TOEFL Requirements for U.S. Universities Vary Greatly

Guest post from Jon at Strictly English.

  Recently, a boarding school student asked his Strictly English tutor, “Will I need the TOEFL if I started taking regular classes with no ESL support in my junior year?” Our tutor could only say that, in general, most U.S. colleges and universities require a TOEFL score as part of the application process, and that the student would need to check the specific details for each institution to which he was applying. The student’s question is a very common one. And there is an underlying assumption in the question, which is that studying in the U.S. replaces the need for a TOEFL score in the admission process. International students who are studying in the U.S. often think that if they have been in mainstreamed classes for a certain number of semesters or quarters, then they will not have to take the TOEFL. In addition to whether they are mainstreamed or not, other variables which international students assume affects their need to take the TOEFL include:
  1. Length of study in a U.S. high schoo
  2. Length of time in ESL-supported classrooms
  3. Length of time in full-immersion English language classrooms
  4. A high SAT Verbal score, which they think makes taking the TOEFL unnecessary
  5. Using unofficial test scores, such as those from practice tests administered by their schools for evaluation purposes, as substitutes for official TOEFL results
The truth is that these variables, as well as many more, have different values in each institution’s application process. What’s more, every admissions office makes its own determination regarding what elements are important and the degree to which they matter. Similar institutions might use very different calculations when examining an international student’s application package. For example, one school might take the Speaking section of the TOEFL score very seriously, but not care as much about the Listening section. Or another school might focus a lot of attention on the TOEFL and pay little attention to the SAT. Or a third school might put more emphasis on the personal statement that the student writes, and not care about the student’s standardized test scores as much. Some of these preferences are not publically disclosed, so you’ll never know what the admissions office really values in your application. But you do have to know—and believe—what the school DOES publish on its website about admissions requirements. Don’t assume it’s true that even though the school says it wants a 90 on the TOEFL, you heard of a kid from your country who got in with an 85 because he had, for example, strong SAT scores. This is dangerous thinking! Students must be clear about each college’s or university’s particular requirements. Blanket assumptions about what any college requires could leave a student without enough time to prepare thoroughly for the TOEFL exam, or worse, without enough time to schedule a TOEFL exam before application materials are due. Likewise, assuming that the requirements for all institutions are similar could jeopardize an application. Students should track the information for each institution separately, perhaps in a spreadsheet or in a separate folder for each application, in order to help eliminate erroneous assumptions.   Having tutored over 11,000 hours since it was founded in 2004, Strictly English is the only company that specializes in customized online TOEFL tutoring.]]>

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