As you have been researching potential colleges lately, I’m sure you’ve come across a handful of confusing distinctions. One such thing that we get asked about a lot at Tufts is the rigor of your high school curriculum. This might feel like an arbitrary question, but courses vary greatly both across and within high schools and knowing that you were challenged by the courses you took can help us identify where your academic strengths lie and reveal where you might have academic potential in college.
You’re now probably wondering, “What courses should I take to be competitive for admission?” Generally, competitive applicants have enrolled in a rigorous curriculum for all four years of high school with each of the five core subject areas represented. These are specifically English, the natural sciences, the social sciences, mathematics, and foreign language. Some students who are exploring a focused degree path may choose to specialize in certain subjects later in high school, 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 the rigor of your curriculum, especially if those courses are taken to pursue that interest in college like engineering or the fine arts.
If you ask us whether you need four years of foreign language in high school, the answer is “it depends.” This quick guide should hopefully give you a better understanding of your situation regarding your plans for the future, but it’s not a replacement for a conversation with a school counselor or teacher.
Are you applying to the School of Engineering?
Short answer: Most likely, you don’t need four years of foreign language. But it could still be beneficial to your curriculum!
Long answer: Engineering students have the ability to enroll in foreign language classes, and many do to satisfy their liberal arts requirements, but they are by no means required. Some even take advantage of the opportunity minor in languages such as Spanish, German, or Chinese to round out their engineering major.
Are you applying to the School of the Museum of Fine Arts (SMFA) at Tufts?
Short answer: Again, you probably don’t need four years of foreign language, but it could still be beneficial to your curriculum.
Long answer: SMFA students in the Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA) program do not have foreign language as a major curricular component of their degree, but it still plays a role overall. 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 foreign language and culture inform your art practice, taking four years of foreign language in high school could be helpful. If not, you may find it worthwhile to pursue another upper-level elective in the fine arts or liberal arts and sciences.
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 is 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 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. 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. There are, however, some circumstances that can influence how these requirements impact you.
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 classes throughout high school, you can use your experience to place out of the requirement partially or fully 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 must 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 majors require eight semesters of foreign language courses, unlike the six semester requirement for standard Arts and Sciences students. 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. Since our study abroad programs have different language requirements for eligibility to participate, if you plan to study abroad through Tufts it is probably a good idea to take foreign language throughout high school. 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, you’re expected 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. You can also study abroad through a non-Tufts program without a language requirement.
If you’re curious about any aspect of Tufts’ requirements, talk to your counselor (and talk to us!) to make sure you are well prepared. Your circumstances are probably unique, so being as well-informed as possible will help set you up for success in the long term. Navigating the college process can be intimidating, and we’re here to help you feel confident with the choices you make for your future.