How Many Years of English Do You Need?

Learn English Requirements for College Admissions

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English is perhaps the only high school subject for which colleges almost universally require or recommend a full four years of study. The college admissions officers will expect you to have strong writing and reading skills since these are necessary for communication regardless of your major. This is also why many institutions require students to take courses in writing as part of a general education requirement -- strong writing and communication skills are important for nearly every major and career.

In fact, many high schools require students to take four years of English classes for exactly that reason.

Note that non-native speakers can often demonstrate their proficiency in English with the Test of English as a Foreign Language rather than with coursework.

Samples of Different Requirements

Different colleges word their English requirements differently, but as the examples below illustrate, nearly all want to see four years of high school English:

  • Carleton College: "The strongest candidates for admission to Carleton have taken ... four years of English ... At a minimum, applicants should have ... three or more years of English (with a stress on writing)" (
  • MIT: "A strong academic foundation in high school both improves your odds of getting into MIT and will help you make the most of the Institute when you're here. We recommend that your high school years include ... four years of English ." (

Notice that many of these colleges specifically emphasize writing-intensive English courses. There is no exact definition of what makes a high school English course writing-intensive, and your school may not have denoted their courses as such. If a large part of your high school English course was focused on developing writing techniques and style, it will probably count toward a college's writing-intensive course requirement.

Requirement or Recommendation?

It is also important to remember that, while many schools may "recommend" four years of English rather than "require" it, colleges look more favorably upon applicants who have met or exceeded the recommended guidelines. Your high school record is a strong indicator of your potential performance in college, and admissions officers are looking for students who challenge themselves in their coursework rather, not those who simply meet the minimum requirements.

The chart below summarizes the recommended or required English coursework for a range of colleges and universities.

SchoolEnglish Requirement
Auburn University4 years required
Carleton College3 years required, 4 years recommended (emphasis on writing)
Centre College4 years recommended
Georgia Tech4 years required
Harvard University4 years recommended
MIT4 years required
NYU4 years required (emphasis on writing)
Pomona College4 years recommended
Smith College4 years required
Stanford University4 years recommended (emphasis on writing and literature)
UCLA4 years required
University of Illinois4 years required
University of Michigan4 years required (at least 2 rigorous writing courses are recommended)
Williams College4 years recommended
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Your Citation
Cody, Eileen. "How Many Years of English Do You Need?" ThoughtCo, Feb. 9, 2017, Cody, Eileen. (2017, February 9). How Many Years of English Do You Need? Retrieved from Cody, Eileen. "How Many Years of English Do You Need?" ThoughtCo. (accessed March 23, 2018).