Will Aborted Spanish Language Torpedo Admission Options?

Question: My son is a fluent Japanese speaker having grown up in Japan and attended Japanese public school through age 12. He is a sophomore at a high school with very weak language offerings. The Spanish class he is taking this year has been a waste of time. He studies Japanese via Skype with a teacher in Japan and is planning on taking the Japanese SAT II in November and the AP exam after than. He is also taking the level 3 Japanese Language Proficiency test next year, and the level two the year after that (passing the Level 2 is necessary for admission to a Japanese university). He should do fine.

His school is insisting that in order to get into a competitive college, he needs at least three years of Spanish. However, he is in a special arts program and so has an extended day. He is also planning on taking three AP classes next year and is also a participant of a nationally known jazz program. He also takes medication for ADD. In other words, he has a lot on his plate. I really don't want to waste his time with a class that is only for a college application and not to actually learn anything. What do you advise?

If it were MY son and I thought he was wasting his time in a useless Spanish class, I would probably yank him out and let him get on with other more productive pursuits. But, in doing so, I (being “The Dean" after all 😉 ) would recognize that I was making a choice that–as your school officials have advised you–MIGHT have some negative impact on his college options down the road.

Colleges admission officials do not all think or act alike. Some are real sticklers for the letter of the law. And, in this case, those sticklers may feel that your son's Japanese doesn't count as a “learned" language because it was, at least initially, more or less a native language. Other admission folks, however, will note that your son has relocated to America and continues to study Japanese, and they will not penalize him for dropping Spanish.

When my own son was in high school, he made some choices that went slightly against the grain of what the most selective colleges expected. For instance, in order to take the Acting Seminar at his high school and Portuguese at a nearby college, he took regular calculus and U.S. History rather than AP, which were both offered in conflicting time slots. Ultimately, he had some fabulous college options but he wasn't accepted everywhere he applied. Were his denials the result of those “regular" classes? We'll never know. Would I recommend anything different with hindsight? Nope.

So, similarly, by stopping the Spanish, your son may be torpedoing some of his potential college options but he also may be opening the door to acceptances at colleges where his focus on arts and Japanese is appreciated.

Of course, Spanish is a very useful language, and perhaps if your son sticks with it, he will move on to a better teacher and class. That's certainly a consideration. Alternatively, you might want to research intensive summer programs in Spanish that would be more worthwhile than his current class. Then, when it comes time for him to apply to college, he can explain in the “Additional Information" section of his applications that he opted to continue Spanish outside of school because the school program was weak.

Bottom line: I can't really tell you what to do, but I can certainly tell you what I would do … which is to say adios to the Spanish in school but to consider summer programs … but only if the student himself is willing.