College Admission for Student with No Foreign Language Classes

Question: When I was in 9th grade, I had a rough year, earning mostly C's and D's, and was diagnosed with an anxiety disorder. My school and I ruled that taking a language freshman year played a major part in my low grades, and I avoided languages ever since. I have since earned mostly high A's and B's, but now that I am a junior looking at colleges, I am concerned that not taking a language for the majority of high school (save the freshman year incidents) could hurt my chances greatly, despite my G.P.A. increase. How can I make the best of my situation?

There are some colleges that do not require a foreign language. Here is a list that you can review, but make sure that you double-check with any colleges you are considering to be sure that this information is accurate. This list is almost a decade old and I don't have a newer one in my files.'s also likely that the list isn't complete, so don't give up on a college just because you don't see it on this roster.

Note also that some colleges that do have a foreign language requirement will waive it on a case-by-case basis, with a compelling explanation. If you have a formal IEP in place or some other academic plan that allows you to skip the language requirement at your high school, it's possible that your target colleges will honor it as well, if you and your guidance counselor are willing to disclose your special needs.

However, you should tread carefully. Unless you are a very strong candidate at the colleges you're considering, admission folks may run scared as soon as they see the words “Anxiety Disorder" on your application. (You will probably be considered “strong" if your grades and test scores are above the median or you are an underrepresented minority student or if your resume includes some interesting extras, athletic triumphs, or major leadership roles.) Although, legally, colleges cannot discriminate against a student with a disability, they also don't have to provide a reason why an applicant was denied. So you might be better off vaguely explaining that you went through a stressful adjustment to high school that led to poor freshman grades and the discontinuation of language study rather than citing the anxiety disorder, unless you feel most comfortable laying all your cards on the table. (If there were problems at home that contributed to your troubles, you can mention these as well.)

But it would be helpful to know why your school officials linked foreign language study to your academic problems. When a student is dyslexic or has another learning difference it's common to eliminate language classes, but I could probably help you more effectively if I knew how foreign language—as opposed to other subjects–played a key role in your anxiety issues. So if you can tell me more about that, I can perhaps further advise you on how to approach your college search and applications.

In addition, even if you were excused from foreign language in high school, many colleges will require that you study a language there. Some may excuse you if you can document an appropriate disability, but it's something you should consider before you apply. Here is a list of colleges that don't demand language study but—like the list above—I can't vouch that it's current or fully accurate:

Bottom line: Your lack of foreign language will most likely affect your college outcomes but you should still have plenty of options. Your college search should focus on schools without language requirements and, hopefully, you can get excited about many of them. But you can also ask colleges that do demand language study to consider you anyway, and you may find that some will. If, however, you want to expand your college possibilities and you think that now that you may be ready to tackle language study, you could take a community college course this summer in a foreign language you could continue as a senior.

There is also a long list of colleges that will accept American Sign Language as a “foreign" language. Here is one that I “borrowed" from a high school Web site: (You will need to check it for accuracy.) So if you're interested in taking this atypical approach to language study (starting this summer and continuing at a local college in the fall to get your two years in), it will work in your favor at college-application time.

Finally, if you want some help selecting colleges that are good fits for you and that won't require language study in high school, you should consider a Stats Evaluation from my colleague Ann Playe at College Karma. See near the top of the page. Once you've ordered an Eval and completed the form that Ann will send to you, she will assess you admission odds at the colleges you've listed on the form, offer ways to improve those odds where possible, and also suggest other colleges that meet your profile and preferences. If you indicate on the form that you are seeking schools that won't require a foreign language for admission as well as those that don't require one for graduation, she can offer some recommendations. I think it's a lot of bang for 150 bucks!

Hope that helps, and good luck!