College Language Requirements

Most colleges require foreign-language classes among their core requirements. Explore which colleges have language requirements and why.

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Foreign-language requirements vary from school to school and even major to major. However, the vast majority of colleges have at least a minimal foreign-language requirement, which is usually at least two years in high school and can be much more at higher-rated schools.

Most often, native speakers of a language other than English are not required to take a foreign-language class. Instead they may be given an exam to demonstrate proficiency.

While fulfilling foreign-language requirements may seem unnecessary, the globalization of the world has made knowledge of a second language a good career move. Speaking a foreign language with some proficiency is also considered part of a well-rounded education. Knowing a foreign language helps in the understanding of cultural differences, which is part of the reason it’s required in the first place.

Which schools require a foreign-language credit?

Most schools require foreign-language classes, either for a major or as part of the core requirements. Here are some schools’ foreign-language requirements:

At the University of Virginia, students are required to take from 0 to 14 foreign-language credits, depending on their foreign-language placement examination scores. Credits vary according to SAT II scores and Advanced Placement (AP) scores as well as various language-placement exams.

Columbia University requires students to have knowledge of a foreign language in order to be “informed citizens”. The foreign-language requirements at Columbia can be satisfied by SAT II scores, AP test scores, the college's own language placement exams or the completion of an advanced language course.

At the University of Wisconsin, language requirements depend on a student’s major. Majors needing to fulfill a foreign-language requirement include the College of Agricultural & Life Sciences, the School of Business and the College of Letters & Science. Other majors may not have a foreign-language requirement, but a foreign language can be taken to fulfill a different requirement.

Boston College requires all students in the College of Arts and Sciences and the Carroll School of Management to fulfill a foreign-language requirement and demonstrate proficiency.

Community college students usually only need to take foreign-language classes if the institution they plan to transfer to requires them. But it can be a great idea to get any foreign language requirements out of the way at the community college level.

How Much Foreign Language is Needed?

Different schools judge foreign-language levels differently. Some may allow high school foreign-language classes to count, especially if taken for at least two years. Other schools rely on placement exams either from the SAT II, AP test scores or other placement exams that are either standardized or given by the college.

Most often, native speakers of a language other than English are not required to take a foreign-language class. Instead they may be given an exam to demonstrate proficiency.

Students with documented learning deficiencies are also not typically required to take foreign-language classes.

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