Foreign language and college admissions

iVillage Member
Registered: 04-27-2000
Foreign language and college admissions
Wed, 12-04-2013 - 7:30am

DS is taking French 3 this year as a HS sophomore.  He plans to study mechanical engineering in college and has recently learned that the universities to which he will be applying have engineering partnerships that collaborate with manufacturers in the German auto industry.  He has been informed by the HS guidance office that colleges tend to look most favorably on students who take 4 or 5 years of the same foreign language in HS.  However, he sees potential benefits to switching and taking 2 yrs of German.  On the one hand, he realizes he has to impress the college admissions office sufficiently so that they review the rest of his application and he can get into engineering school in the first place (not an easy task in our area).  On the other hand, he'd prefer to switch and take German.  Any thoughts or advice?  He has FT work for the summers so does not feel that he can take German outside of the HS classroom setting.  

iVillage Member
Registered: 05-27-1998
Fri, 12-06-2013 - 3:47pm

I don't think it will matter one way or another as far as his applications go. Even though most colleges say they'd like to see 4 years (the 5th year includes all three years of MS language, which usually only counts as one year of HS), I think the main reason for this is that the student will likely test into a higher level if he pursues that language in college. My daughter knows several people who had 3 years of French in HS, but started over with the intro class in college because they did poorly on the placement test. She took 3 slooooow-moving years of MS French, and then 4 in HS, but placed into an upper level class in which there was no room for her. So she switched to German. Smile

And this brings me to my next point that a person who is gifted in languages can very easily learn a new one in college. It makes more sense for your son to develop some kind of fluency in French, then start German his freshman year in college. He'll know two languages that way, which will open a lot of doors for him. He'll learn German a lot faster in the more intensive college courses and if he starts an internship with a German company the summer after sophomore year, he will have had two years and will likely be more than ready.

iVillage Member
Registered: 04-16-2001
Fri, 12-06-2013 - 11:15am

Agree that college prefer, but probably do not require, 4 years of one language to 3 yrs of one and 2 of another.  I believe the tougher language level 4 is seen as getting to mastery.

Some kids take a second language as an elective.  He could take French 4 and German 1 next year (but probably have to give up some other elective).  Taking German 1 as a senior also could help, since that would allow him to skip entry level German in college.  However, admissions-wide, taking German 1 and 2 may not have the "weight" of taking the 4th year of language but with an otherwise strong application, the language courses would probably not be a big deal in the admissions decision.

I would check on the community colleges in your area and how the high schools and colleges of interest count these courses.  I don't think ours even offers German.


Avatar for turtletime
iVillage Member
Registered: 05-13-1998
Thu, 12-05-2013 - 4:15pm

The college info nights, tours and admission officers we've encountered have almost all mentioned the preference for a student to take 4 years in a single language (3 years minimum.) If what the high school offers changes, then it's acceptable. Now, like Weedsmom said, this shift would be easy to explain and if he's secure in his reasonings then probably not that big of a deal. You can always have him contact the admissions offices of schools he's interested in and get their take.... I'd just wait until after April.

I know he is hesitant to take a class outside but keep in mind that a semester at a community college counts as a full year of high school. My daughter's language classes meet twice a week (and there are evening options.) Usually the entry level community college class is equivalent to 2 years of high school and susequant semesters equal to 1 year. He could take a German community college class Spring semester and potentially move into 3rd year German and high school Fall of his Junior year. He'll have COMPLETED 4th year level German end of senior year and that's all the colleges really care about.

iVillage Member
Registered: 04-27-2000
Thu, 12-05-2013 - 4:00pm

He seems to love any foreign language and the study of it for its own sake.  His french teacher in middle school actually sent him an email suggesting that he take a 2nd language in HS, rather than sticking with just one, because she thought he had a knack for languages and wanted him to get broader exposure.  

I am starting to think maybe he can have it both ways - take French 4 as a junior and German 1 as a senior.  Thanks.

iVillage Member
Registered: 09-13-1999
Thu, 12-05-2013 - 10:29am

High school counselors tend to give one-size-fits-all answers.   Yes, it is generally the case that colleges look more favorably at kids who continue in a single language all the way through.  (How do you take 5 years of a language in a 4 year high school program?) But there are plenty of exceptions and as long as the reasoning is sound, the shorter sequence is perfectly acceptable.   In fact, when a person is looking pretty specifically at engineering, the foreign language issue is really a non-issue.  This is something he can easily explain in an application and something that might actually work to his advantage.  The universities with this specific collaboration will likely be impressed by his knowledge of their offerings and his true interest in their program.

My only caution would be to be sure that your son has thought this through thoroughly.  Does he like the language he is studying now and would he have continued it but for the long-term plan to pursue internships in Germany?  I ask because interests and study focus tend to change.  What happens if your son decides to attend a different university that doesn't have this collaboration or if he moves into computer engineering and decides not to pursue the internships at all?