Foreign language requirements for admission to college can be confusing. Some colleges and universities do not require any foreign language classes at all for admission. Others recommend, but don't require, and still others require a year or two of foreign language study. In general, the more competitive the university, the more years of foreign language study are required for admission.
Doing the Minimum
Most high school students will take a minimum of two years of a foreign language because most states require two years of foreign language study as part of their high school diploma requirements. Because of this, many colleges and universities have a two-year foreign language requirement for admission. Again, this can vary depending on how large and competitive the college is. For example, many community colleges do not have a foreign language requirement for admission.
A Stronger Application
Many colleges have wording on their admissions pages that implies a student should take more than the minimum one or two years of foreign language study required for admission. Check the admissions pages of the colleges you are interested in. If the page says something along the lines of "three years recommended," that really means you probably should have three years to be a competitive applicant. Along those same lines, if the admissions page says something like "two or more years," take that third year. The word "more" is a big hint that in order for your application to be competitive, you should have a third year of foreign language study.
Graduating From College
Even if your college doesn't require foreign language study for admission, it will almost definitely require it for graduation. In fact, most colleges and universities require three years of study in the same language as part of their degree requirements, and some schools within the university may even require more than that. The good news is you can count the years spent studying that language in high school. So, if you spent two years learning Spanish in high school, your university might make you take a third year in order to graduate. If you took three years of Spanish in high school, you have already met the university's foreign language requirements for a degree, which leaves you free to focus on classes within your major.
A Few Considerations
Keep in mind that years of language study must be consecutive. You can't take a year of Spanish and then a year of Japanese. This would not count as two years of a foreign language study for admissions or graduation purposes. If you spent two years studying French in high school and then you take a year of Mandarin in college, that year of Mandarin is not going to count towards your degree requirement -- unless you take two more years of it. Pick a language and stick with it until you meet the requirement for admission and graduation. In addition, if you are bilingual or have a language-related learning disability, check with your college to see if that will affect the admission or graduation requirements.
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