If you’ve ever been to an information session at Tufts, you’ve heard that your high school curriculum and rigor of courses are crucial components of your application. Not only do they help us identify where your academic strengths lay, but also they reveal where you might have academic potential in college.
A common question we get from prospective students is, “What courses should I take to be competitive for admission?” As a general rule, competitive applicants have enrolled in a rigorous curriculum for all four years of high school with each of the five core subject areas represented, including English, social sciences, natural sciences, mathematics and foreign language. That said, we understand that many students choose to specialize in their 11th and 12th grade years, and that might mean not having every core subject area represented every year. This is absolutely fine with us as long as you do not sacrifice rigor of curriculum, especially if you’re exploring a specialized degree path to pursue in college like engineering or the fine arts.
Specifically, if you’re wondering whether you need four years of foreign language in high school, the answer becomes a less-than-satisfying, “it depends.” This guide is intended to serve as a reference for planning your high school curriculum, but it’s not a replacement for a conversation with a school counselor or teacher about it.
Are you applying to the School of Engineering?
Short answer: No, you probably don’t need four years of foreign language, but it could still be beneficial to your curriculum.
Long answer: If you’re applying to the School of Engineering, foreign language may not be part of your college curriculum. As an engineering student, you would have the ability to enroll in foreign language classes but they are by no means required--it’s your choice. Many Tufts engineers choose to use foreign language and culture courses to satisfy their liberal arts requirements, and some even take advantage of the opportunity minor in languages such as Spanish, German, or Chinese.
Are you applying to the School of the Museum of Fine Arts (SMFA) at Tufts?
Short answer: Again, no, you probably don’t need four years of foreign language, but it could still be beneficial to your curriculum.
Long answer: Like our friends in the School of Engineering, SMFA students in the Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA) program do not have foreign language as a major curricular component of their degree. BFA candidates must enroll in one language or culture course as part of their liberal arts requirements, providing cultural context and dialogue to their art practice. Many BFA students also choose to pursue foreign language curriculum to satisfy their liberal arts electives. If you see foreign language and culture as a tool to inform your art practice, taking four years of foreign language in high school could be lucrative. If not, you may find it worthwhile to pursue another upper level elective, in the fine arts or liberal arts and science, to be beneficial.
For students interested in the SMFA Combined Degree Program (BFA + BA/BS) with the School of Arts and Sciences, you will still need to satisfy the six-semester language requirement, so reference the Arts and Sciences answer below.
Are you applying to the School of Arts and Sciences?
Short answer: Yes, it’s probably a good idea to take four years of foreign language.
Long answer: All undergraduate students in the School of Arts and Sciences need to complete a “six semester language requirement” as part of the requirements for graduation, so four years of a foreign language in high school can be a great way to prepare you for our curriculum. For most of our undergrads, that doesn’t mean actually enrolling in six semesters of foreign language courses to satisfy their requirement. In practice, all students in Arts and Sciences must demonstrate fluency in a language other than English through the third or sixth semester level. Students can elect to demonstrate the sixth semester level of one language, the third semester level of two languages, or the third semester level of one language and complete the requirement with three culture classes. But what does this mean for you? Well, again, it depends...
Are you fluent in a language other than English?
If you have native or heritage fluency and can prove your ability in reading, writing, and speaking a language other than English, you can be exempt from the foreign language requirements.
If you have taken foreign language throughout your school, you can use your experience to partially or fully place out of the requirement as well.
Most students entering the School of Arts and Sciences do not have native or heritage fluency in a language other than English. For this reason, we do recommend four years of foreign language in high school for most students interested in Arts and Sciences. That doesn’t mean that you have to continue the same language at Tufts, but you may be able to start your academic career partially through your requirements, which would offer you the flexibility to enroll in more electives.
Do you want to major in a foreign language in college?
This may seem obvious, but if you plan to study foreign language as a major or minor in college, it’s a good idea to study it throughout all four years of high school. Doing so will demonstrate your academic pursuit of language and could help place you above introductory-level coursework.
Do you want to major in International Relations or International Literary and Visual Studies (ILVS)?
These are majors for which studying foreign language in high school might be a less obvious choice. Aside from the general “six semester foreign language requirement” for all Arts and Sciences students, these majors require an eight semester language requirement--or the ability to demonstrate fluency at the equivalent level. If you don’t have native or heritage fluency in a language other than english, do yourself a favor and take foreign language all four years of high school.
Do you want to study abroad at Tufts?
All Tufts undergraduates, regardless of their school, have the opportunity to study abroad. Our study abroad programs have different language requirements for eligibility to participate. The philosophy of most of Tufts’ study abroad programs is that you should live and learn in each host country’s common tongue. This means that if you study abroad in France with Tufts in Paris, that we’d expect you to be living with a French-speaking host family, and pursuing a curriculum entirely in French for the semester or year. The exceptions to this rule, such as Tufts-in-Talloires and Tufts-in-Hong Kong, offer their classes in English. If you plan to study abroad through Tufts, it is probably a good idea to take foreign language throughout high school to set yourself up with a solid foundation before entering college. You can also study abroad through a non-Tufts program without a language requirement.
To reiterate a point from the beginning, talk to your counselor (and talk to us!) if you have any questions about your curriculum. We know that navigating the college process can feel intimidating, and we want to help set you up for success.