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Admissions How does my grade in a foreign language affect grad school?

  1. Oct 13, 2016 #1
    TL;DR: in over my head with study abroad program


    I have been doing a Physics + Computer Science Double Major at a college and right now I'm in the 2nd semester of my sophomore year. However, I'm wondering about this. One of the things I had wanted to do when at this college was to do a "study abroad" program in China, as I've always wanted to go to China ever since I was younger, I've had an interest in the Chinese language too, and I wanted to see an interest contact there (a businessman named John Lombard, nickname "Wolfman".).

    So I managed to get myself into this "intensive" study abroad foreign language program ("Language and Culture Program") to China for this semester studying Mandarin, so right now I am doing the study abroad program and writing this message to you from China. But the problem was that I got the language course I was not fully and thoroughly briefed on just exactly what an "intensive" program meant, and I had never done a foreign language course before, much less an "intense" course. I discovered rather rudely that an intense course means four 3-hour lectures a week with homeworks due every next lecture period and brutal rote memorization sessions rotememming Chinese words to be listened to and recalled the next lecture. The program goal is to cover 3 semesters of Mandarin in 1 semester. So about 3 month-long courses, actually, each one a full semester's worth in terms of content.

    But I found that as I go through the program, I managed to do well on the assignments but I started to fall behind as the course was so intense. I was allowed to drop the 3rd course in Mandarin but still have the option to take it (if I don't, that is 2 semesters of Mandarin equivalent, not 3). I just finished my first course and got A- for the grade, but I don't think I'll make another A for the second course. In everything I studied back at home I got As -- all my physics, math, computer science, even general ed courses. I also have been involved in physics research at my home college (got started in the 3rd semester, i.e. the first of my current, sophomore year and continued over the summer) and have done well so far. It's just this intense study abroad language program that's proving the stickler.

    Which raises the question: If I do not get an "A" in the Mandarin course I am currently on, but I keep getting "A"s in all my physics, math, computer science and other courses from here on out, how may this affect any prospects for graduate school in a good physics or computer science graduate program down the road? (I guess I'm thinking about this early, but better to be ahead of the game, no? Next semester begins my junior year.) While the study abroad program was not at all mandated by my major and does not cover major content, at least some of it can be used to fulfill general ed requirements but other things could have been used as well.
    Last edited: Oct 13, 2016
  2. jcsd
  3. Oct 13, 2016 #2


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    I don't know where you are from, but apparently you can speak English. That should be sufficient for everything STEM-related in all English-speaking countries and most higher education programs and many jobs in many other countries.
    I don't know about China in particular, but usually some basic knowledge does not help if (if!) language proficiency is a formal requirement for something - either you can speak the language well enough to use it everywhere, or you need something else.
  4. Oct 13, 2016 #3
    @mfb: I am American. I am taking the course in Chinese Mandarin because I had interest in the language and in the country, China. I thought it was a good way to both explore that interest area and cross off a few gen ed requirements. What I am saying though is is if I don't get an "A" grade in the Mandarin course and thus my total GPA drops below 4.0, how will this affect admission to good physics grad programs even though it's not a physics or math course?
  5. Oct 13, 2016 #4


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    Depends on the individual university.

    In Europe, most universities wouldn't care at all about your Mandarin course.
  6. Oct 13, 2016 #5


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    I would be very surprised if a B in one non-major course had any impact on your prospects for grad school.
  7. Oct 13, 2016 #6
    While I doubt a B in a foreign language class will be an issue, there are advisers and committees who try and balance the pool of graduate students with some strengths in the humanities, though english, history, writing, etc. are likely to receive more emphasis than chinese.

    A lot of Physics faculty are weary of having to teach graduate students how to write. Those will usually have a peek at humanities grades and the verbal GRE scores.
  8. Oct 13, 2016 #7
    So what would be the best advice here for the remaining course? I still have ~3 weeks left, these courses are intense. What if I don't do so well on the Chinese courses but do good on English/English writing ones?

    I also think I should point out what my goal is here. The goal is I want to master my chosen field(s) (physics, computer science) well, to understand them well, and to know I've mastered it well. To that end, the goal would be to figure out what is best compatible with getting into a graduate program that furthers that purpose. Not so interested in having a "flashy" credential unless it's necessary to achieve that goal.
    Last edited: Oct 13, 2016
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