By Kelly, IvyWise College Admissions Counselor
Are you a natural linguist? Do you thrive on exchanging cultures? Did you grow up speaking multiple languages in your household?
More and more, colleges are seeking global citizens who demonstrate proficiency in more than one language through course requirements and can showcase the ability to apply the life skills that learning and using world languages can offer—adaptability, curiosity, cultural awareness, diplomacy, independence, and much more! Most high schools in the U.S. and abroad require a minimum of two years of foreign language study in the same language, but meeting the minimum requirements will barely get any recognition when you apply for college.
If you’re looking for ways to develop your language skills and dive deeper into language learning, keep reading.
Learn Through Coursework
If you have a passion for languages, see if your school offers extensive language course offerings up to Honors or AP. If following an IB program, you can maximize your language studies throughout your high school years. If your school doesn’t offer advanced language courses, consider self-studying for the AP language exams through a state-approved virtual course, which will demonstrate your initiative and ability to perform well in college-level coursework, as well as help you earn college credit.
If you’re interested in linguistics overall, you can explore this discipline online through free MOOC courses on platforms like Coursera or EdX. If a pre-college linguistics program is an option, consider programs such as those offered by UPenn, Columbia, or UC Santa Cruz for college credit.
Get Involved in Organizations
You can ask your language teachers about the option to join language honors societies, such as the Société Honoraire de Français. Check out associations such as The American Association of Teachers of French for language scholarships, contests, awards, and leadership opportunities, as well as the California Language Student of the Year Award, which offers scholarships to study abroad.
Getting involved in international affairs organizations is also a great way to learn more about global issues, practice your language skills, and maybe even gain an internship! Check out the World Affairs Councils, for example, for their lecture series, Global Citizen Certificate program, and study abroad scholarships.
Speaking of study abroad, check with your high school to see if any immersion, volunteer, or subject-specific international trips are offered. Or find your own opportunity on GoAbroad.com: exchange programs, service learning, teach abroad, internships, career-exploration programs, and more for high school students and beyond!
Immerse Yourself in the Language
With apps like Duolingo, FluentU, and italkie, you can teach yourself a language and practice with native speakers for free or at a low cost. But you don’t just have to be a student, you can also show off your language skills by teaching! You can tutor through your high school, offer tutoring online or in your neighborhood, and even get a Certificate to Teach English as a Foreign Language (CTEFL) to teach English language learners locally or abroad.
For more daily language immersion, why not host an exchange student in your home to practice your conversation and listening skills, and even do a reciprocal exchange abroad (ask your school if they have an exchange program established). If your school has a large international student population, offer to create a welcome or “buddy” program, particularly if your school or community is hosting refugees. Or you can volunteer at a local religious organization to support immigrants. Host an event for International Education Week, or start one at your school!
Build Leadership and Community
Languages are an excellent way to build leadership and community! Check if your school has a club in the language of your choice, and better yet, start your own! But don’t just join a club. Use it as an opportunity to develop alliances—through partner community organizations, for example—by volunteering at your local library to read to kids in a sought-after language or connect with a senior center to read to the elderly.
You can get involved with organizations like Voluntouring.org, Project Gutenberg, Translators Without Borders, or TED Translators to get involved in translation projects or create your own based on a topic of interest like poetry. Feel free to get creative too—lead cultural exchange events at your school or in your community, such as organizing a mural project in multiple languages featuring cultures around the world, or host a Model UN event inviting guest speakers from various countries and languages.
No matter how you do it, immerse yourself, share your skills, get to know the world around you, and you will see how borders dissolve and friendships begin!
Of course, language proficiency is just one of many assets that colleges look for when admitting students. It helps to be well rounded in a variety of areas. Schedule an Initial Consultation with an IvyWise counselor to learn how to maximize your opportunities for admission into your top-choice schools.