Preparing for College

Must Daughter With ASL Credits Take Spanish in Grade 12?

Question: My high school junior has taken honors classes throughout middle school, and AP courses throughout high school. She completed two language credits in middle school and one in high school, as well as taking a 4 yr. course in child development which counts as a language credit (for American Sign Language). She is being told by her counselor now that colleges will not look at her sign language credits and her French credit favorably and wants her to take a Spanish class in her senior year. Her college hopes are for a career in clinical psychology with an interest in children - specifically special needs - I believe her sign language credits will be better received (and she wants to become ASL certified at the community college this summer) than a random Spanish credit. She has met the requirements for graduation, but her counselor has scared her into thinking she will not get into a 4 yr. college without it this Spanish class. We live in Maryland, a state which recognizes ASL as an accredited language - she has a unweighted 3.87 gpa. Your thoughts please.

It sounds like your daughter has three years of French and four years of ASL. Is this correct? (Or does she get fewer than four years of credit for the ASL because the curriculum was covering more than language and only two years of French?) Well, in any case, I think that adding a year of Spanish at this point is a waste of time unless your daughter actually wants to do it.

From the college perspective, the limited French she has taken will look weak at the most selective private four-year schools (especially because two of the years were in middle school so this will probably only count as two years of French and not three). But this will not be a deal-breaker either. The ASL will provide added punch at some private schools but not all will accept it. However a single year of Spanish tacked on as a senior will not improve your daughter's admission odds. Colleges, especially the more competitive ones, don’t really count a single year of a foreign language at all. They would regard it sort of like they would view a team that was ahead after the first half of a basketball game but then went home and still tried to claim a victory.

When it comes time for your daughter to apply to college, she should use the "Additional Information" section of her applications (or a separate unsolicited letter or essay) to explain why she focused on ASL and not on other languages (i.e., how it meshes with her intended major and career goals). If she is also able to show that she took summer classes at a community college to become ASL-certified, then her argument will be all the stronger.

Note also that most private colleges have a roster of courses that they recommend for admission, but don’t require. Public institutions can be less flexible and typically expect two years of foreign language. It’s not clear to me if your daughter’s French will meet these two years but it sounds like it might. Not all states accept ASL but many will. You have already pointed out that your own state, Maryland, recognizes ASL. So does California, which is often known as a stickler state when it comes to admissions rules. Some states have not yet voted on a formal policy for ASL credits. So if your daughter is interested in a public college in one of those states, she might have to provide an explanation of her language background, as I’ve already suggested that she do anyway.

It's a bit irresponsible for me to go against a guidance counselor's advice because the counselor sees the student in a broader context than I do, but--in this case--I really can't endorse a single year of Spanish as being valuable for admissions purposes. If your daughter is aiming for highly selective colleges and she decides that she wants to strengthen her profile by electing another course in foreign language, she should continue with French. I agree with you that a single year of Spanish at the end of her high school career will strike the admission folks as rather "random."

(posted 2/2/2012)