First, let's talk about the less obvious academic benefits of learning a second language. According to the Center for Applied Linguistics, learning a second language, especially at an early age, affects overall intellectual growth and mental development. Studies have shown bilingual students perform better in school and tend to be effective problem solvers [source: Center for Applied Linguistics].
Furthermore, numerous studies show a positive correlation between learning a second language and college admissions test scores. According to data collected by the College Board, there is a positive correlation between the study of foreign languages and SAT scores. Not only do students who study a foreign language score higher than their counterparts who have not learned a second language, their SAT scores improved with each year of study. In other words, those students who took four years of a foreign language scored higher than those who stopped after two [source: College Board]. In addition, the data also show that students who studied multiple years of other subjects, such as science, had no significant increase in their SAT verbal scores [source: Weatherford].
Of course, admissions officers at most colleges and universities also look closely at the applicant's transcript. Here they not only see grades earned, but also the student's course load. And to some of these gatekeepers, students who go beyond the two-year language requirement and also take AP courses show they are serious about academics. Admissions officers recommend that students who are proficient in a second language, particularly those who hope to attend an elite college or to major or minor in a foreign language, take four years of the language, including an AP language course (if available) or sit for the SAT subject test in the language they have been studying.
Unfortunately, not all languages are tested by the College Board's SAT subject tests. The limited number of tests affects what languages students choose to study in high school, which may impact their course of study in college and ultimately their career. Take for example, a student who wishes to learn Russian in high school. Because there currently is no standardized admissions test for Russian, that student may be discouraged from studying this language and, eventually, countries like the United States, may find themselves with a dearth of Russian speakers as a result [source: Morgan]. You can find out which foreign language tests the College Board offers by visiting its Web site.
Although studying a second language may not be the specific factor that stands out on your college application, chances are it will make a difference on an application of a different kind. Let's look at how speaking more than one language can benefit your career.