Preparing for College

Finding Colleges that Don't Demand High School Language Study

Question: What is the most efficient way to search for colleges that do

not require foreign language study in high school?



The bad news is that there are no easy answers to your question. The good news, however, is that students who never studied foreign language in high school have more options than they may think.

Even with search engines abounding, we don't know of a way to quickly seek out colleges that do not demand language study in high school. Thumbing through a humongous general guidebook is one somewhat laborious approach. Typically, these institutions will be those with the higher admit rates (about 70 percent or above) or those with a career-specific focus (technical colleges, nursing schools, agricultural schools, etc.).

Colleges and universities with more competitive admission practices, as well as the majority of liberal arts colleges, do generally expect some language study in high school. Keep in mind, however, that even at the pickiest places in the country, foreign language is not required, though it is usually “highly recommended.” Many schools suggest three years of a single language or two of two different ones. A few prefer four. Rarely, however, are these numbers imperatives—merely guidelines.

There are varying reasons why a student has not pursued a language in high school. Typically, he or she:

1. began and was quickly frustrated and didn’t continue.

2. has a learning disability that makes language study especially trying

3. changed schools at least once and could not pursue initial language studied

4. was identified early on as a student who would not be on a competitive college “track”

5. has had a nontraditional background (e.g., lived in a homeless shelter) or education (e.g., was home schooled; dropped out and took GED).

6. has English as a second (or third) language

7. simply got crummy counseling, perhaps due to attending school in a disadvantaged area where few grads go on to top colleges

College admission officials will be sympathetic to some (or all) of these reasons. Obviously, number 1 won’t tug at their heartstrings as much as numbers 5, 6, or 7 might, but a student should never pass up a first-choice college simply because a language requirement (or any other one, for that matter) is unfilled. Instead, ask admission officials how much leeway there is. Point out other related achievements, where appropriate (e.g., “I lived with a family in Istanbul last summer and learned some Turkish:” “I study American Sign Language after school.”)

Keep in mind, of course, that when an institution is a “reach” college in the first place, a candidate who has not pursued the suggested course of study may be at an added disadvantage. On the other hand, “realistic” or “likely” choices will be more apt to forgive deficiencies. As soon as a college lands on your target list, contact admission officials (either by phone or by e-mail) and ask if the lack of language study is a deal-breaker. Make sure to explain why this study was omitted, but do try to avoid a whiny tone. Saying something like, “Our school has a lousy language program, and all the teachers are morons,” doesn’t generally sit that well with admission folks (though one or two may be silently sympathetic!)

You might also want to check out a book called Cool Colleges for the Hyper-Intelligent, Self-Directed, Late Blooming, and Just Plain Different by Donald Asher. While many of the institutions featured do, in fact, expect language study, their admission officers tend also to have an eye out for promising candidates who have marched down the road to college to the beat of a different drummer and may have skipped right past the foreign language classrooms along the way.