Is undergraduate foreign language study required for top Graduate programs

S is attending college with open curriculum and no foreign language requirement. Took Spanish 3 in high school. Undecided on major but possibly graduate program in economics or public policy. Do top tier graduate schools require or recommend foreign language study as an undergraduate?

I don’t know what top programs require in these fields, but I’d venture to say they would strongly encourage foreign language competence beyond the minimum. Both public policy and economics deal with the behaviors of culturally complex populations, often on a global scale. At the very least, I would imagine FL skills to be an advantage. I know little about economics, but maybe areas of math-focused economics would be indifferent to FL, but if your son is interested in policy, it seems that he’s pulled to study the human side of things.

My D will be a humanities or social science major and has already fulfilled FL requirements in her college from her high school record alone. She will continue with Spanish even though it’s not her favorite thing to study. (I hope she learns to like it…it’s the kind of thing that is grueling until you’ve reached a point, and then it can be fun). In her school, students in two of her possible majors (history and English) are strongly urged to study FL to a high level, especially any student considering graduate school in those areas. My D probably won’t continue to graduate school in those fields. However, Spanish would be a career asset in many of the things she IS considering (right now Speech/language pathology).

Why not contact the graduate departments of some of the programs he may be interested in on the future and find out directly?


Plenty of info available online.

Most (but not all) of the top public policy programs want students to achieve a given level of fluency as a graduation requirement. You don’t have to be fluent to get in, but they have to believe that you can get there during the 2 years of the program. Georgetown SFS (the crème de la crème of IR programs) absolutely requires proficiency, and many SFS students get from ‘school fluency’ to ‘working fluency’ by doing an internship in the country of the target language during the summer between first and second year. Columbia MIA is the other one that absolutely requires it for graduation. Several others strongly encourage it (such a JHU SAIS & Tufts Fletcher). Others (eg Harvard Kennedy) aren’t pushed. That said, once you are done and applying for jobs, having only 1 language will put you on the back foot for a lot of international jobs, esp if you are looking at international agencies/NGOs (eg, World Bank).

tl;dr- except for a couple of programs you can get around the FL requirement, but it may limit the post-grad work options


For economics, pages that come up in a search for “preparing for graduate school in economics” generally do not mention foreign language, but commonly do mention needing more advanced math and statistics (e.g. real analysis, probability theory) than is typically required in economics bachelor’s degree programs.

Of course, a foreign language could be topically useful, depending on your subarea of interest. For example, if you focus on the economics of a particular country, knowing the language of that country may be helpful.

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HS.Spanish 3 is highly unlikely to meet any sort of grad school expectation, if there’s one - and for policy there’s likely such an expectation. However, Spanish wouldn’t necessarily be the relevant language, depending on what your child wants to focus on.

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Right on the money. S just completed Econ PhD application process. Top tier schools (MIT, Harvard, Stanford, Princeton, Berkeley, etc.) could care less about foreign language proficiency - though they do care about English proficiency for International applicants.

What matters at top programs are strong econ and intensive advanced math course work (preferably with straight As), extremely high GRE scores, extremely laudatory LOR’s from known and respected economists and 2 years experience as a research RA at a central bank or top tier graduate econ program.