Response to BB: how many years of language is enough?

March 19, 2007 at 9:45 pm 2 comments

Posted by Dee

BB commented:

“I was recently reading a Princeton Review college book and it said that many of the Ivies – notably harvard along with a few companions – highly recommended four years of a foreign language. When they say “recommend”, what does that really mean? Does it mean “mandatory”? Thank you. I would fit Span IV into my schedule, but i simply cannot legally take 8 classes. I’m taking the four AP core classes along with journalism, Symphonic Band (highest band), and Academic Decathlon. Is that good enough?”

This is a fantastic question, BB. I remember struggling with this question myself… I attended a private middle school where we were a year ahead in language from our public school counterparts, so when I moved to my public high school I was in French 3 in freshman year and completed French 4AP in sophomore year.

What was I to do?! All the colleges were recommending four years of foreign language and I was already done two years early! Should I take French 5AP? Then what about senior year? We didn’t have a French 6. Plus, I didn’t even like French all that much, so dealing with two more years would just be a bane to my schedule when there were other courses I preferred taking. Would completing 4AP be good enough since it’s the equivalent of four years of language in high school?

Well, my gut says that the last question leads to the right track… colleges recommend you do the equivalent of four years of language in high school, so doing Spanish 4 would be indeed what they recommend. But, “recommended” does not mean “required.” And “highly recommended” is not the same as just plain old “recommended” either. (See the AdmitSpit post titled, “Recommended, but not required?” for more on this idea, but bare in mind that I was specifically detailing the “recommended, but not required” problem as it referred to parts of the application, not your transcript, so this is a slightly different issue)

So here’s what I think would be ideal for you, there are several scenarios:

1.) Drop one of your classes, and add Spanish 4. In terms of dropping a class, since you cannot have eight classes, preferably don’t drop one of your AP courses, instead choose between journalism, band, and academic decathlon, preferably drop the one you are least involved in so that it won’t affect your application.

2.) Don’t take Spanish 4. Taking three years of a language is probably good enough for their “recommended” four years of language. If you’re getting good grades in Spanish then they’ll know that you just didn’t take the fourth year because of time commitments and not out of lack of ability. I really don’t think it’ll affect your application too much, they just don’t want you to be entirely unprepared.

3.) Drop one AP and add Spanish 4AP instead. This may be the ultimate scenario if it’s possible for you to do (meaning that your other AP classes aren’t also required, like math, science, and english) and they offer Spanish 4AP at your school.

I think scenario 3 is ideal, but of course, I don’t know the full specifics of your schedule and transcript, and I don’t even know your grade level, which would of course affect the recommendation I have for you. I think the next best would be to avoid scenario 1 and go with 2, because remember that Harvard, along with its peers, says “there is no single academic path we expect all students to follow” so as long as you take “the most rigorous secondary school curricula available” while maintaining good grades and following your extracurricular passions, you will be well considered in the admission committee’s eyes.


Entry filed under: Academic Decathlon, Academics, AdmitSpit, AP, Band, Classes, College trends, Harvard, Journalism, Language, Princeton Review, Public schools, Spanish, Transcript.

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2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Helen  |  March 25, 2007 at 9:59 pm

    I am a Canadian student and I have a question related to this issue.I took French in grade 9 and did not take it after that. Then, I realized when I was doing some research on the American colleges, I saw that they recommend 4 years of foreign language. The education system here in Canada requires you to take one level after the other. So should I take French next year after dropped it for a year? I know Chinese extremely well (800 in SAT II Chinese), so does this count as their recommended foreign language?

  • 2. BB  |  March 29, 2007 at 3:30 am

    Thank you very much! By the way, I am a junior. I’ve finally decided to not take the 4th year of Spanish. I am EXTREMELY involved in Band and Journalism, and while AcDec isn’t considered AP/Honors, it will probably be one the the most rewarding classes I will ever take in high school. In addition, I hate Spanish – though i do have an A. Again, thank you. This site has been so helpful!!


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