Language Requirement

Degree candidates must meet a language requirement in a language other than English that is taught at Harvard or for which an appropriate examination can be given. The College affirms that the learning of a language other than English is an essential component of a liberal art and sciences education and that this learning should allow a student to develop first-hand understanding of linguistic and cultural variety.  The language requirement demands rigorous study but does not require a particular format of study or examination.  Students should be taught in all forms of a language that are customary in the practice of that language. The requirement can be satisfied in one of the following ways:

  • Earning a minimum score of 700 on a College Entrance Examination Board SAT II Test in a language other than English, a score of 5 on a relevant Advanced Placement examination, or a score of 7 on a relevant International Baccalaureate examination;
  • Earning a passing score as determined by the department on a placement examination administered by certain language departments;
  • Passing with a letter grade one appropriate year-long course (8 credits) or two semester-long courses (4 credits each) in one language at Harvard, or the equivalent as determined by the appropriate language department. These courses may not include foreign literature courses conducted in English;
  • Passing with a letter grade a language course or courses at the appropriate level taken in Harvard programs abroad, as approved by the appropriate language department. Study completed at other institutions may also fulfill the requirement if approved by the appropriate language department whether through examination or on the basis of achieving a minimum grade;
  • A student whose high school education was conducted in a language other than English may satisfy the language requirement with evidence of the official high school transcript;
  • A student who claims fluency in a language other than English may satisfy the language requirement through satisfactory completion of an examination in the relevant language, provided that an appropriate examination can be given.  If the language is not one that is offered at Harvard, and if a qualified examiner, as determined by the Office of Undergraduate Education, cannot be identified, the student must meet the language requirement with another language;
  • No student may take the relevant departmental examination more than once for the purpose of meeting the language requirement.

Details on language placement exams, including the process for registering for these exams and FAQs, can be found on the Placement Exams Information website.

Any student who has not met the language requirement upon entrance ordinarily is required to enroll in and complete with a passing letter grade an appropriate year-long language course (8 credits) or two semester-long language courses (4 credits each) in a single language before the start of the junior year. (An appropriate course is one for which a student qualifies by previous instruction or placement test.) Most introductory courses in all languages taught at Harvard may count towards fulfillment of the language requirement.

Exceptions to the ordinary means of satisfying the requirement, or to the timing of the requirement, can be granted only by the Administrative Board upon the recommendation of the student’s Resident Dean. Students who fail to meet the requirement by the beginning of the junior year, or in the timeframe specified by the Administrative Board, are subject to disciplinary action.

Placement exams in a few languages will be available online to entering students over the summer before they arrive at Harvard; students looking to place into courses in these languages, or who plan to satisfy the language requirement in these languages, are strongly encouraged to take the exam over the summer before the start of their first year. A student whose score on the online exam indicates sufficient mastery of the language to satisfy the requirement will need to take a brief, proctored follow-up exam after arriving on campus and before the course registration deadline. Placement exams in these languages, as well as many others, will also be administered to first year students at a designated time during Opening Days. Upperclassmen interested in taking a language placement exam should be in touch with the relevant department prior to the start of the term. Language placement exams will also be available to take in January prior to the spring term.  Students may not repeatly take exams in the same language.  

Students wishing to fulfill the language requirement in a language for which the College does not provide a standard placement exam will need to consult with the Office of Undergraduate Education by contacting as soon as possible upon admission to the College. Students may request to take a special examination in any language in which an appropriate examination can be given by a member of the Faculty familiar with the standards of the language requirement or by a qualified examiner identified by the Office of Undergraduate Education. Special language examinations will be scheduled as quickly as possible, but students should plan to take either a placement examination in another language if possible or a first-year course in another language to maximize their options pending the result of the special examination. Students who plan to fulfill the language requirement by special examination should consult with their Resident Dean prior to registering for courses.

Students who plan to continue language study beyond the requirement level may wish to qualify for a citation in that language (see Citations in Foreign Language.)