Whether you love learning new grammar structures or struggle to retain twenty new vocabulary words each week, the reality is that knowing a foreign language is required by many colleges in order to graduate. Applicants are expected to start learning foreign language coursework while still in high school. Knowing a second language in this day and age is a highly desired skill. It can expose you to a new culture and prepare you for a global workforce. Here are some things to consider about the requirement when preparing for college:
High School Preparation
Each state varies on if foreign language coursework is required for high school graduation; it is often a decision left to individual school districts instead. Many do encourage their college bound students to take at least two years of coursework in a single language because that is the amount required by most four-year colleges. The most selective four-year colleges even recommend four years of high school study of a single language.
Keep in mind that scoring high on Advanced Placement and/or International Baccalaureate exams for your selected language doesn’t automatically mean you will have fulfilled your requirement. You may still be required to take your college’s placement test. Other colleges will exempt you if you score high enough. This does not mean that taking advanced language classes are a waste of time. If you learn the material at a college level, you will be more likely to place high on the placement exam. Not all schools offer advanced language classes, so take the highest level of courses they do offer. If your high school only offers a limited amount of years of a certain language, or none at all, explain the circumstances in your college applications.
Many colleges only allow the test to be taken once during your college career, so take the placement test seriously. At the same time, do not feel as if you should cram right before taking it. It can be helpful to do some simple review if the test is taken months after you’ve finished the high school course, but don’t go overboard. You should strive to place into the class that matches your true abilities instead of hoping you will test out of it. Depending on the college, there may be an in person test required if you score higher than the required amount of classes. Some colleges also require a similar test to be taken at the end of their language course, even if you ace the class portion.
Which Language and When Should You Take It?
When deciding which language to take in order to complete this requirement, there are some factors to keep in mind. If you took Spanish for three years and your college is requiring you to only take one more semester on campus, it might take sense to stick with it so you can free up space in your schedule for other courses you are interested in. There are also the options of sticking with the language past the required amount of semesters so you can minor in it, or finishing it so you can learn a third language. On the other hand, if you took one year of Japanese in high school, but struggled to retain the material, it might be best to try a new language.
Another big decision: when should you take your foreign language courses? If you’re a semester away from completing the requirement, you could finish it right away while the material is fresh in your mind from high school. Waiting to complete it later in college could give you more time to prepare for the class and adjust to college work if foreign language classes have been difficult for you in the past. Some colleges offer options other than semester long language classes. Fulfilling the class during winter, spring, or summer break could mean getting to study abroad and immersing yourself in its cultural side.
If English is not your first language, you may be exempt from fulfilling the foreign language requirement. Speak to your admissions counselor or an academic advisor to learn more about your college’s specific policy for this circumstance. Overall, learning a second language can be a great opportunity to expand your mind and develop a highly desired skill. Don’t be discouraged if you struggle to learn one foreign language because the next one you try might be the best one for you.