Concerns regarding college admission

Hello! I am an upcoming sophomore in high school who moved into the US as a 6th grader from China. During my freshman year, I took Chinese 4 Honors (my native language) to maintain my Chinese proficiency level. I heard that taking my native language would put me at a disadvantage when it comes to applying for competitive colleges. Is that true? Competitive colleges usually recommend students taking three years of the same language. If I change my foreign language class to a different language starting sophomore year, wouldn’t that mean all that time taking Chinese was a waste? This has bothered me for so long, and I could not find anyone who has been in the same situation as me.

Playing the cello is one of my passions, and I have been taking orchestra in school (and outside of school) starting in 6th grade. I know that taking orchestra consecutively every year reveals commitment, but I ended up stopping orchestra during my freshman year. The reason was that I wanted to take leadership for improving myself as an individual. My concern is that either it will be a big deal when it comes to showing commitment in my passion if I stop taking orchestra for a year. (I plan to start playing in the orchestra again this year.) Thank you so much for your time, and I genuinely do appreciate it if anyone could help!

The point of taking a “foreign” language is to develop some mastery of a non-native language. For you that is obviously not Chinese. That does not mean taking it was a ‘waste’- but to highly competitive colleges it could look like taking the ‘easy’ way. For people who start HS with 2 native/fluent languages that often means taking a third. As you have found, there don’t seem to be many hard-and-fast rules.

Taking orchestra every year does not actually “reveal commitment”: plenty of people take orchestra every year b/c that’s what’s expected of them. Are you actually ‘passionate’ about orchestra? Think about the things you truly love- and about how people express love. Typically they want to spend as much time as possible with it, they look for ways to express their love, they do all kinds of 'extra things around it. Is that you?

I am most intrigued by your reason for dropping orchestra- for a year: “I wanted to take leadership for improving myself as an individual”. Does that mean that you were tired of being told what to do and wanted to make your own decisions about your ECs? Are you going back to Orchestra b/c you have achieved your goal of improving yourself? Or b/c you have decided to give leadership over (or back) to somebody else? Or?

IF you are aiming for super-selective colleges you are trying to thread a very tiny needle. “Passion” for orchestra won’t get you in- and a lack of passion for orchestra won’t keep you out. At the tippy top it’s the overall picture: it’s not jut ticking all the boxes- there is an and something more. Here’s what an Admissions Dean at MIT has to say about it:,or%20CalTech%2C%20or%20anywhere).

A lack of a different foreign language to your native language probably isn’t going to be viewed positively at the most selective schools… If your goal is Ivy or bust, Chinese as your FL is a ding. It’s admirable that you speak and write two languages fluently, but frankly, the tippy top schools expect more. After all, if the language is native to you, it’s not Foreign, is it? Tippy top colleges like to see three years of FL. It’s your choice to take it as a sophomore or not, whatever that language may be.

Let’s have perspective though. Don’t take another FL if you don’t want to. Many colleges will not care at all that you didn’t pursue another FL in high school. Personally, I feel that students who tailor their entire high school experience towards the goal of Tippy Top College or nothing end up being stressed and unhappy. Take classes you are interested in, get the highest grades you can, and enjoy your other activities.

The orchestra thing is not an issue. Play or don’t play. Top colleges want to see you pursuing the things you do with genuine commitment and desire. If you don’t want to really pursue leadership, don’t. If you truly love orchestra, go back to it.

Meanwhile, you have plenty of time in which to learn what top colleges are looking for. Go on some of the Accepted Students Class of 2020 or similar. See what those kids list that helped them get in. Spend more time on various colleges‘ websites and pay attention to what they say. Read pinned posts in the Chances, Admissions, Essays, and various other forums. Top colleges want to admit kids who “get” what they are looking for.

What is your intended major?

The following is taken from MIT’s common data set (CDS):

Units Required  Units Recommended

Total academic units

English 4
Mathematics 4
Science 4
Of these, units that must be lab

Foreign language 2
Social studies 2

Academic electives

Computer Science

Visual / Performing Arts

Other (specify)

MIT is generally regarded as a “Tippy Top” university. No doubt, a third year of a foreign language would not hurt.

When did you exit ESOL? Some would argue that English is your foreign language.

If you feel like it, pick up another language. You have time to fit two or possibly even three years in. Or find an advanced college-level Chinese reading and writing or literature course to take. Passing Chinese 4 doesn’t mean that you have full academic and professional reading and writing skills in that language. You have a strong base, so you can work toward that. It will give you excellent options for the future.

For lots of colleges, it probably does not matter much that you took a high level course in your first language – they will see that you know a language other than English to a level that they list in their admission requirements or recommendations.

For some of the most selective colleges (most of whom frame their high school course expectations as recommendations as part of a rigorous set of high school courses rather than requirements), it may matter in that some of them may want to see you learning a language that you did not already know from early childhood. But it can also matter when you started learning English, because if you started learning it only in 7th grade, they may see that you are learning English as a second language. Of course, admissions in the most selective colleges are opaque, so it is hard to tell whether and how much difference it makes between (a) taking Chinese 5 and possibly higher (possibly equivalents at a local college if nothing more is offered at your high school), (b) taking some other language 1 through 2 or 3, and © not taking any more language beyond Chinese 4.

A high degree of proficiency in written Chinese and either of the two main dialects should be viewed very favorably by undergraduate & graduate business schools as well as by law schools & employers so maintaining proficiency in this language is not a “waste of time”–it is a valuable investment in your future.

If you do not want to take another language & you are applying to liberal arts majors, then use your skill to read works of literature written in Chinese & share this activity on your college applications.