TOEFL Requirement for College Applications

Consideration of the TOEFL for Undergraduate Programs

Most undergraduate applicants to universities in English-speaking countries will be required to take either the TOEFL or the IELTS if their native language is not English. TOEFL waivers are sometimes granted if the applicant demonstrates the requisite English abilities via high scores on other standardized tests (such as the verbal portion of the SAT) or if the applicant studied at a high school that taught in English. The majority of universities evaluate the TOEFL on a "pass/fail" basis, meaning that the exam is an objective prerequisite rather than a subjective factor in admissions decisions. Applicants need only achieve their preferred institutions' passing scores to be eligible for full admission (receiving these TOEFL scores obviously does not guarantee acceptance, which is dependent on the other parts of the application). Policies for students who "fail" the TOEFL (scores below the established minimums) vary by institution. Low TOEFL scores can preclude consideration of admission at some schools, but others will offer provisional admission to these applicants, which can become full student status upon completion of remedial English requirements.

International Students and Diversity

Universities have a strong interest in promoting diversity in their student populations. The college learning experience is enhanced by community members from a variety of backgrounds, and this generally includes students from other countries. According to a recent profile of an entering undergraduate class at Columbia University, nearly one in five new students (19%) is classified as international, defined by home address or place of schooling. Among these designated international students at Columbia, more than three-quarters are citizens of foreign countries, or 15% of the student population as a whole.

Universities with Large International Student Populations

According to U.S. News & World Report, American universities with the highest percentage of international students include the Florida Institute of Technology (33%), the New School (31.7%), the Illinois Institute of Technology (26.5%), and the University of Tulsa (25.8%). U.S. News further reports that about 40% of responding universities have recently experienced a decline in applications from international students. At such institutions, this translates to a smaller international student applicant pool and more favorable odds of acceptance for the international students that do apply. Outside of the United States, the proportion of international students can be even higher. A recent survey published in Times Higher Education found that the student population at the London School of Economics was nearly 70% international, with majority-international enrollment at institutions such as the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland (62.5%), Imperial College London (50.7%), and City University London (50.1%).

International Student Acceptance Rates

At many universities in the United States, international applicants are confronted with much lower acceptance rates than other types of students, suggesting that the admissions standards for the former category are often higher. UC Berkeley, for example, accepts 17.5% of all undergraduate applicants, but only 8.2% of international applicants. This is at least partially attributable to UC Berkeley's preference for California residents, but American students from outside of California nonetheless enjoy a much higher admit rate (16.5%) than international applicants, despite having only marginally better average credentials. The overall undergraduate acceptance rate at the University of Pennsylvania is 9.4%, but international applicants are admitted at a rate of just 6.6%. The international student acceptance rate is four percentage points lower than the admit rate for all applicants at the University of California-Los Angeles (14% versus 18%). This rate does not seem to be affected by the fact that international candidates for admission to UCLA have slightly higher average GPAs and much higher middle-50% SAT scores than those of the entire applicant pool (3.92 versus 3.91 and 2100-2260 versus 1910-2250).

University TOEFL Policies for Undergraduate Transfer Students

International undergraduate students who wish to transfer to another institution must follow the TOEFL policies of those institutions. Transfer students are generally defined as applicants who have completed a semester or more of coursework at another postsecondary institution (the minimum number of credit-hours for transfer status varies, but is usually about 8-12). TOEFL scores are valid for two years from the date of the test, after which ETS will no longer report scores. If a prospective transfer student's TOEFL scores are still available and meet or exceed the required benchmarks for the school to which the student is transferring, satisfying the language requirement is often a simple matter of sending an additional score report. If an applicant's TOEFL scores are expired, he or she must usually re-take the exam and receive the minimum scores required by his or her new institution.