What Do Colleges Consider A Foreign Language?

I was impressed when a conscientious young client asked me about using American Sign Language (ASL) for his foreign language requirement. Having had clients take this route in previous years to satisfy the foreign language requirement for college admissions, my reply was that most colleges will accept ASL for this requirement.

That is when the little voice in my head started making noise. This is the first time someone had actually asked me about what counts as a foreign language in college admissions and I couldn’t point to documentation to support my response. Not long after my reply to the student, I heard from a parent saying that a friend had asked the same question while visiting a college and the reply was that ASL did not satisfy their foreign language requirement.

It didn’t take long to discover that this issue has been debated for a very long time and that colleges differ greatly in their opinions. There is also no comprehensive list of colleges that believe ASL is significantly different from spoken English. I provided the family with the available list of colleges that accept ASL for admission and cautioned them that there is a possibility some colleges that end up on their preferred list of schools may not accept ASL.

The simple solution is to have an actual, spoken foreign language on the transcript. That is not always the easy solution. Students who struggle with the languages offered on their campuses or do not have qualified teachers instructing the languages they want to take can complicate course selection decisions. Hearing impaired relatives and friends or pursuit of a career requiring proficiency in sign language can also make for tough course decisions. Few students have a short list of colleges to which they will apply as freshmen or sophomores, so checking with all the colleges on the list is not an option either.

My advice is to take ASL language if there is a compelling reason to do so. There are plenty of colleges out there that will accept it for your foreign language requirement. If the decision is more of a whim than a need, you need to understand that your college choices may be limited.

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