foreign language study in high school
  • yes, even if you took foreign language in middle school, and plan to meet the minimum high school language requirements by sophomore year, highly-selective liberal arts colleges still want to see 4 years (in high school) of foreign language study.
  • consider foreign language on par with other core disciplines (e.g. math, science, social sciences, English).
  • believe foreign language is essential to a broad-based education
  • often expect/require students to continue foreign language study in college.

Medium-Selective Colleges

  • expect 3 years of foreign language, but usually not a deal-breaker.

Less-Selective Colleges

  • expect 2 years of demonstrated foreign language proficiency


The expectations listed above are generalizations. They are not published requirements nor written in blood. There are dozens of exceptions to these guidelines.

As most of us know by now, there are few ironclad rules when it comes to the college admissions process. “Foreign language study” requirements are no exception.

Consider how these factors might influence your situation:

  • If you’re not interested in competing for a spot at a highly-selective college, then maximizing your foreign language study becomes less important.
  • If you’re excited about competing for admission to the most selective liberal arts colleges, consider pushing yourself in foreign language for 4 years in high school.
  • Some highly-selective colleges are less stuck on 4 years of foreign language study — particularly those that emphasize science, math, and engineering (e.g. MIT). If you gravitate toward those colleges, you may have some breathing room.
  • Some highly-selective colleges will show flexibility if you convince them that your strong interest in engineering, for example, guided your decision to take a higher level math course instead of a 4th year of foreign language (this is the exception, not the rule).
  • If you are fluent in a foreign language, taking four years of that language to spike your GPA may not get you much credit with highly-selective colleges. They want students who are constantly challenging themselves.
  • If you have some other hook that a highly-selective college really wants (e.g. athlete, geographical representation, under-represented minority, economic circumstance, etc.), there is flexibility. In other words, 100% of the student body will not have studied a foreign language in high school for four years. There are dozens of other factors that can play a role. If you don’t have one of these hooks, and you’re just a plain vanilla applicant with a 4.5 GPA, 2330 SAT, 34 ACT, and a truckload of AP classes – chances are, they will expect a higher level of commitment to a foreign language.

I hope this page has given you some food for thought as you build your class schedule for next year.

Never stop preparing,
Phil Black