Language Proficiency Requirement




As a liberal arts institution, Saint Mary’s values and promotes “global perspectives and inclusive excellence”. As noted in the College’s Strategic Plan, “Our graduates will be entering a world characterized by growing uncertainty, interdependence, diversity, and technological developments. Today’s world needs the blend of critical thinkers, scientifically and technologically literate citizens, ethical and inclusive leaders, and working professionals”. Knowing another language prepares students for meaningful personal and professional lives. The benefits of being bilingual include more professional opportunities, improved cognitive health, superior social skills and higher salaries

The College expects  2 years of study of the same foreign language for admission to the college. Two years of language study in grades 9-12 for admission is comparable to the expectations at 4 year public universities in the state of California.  As part of the College’s Core Curriculum requirement, all students must demonstrate an intermediate level (Level 3) of proficiency in another language other than English order to graduate.

In order to assist students with timely progress towards graduation, Saint Mary’s currently allows them to meet the Core Curriculum language proficiency requirement with course work completed in high school or accredited college-level institution, in addition to other pathways. 

The language requirement may be fulfilled in one of the following ways:

  • By successfully completing level 003 of French, German, Italian, Japanese, Spanish or a Classical Language (Latin, Greek) at Saint Mary's College, or by transferring the equivalent course from another college-level institution,

  • Completing three years of the same language in high school with a GPA of 3.0 (B) or higher each term. 

  • By scoring at least 3 on the College Entrance Examination Board Advanced Placement (AP) exam in the World Language and Culture Exams.   The College Board offers exams in Chinese, French, German, Japanese, Latin, Italian, and Spanish,

  • By scoring at least 5 on the International Baccalaureate (IB) Examination in language,

  • By achieving a TOEFL score of 550 on the paper-based test or 79 on the internet-based test (for International students who are non-native speakers of English),

  • By achieving an intermediate level score on the Avant Language Placement Test in Reading, Contextualized Grammar, Writing, & Speaking. Results must be confirmed through oral and written proficiency testing with the Placement and Proficiency Coordinator,

  • By successfully completing a third term language course or its equivalent at another post-secondary institution,

  • By demonstrating proficiency in a language not offered by St. Mary’s.  (Examinations must be arranged through the Language and Proficiency Coordinator in the Department of World Languages and Cultures.)

Please note:

Students do not receive any credits for having had their language requirement waived by the Registrar’s Office.

Students cannot automatically “place out” of the language requirement.  They must demonstrate proficiency by examination.

We strongly recommend that students complete the language requirement by the end of their sophomore year.  Transfer students should complete their requirement by the end of their junior year.

Students may only enroll in level 001 if they are true beginners in the language.  In order to register for a course other than level 001, we suggest that students take the online language placement exam to determine the appropriate level.  

The Avant Placement online exam is available in French, German, Italian, Japanese and Spanish.  For other languages not offered at SMC, please contact the placement and proficiency coordinator. 

Online courses or placement exams are reviewed on a case by case basis and must meet the learning outcomes for level 3 courses. 

Frequently Asked Questions about the Language Requirement

1.      I took courses in middle school and two years of language in high school.  Why haven’t I met the college’s language requirement?

It is unusual for colleges to accept work completed in middle school to count towards college-level graduation requirements. Students satisfy the language requirement with high school study when they have taken three years of the same language in grades 9-12 and received a 3.0 (B) or higher in each term. 

2.    I studied a language other than the ones taught at SMC.  Can those courses count toward the requirement?

Yes, the college recognizes that studying from a wide variety of languages is central to a liberal arts education.  Courses taken in languages other than those taught at SMC can count towards the language requirement. 

3.     I took AP course work and took the test. Does that count towards the requirement? 

Yes, a student can meet the college’s language requirement by scoring at least 3 on the College Entrance Examination Board Advanced Placement (AP) exam in language. Please see the following summary of courses that students may receive credit for based on successful results in both AP and IB courses.

Note: AP scores are not automatically applied to degree audits.  Students must have official scores sent from the College Board to the Admissions or the Office of the Registrar. 

4.    I took IB language courses.  Can those count towards the language requirement? 

Saint Mary's College welcomes students who have challenged themselves in the classroom by taking Advanced Placement (AP) or International Baccalaureate (IB) courses.  Please see the following summary of courses that students may receive credit for based on successful results in both AP and IB courses.

5.     I took language courses in high school, but haven’t met the requirement. Do I need to ‘start over’ with language study?

No, most students do not need to ‘start over’ with language study.  Previous course work at the high school and college level are taken into account when determining placement.  We strongly suggest that students take an online placement diagnostic in order to get an accurate assessment of their language skills and appropriate placement.  

6.    I took language courses in high school, but haven’t met the requirement. Why does my degree evaluation show that I need 3 language classes  to meet the requirement?

Currently, the Gaelexpress system only records if a student has met or not met the requirement. If a student has not met the requirement, Gaelxpress leaves that section of the degree evaluation blank, which makes it look like a student needs to take three language courses.  This is rarely the case. Only students who have never taken a language course would need to start with level 1 in order to meet the language requirement. 

7. I am working with Student Disabilities Services (SDS)  to support completion of the language requirement. What options do I have if I need accommodations?

The Department of WLC is committed to supporting access for all students to complete the language requirement.  Please reach out to the Placement and Proficiency Coordinator to discuss options for alternative ways to complete the language requirement; options include taking as an alternative a culture and civilization course in the WLC.

8.  I grew up speaking a language other than English at home.  Does that count toward the language requirement? 

Yes, students who grew up speaking another language at home can arrange for a proficiency exam in that language directly with the Placement and Proficiency Coordinator. 

9.  I took ASL or am interested in taking ASL.  Does this count toward the requirement? 

Yes, ASL can be used to meet the language requirement.  We currently don’t offer courses in ASL, so alternative arrangements will need to be made. 

10. Do I have to take the placement exam in the language I took in high school?    

No.  If you intend to study a language different than the one you studied in high school, you will enroll in level 001 and do not need to take a placement exam.  However, if you wish to continue in the same language you studied in high school, you must take the placement exam.

11. What happens if I score very high on the placement exam?

If you achieve a high score on the placement exam, you have not automatically met Saint Mary’s language requirement.  You will be required to verify proficiency through an exam with both oral and written components. If the proficiency exam results confirm your placement score, you will have fulfilled the College’s language requirement.  If it does not, the Placement and Proficiency Coordinator will place you at the appropriate level.

12. I am a transfer student and I haven’t taken a language in many years.  What are my options?

The College welcomes students transferring from other colleges and institutions. We will assist students to meet the requirement. Options for meeting the requirement are evaluated on a case by case basis. We also ask students to complete the online placement diagnostic in order to determine the best option for your situation.  Please consult with the chair of the department prior to enrolling in a course.

Any questions about placement and testing in language, please contact Dr. Maria Luisa Ruiz at,