The Top 30 Universities’ Foreign Language Requirements For College

By Eric Eng

By Eric Eng

a group of foreign students carrying the flag of the country they are from

Every college admissions office has different general education requirements, including foreign language requirements for college. Language proficiency is one of them.

The exact need varies from school to school, and it’s frequently unclear to any one institution what it is. Is the “minimum” criterion, for instance, actually sufficient? Do middle school language lessons count? Does a high AP score satisfy the four-year language requirement for college?

Usually, students who want to go to highly selective colleges have to take at least two years of a foreign language in high school. As you’ll see below, Harvard encourages applicants to take four years, whereas Stanford prefers three or more. Colleges would much rather see mastery in one language than a cursory knowledge of numerous languages; thus, these classes should be taught in that language.

Most institutions still demand one or more semesters of foreign language credit for graduation, even after high school. The specific criteria for your schooling will vary depending on the school.

a male student smiling at the camera while a jar full of mini national flag is at the table

When a college suggests “two or more” years of a language, they are indicating without a doubt that continuing your language studies would improve your application. In fact, if you want to apply to any college, having proof of your competency in a second language can help your case.

Admissions counselors give a lot of weight to how well you speak a second language because college and life after college are becoming more globalized. But even if a candidate only meets the bare minimum requirements, they may still be accepted if they are strong in other ways. Some less competitive institutions don’t even have a language requirement for high school since they figure some students will just study a language in college.

Most schools will accept a score of 4 or 5 on the AP language exam as proof that you studied the language well in high school, and you’ll probably get course credit in college. Contact the schools to which you are applying to learn more about the specifics of their Advanced Placement policies.

The list of competitive foreign language requirements for college is shown in the chart below.

University Language requirement (in years) Recommended (in years)
Princeton 0 4
Harvard 0 4
Columbia 3 4
MIT 2 0
Yale 0 0
Stanford 3 or more 0
UChicago 2 3
UPenn 0 4
Northwestern 2 0
Duke 0 4
Johns Hopkins 0 4
Caltech 0 3
Dartmouth 0 4
Brown 3 4
Notre Dame 2 4
Vanderbilt 2 0
Cornell 3 0
Rice 2 0
WashU 2 4
UCLA 2 3
Emory 0 4
UC Berkeley 2 3
USC 2 3
Georgetown 2 4
Carnegie Mellon 2 0
UMichigan 2 4
Wake Forest 2 4
University of Virginia 2 4
Georgia Tech 2 0
NYU 3 4

Is a foreign language a requirement for all college admissions?

For first-year candidates, the majority of elite universities have a foreign language requirement. For example, all first-year applicants to the University of Texas at Austin must have two credits in a foreign language, no matter what their major is.

If you have a waiver, however, you are the only person exempt from the foreign language requirements for college. Most of the time, waivers are only given in extreme cases, like when a high school doesn’t offer a foreign language.

Some institutions strongly advise taking a foreign language in high school, but they don’t mandate it. This means that, while taking foreign language classes is preferred, the admissions committee will not reject your application if you haven’t.

Three students walking in front of a school building.

As part of your general education requirements for college, you may have to take one or more semesters of a foreign language at many schools. Colleges believe that learning a foreign language can help you see things from a different perspective and provide more job opportunities.

Knowledge of a second language can be extremely useful in the domains of technology, education, business, law, and other industries that are important to the global economy.

International Students

When applying to colleges, students who attended high school outside of the United States may be able to forgo the foreign language requirements for college.

Make an appointment with an academic counselor if you attended classes throughout high school that were not taught in English. They can assist you in determining whether you satisfy the requirements to be eligible to waive the foreign language requirements for college.


If you currently hold a degree, such as an associate degree, certain universities can let you apply for a waiver of the foreign language entry requirement. To find out if your degree exempts you from taking a foreign language, check with your academic advisor.

Be sure to check with the admissions offices at the colleges you are applying to because there might be more waiver opportunities available at your institution.

How do you select a foreign language in high school?

Selecting a foreign language can be challenging, whether you are in high school or college. After we have discussed the foreign language requirements for college, it’s time we discuss how we can select a foreign language in high school. 

You could only choose from a small selection of course options in high school. Options are typically between Spanish and French in most schools, but some even offer less common languages like Latin! However, this restriction can make it much simpler for you to choose which class to enroll in. However, it’s a good idea to stick with a language you’ve started learning throughout high school.

Since you often have a ton of alternatives in college, making this decision can be really challenging! You might decide to keep speaking the language you began learning in high school. Alternatively, you could attempt a language that wasn’t taught in high school.

If you’re having trouble deciding which language you’re most interested in learning, consider your extracurricular activities first. Would you like to view any movies or television shows in another language? Do you want to travel to a certain country, and knowing the language would be helpful?

Group of students talking while walking in the campus.

Trying “out” the language before enrolling in a class is another option. There are several programs available that let you get a feel for a language, including free ones like Duolingo. To aid in your decision-making, you are free to try as many languages as you wish.

You shouldn’t view your foreign language course as merely a requirement that you must complete. The benefits of learning a second language can be vast, and you may discover that you enjoy the classes and wish to keep going even after you’ve fulfilled the “requirements.” Fluency in it can also lead to numerous travel opportunities and new employment opportunities.

Now that we have broken down the foreign language requirements for college at the top 30 universities in the country, the next step is for you to plan out a solid strategy to get you into your chosen college or university.

AdmissionSight has 10 years of industry experience and has helped hundreds of incoming college freshmen. If you want a sure-fire way of getting into the university of your dreams, book an appointment for an initial consultation now.



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