At Signet Education, we advise parents and students on the educational issues they encounter from middle school to graduate school and beyond. Between tutoring subject material, coaching study skills, tackling standardized tests, and navigating college and graduate admissions processes, we’ve helped thousands of students achieve their academic goals.

When SPI asked us to blog about how a program like theirs could benefit a student academically, we jumped at the chance. After reading thousands of personal statements, it’s clear to us that students always benefit when they understand how to build character, challenge themselves, and have mastered a skill such as proficiency in a foreign language. With their expanded horizons, students are better equipped to do the kind of introspective and long-term thinking that successful college applications require, and their oversea adventures often also lend nuance and strength to their application profiles.

This latter point on strengthening an application is worth clarifying. How exactly can a language immersion program in high school strengthen your college applications, you ask? There are two main ways: one related to your development of language skills and the other related to your development as a person.

First, a language immersion program is a huge benefit to language learning, retention, and fluency. Surrounding yourself with the sights, sounds, and even smells of another culture can help you internalize that culture’s language. I tell my students all the time that they need to embody the language they’re trying to learn. Interacting with native speakers will teach you gestures, intonations, facial expressions, and other types of language etiquette that will not only help you speak the language like it’s your mother tongue, but it will also help you retain the language. You’ll be forced to speak it and hear it on a regular basis, which will go a long way towards increasing your comprehension, vocabulary, and level of comfort in speaking.

So how does mastering a language help you in your college career? Most colleges require their applicants to have at least two years of foreign language study and many also require further language study during college. Demonstrating fluency in a foreign language can help you meet these requirements faster or even test out of them. Moreover, knowledge of a foreign language—and even better, familiarity with a foreign culture and place—is becoming more and more essential in today’s globalized economy.

Second, a study abroad program can help you learn about the world and your place in it. By getting you out of your comfort zone, introducing you to new people and experiences, and giving you a taste of living independently from your family, a study abroad program can broaden your perspective and build life skills that are important for both college and your career. Experiencing a foreign culture and a different part of the world can be a life-changing experience for young adults, especially those who haven’t traveled overseas before. You’ll begin to understand your potential as an individual, separate from what your family and hometown friends might expect from you. While you’re exploring your independence, you’ll also gain a lot of self-discipline and confidence from having to manage on your own and make friends with strangers, some of whom don’t even speak your language. All of this is a sign to admissions officers that your adjustment to college will probably go more smoothly. They’ll see that you can adapt to new settings and that you’re comfortable living on your own. Admissions officers will also appreciate the open-mindedness and willingness to take risks that a study abroad program implies. Moreover, spending your vacation time studying can demonstrate your passion for a subject and might underscore your interest in a longer study abroad program offered by the college of your choice. Also, it’s likely that the experience you have will introduce you to something you want to study further or give you something interesting to write about in your college applications. (Note: While travel essays can be cliche, a heartfelt and sincere essay about your experience doesn’t have to be.)

Now, after saying all this, there is one huge caveat to consider: above, I said that programs like this often strengthen application profiles. They don’t automatically make you a stronger candidate for college. You still have to choose the right program for you and you have to make the most of it. Just signing up and going won’t give you the “life-changing” experience everyone talks about. You have to be present, and adventurous, and willing to commit. You need to resist speaking English while abroad and try to interact with locals as much as possible. You should also consider whether a language immersion program makes sense with your application narrative (i.e., do you actually hope to use a foreign language or your knowledge of a foreign culture in your future career or studies?). Be honest with yourself about your goals and your ability to commit, and if it makes sense for you, take advantage of the opportunity to travel!

Author: Sheila Akbar