How a Second Language Makes Your College Application Stand Out
It’s college application season.
Everywhere across the nation high school seniors are fretting over GPAs, frantically scheduling ACTs and SATs, and making a list of lifetime achievements.
Getting accepted into your college of choice is no easy task. It takes a tremendous amount of work crafting the perfect college application, and the months leading up to receiving an acceptance letter in the mail can be extraordinarily nerve-racking.
There is much to do and very little time to do it, and the desired results are not guaranteed.
Adding to the difficulty is that not all colleges are transparent with their requirements.
Some public schools accept all students who meet certain criteria, usually a minimum GPA and test score, but the most selective universities in the country are not so straightforward.
They use what’s called a “holistic” approach to admissions. This means they evaluate the applicant on more than academic metrics alone.
The Princeton Review lists six criteria that top colleges and universities use to evaluate prospective students:
Letters of Recommendations
Performing your best in each of these areas is a daunting task.
However, at ReDefiners World Languages, we believe that there is a skill that will help improve every aspect on this list:
Learning a second language.
A second language builds loads of life experiences and helps with cognitive development, which is exactly what the most selective universities are seeking.
Let’s go through the list and look at each in closer detail.
Universities require at least one essay, usually a personal statement. Use this as an opportunity to tell your story, and make it count.
A good essay needs to pack a punch in every word.
It needs to energize the reader.
It needs literary gasoline to keep the engine running. Your job is to find the gasoline.
We recommend using the experiences gained while learning a second language as a place to start looking.
To understand how a second language becomes the fuel, you must grasp what it takes to learn a language. It requires hours of studying; of reading works of literature in the target language; of conversing with native speakers of that culture; and of immersing yourself in the customs, traditions, and lifestyles of the people. Every level of proficiency gained in a new language exemplifies key skills, such as dedication and work ethic.
You can write about the friendships you made with native Spanish speakers or the lessons you learned from your favorite Chinese authors or the respect you gained for Arabic culture.
At ReDefiners World Languages, we call this becoming a global citizen.
Learning a second language allows you access to a wide range of impressive extracurriculars that make your application stand out.
The Princeton Review identifies three categories of extracurriculars:
Work Experience (Jobs, internships, or community service)
Many high schools host clubs of all languages and cultures: Latin American club, French club, International club, etc.
The purpose of these clubs is to gain an appreciation of the culture’s art, music, history, and current events. They also serve as a way to open a dialogue between members and non-members of these cultures.
While you do not need to speak the language of the culture to join the club, you will find yourself more aligned with the club’s mission if you do.
Show the admissions committee that you are a well-rounded student by being an active member.
Joining an honors society is a great way to show off your high academic standards. However, not all honors societies are equally valuable.
The ones that have strict qualifications tend to be more prestigious and are more appealing to the application committee. For that reason, honor societies that require some level of proficiency in a second language can bring you great benefits.
The Spanish Honors Society is one example. This honor society requires you to have studied at least three semesters of Spanish in high school, which would lead to a significant level of proficiency.
They also provide scholarships.
Being bilingual opens up many doors in the professional field. First, knowing a second language is impressive and could help you land a job.
Second, it allows you to work in positions otherwise unavailable to your monolingual peers.
Think of translators, international business associates, and travel writers.
The chances of your peers possessing similar work experience are slim, paving the way for you to stand out as a unique applicant.
You will also be able to communicate with a larger audience, meaning that you can connect deeper with your community. Volunteering your time to help community members demonstrates admirable qualities of character.
Letters of Recommendations
Good letters of recommendation are vital to a successful college application.
Colleges and universities garner insight into your character from these credible sources. Who you ask to write the letters will tell the universities with whom you have spent the most time, or which relationships you value most.
The question is: Where do you find the recommenders?
Most often, teachers are the first people you should ask. You’ll want to pick someone who knows you well and can write about your academic abilities. It is also important to choose someone that can speak on behalf of your character and your interests.
If you learned your second language through school, you could ask your language teacher.
If you learned your language through a private organization, like ReDefiners World Languages, you could reach out to your instructor for a letter of recommendation.
Clubs, honor societies, jobs, and community service positions are also great places to find trustworthy recommenders.
Colleges and universities want to know what you plan on doing during your undergraduate years. You have to show them the direction you want to take with your studies.
There are two ways to do this on the application:
What do you intend to study?
What is your dream job?
How do you plan to get there?
Your essay can be a place where you explicitly tell the admission committee what you want to do with your life.
How does language help answer these questions? As we touched upon earlier, language learning offers many life experiences about which to write. Through these, you may come to find that for which you are truly passionate.
It doesn’t even have to be related to language learning – as long as you are learning and growing through the process, you will discover more about the world that interests you.
All experiences are valuable for finding lifelong interests that will guide your academic career.
The other way to demonstrate your interests is through your actions, and actions indeed speak louder than words.
The clubs you join, the letters of recommendation you acquire, and the types of classes you take implicitly speak to what has interested you over the past four years.
If you want to study languages, linguistics, humanities, or anything in the liberal arts, then learning a second language signals to the application committee that you have taken the initiative to learn outside the classroom.
It shows that you are a self-starter – you’re someone who doesn't need to be led by the hand. You’re a person that gets things done.
GPA and Test Scores
One of the unintended – yet much appreciated – benefits of learning a language is the cognitive development that comes with it.
Studies have shown that learning a second language helps improve concentration and attention spans, which benefit all areas of study.
Training your brain to handle complex and focus-intensive tasks will prepare you for the grueling SATs and ACTs as well as AP and honors classes.
GPA and test scores are the most important metrics of your college application. They are the accumulation of all your academic pursuits, and anything you can do to boost these measures will pay off in dividends.
Where to start?
If this sounds like a worthwhile endeavor, consider starting the journey to learn a second language. You’ll find yourself better prepared for higher education while receiving a myriad of benefits that you hadn’t expected.
Looking for a place to start? Then look no further.
Here at ReDefiners, we specialize in teaching language through online courses and group class conversations.
You can begin growing your career immediately by meeting with a teacher for instruction twice a week and taking part in group sessions for real, practical conversation experience.