TOEFL Requirement for Graduate School

TOEFL Policies and Waivers at Graduate Schools

Because the term "graduate school" encompasses so many fields and university departments, it is difficult to make general statements about TOEFL policies for graduate programs. Prospective graduate students should not only review TOEFL requirements for their chosen universities, but also for the departments in which they wish to study and for the specific degree offerings they intend to pursue. TOEFL requirements most commonly apply to non-native English speakers who completed their undergraduate education in another language, and TOEFL exemptions are most often available to international graduate school applicants who earned undergraduate degrees at universities in English-speaking countries. However, admissions committees sometimes weigh other issues. The Graduate School at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, for example, will grant TOEFL waivers only if an international graduate applicant has completed his or her undergraduate degree in English and within five years of enrollment. The Graduate School at Cornell University will waive the TOEFL for citizens of English-speaking countries (such as Australia, Ireland, and all Canadian provinces except Quebec), but this institution will not waive the TOEFL for citizens of nations where English is commonly spoken (such as India, the Philippines, or Singapore).

TOEFL Score Requirements for Graduate Schools

Graduate schools usually set broad TOEFL standards for all of their programs, but university departments often have their own TOEFL expectations. Furthermore, departmental TOEFL benchmarks can vary by degree offering, and eligibility for teaching assistantships is frequently characterized by higher minimum scores and additional requirements. At the University of California-Los Angeles, the basic TOEFL requirement for the Graduate School is a total score of 87, with at least 25 writing, 24 speaking, 21 reading, and 17 listening. The Department of Art History offers a set of graduate degree programs that observe this broad standard. Applicants for UCLA graduate programs in bioengineering, however, are expected to receive a total score of at least 100. UCLA graduate programs in computer science will accept applicants who fail to reach one of the Graduate School's sectional score benchmarks, as long as the total score is at least 87. International UCLA applicants who wish to become teaching assistants must meet their department's minimum TOEFL score requirements, and they must also take and pass the Test of Oral Proficiency (an exam developed and administered by the university) after arriving on campus. The above examples of just a few departments at a single university show the high degree of variation in consideration of the TOEFL at the graduate level.

Common Remediation Options for International Graduate Students

Some graduate schools will refuse admission to applicants with TOEFL scores below the established departmental and/or university standards (the University of Chicago is one such institution). Many graduate programs, however, will offer students with otherwise strong credentials the option of improving their abilities in the English language. Most commonly, this remediation takes the form of English language courses. In order to be eligible for full admission to graduate degree offerings in accounting at Pennsylvania State University, applicants must submit a total TOEFL score of at least 80, with a minimum of 19 on the speaking section. Applicants with speaking scores between 15 and 18, however, may be granted provisional admission, which can become full admission after the student completes an intensive English course with a grade of B or higher. Prospective graduate students should note that these remedial courses can be quite expensive, and in most cases, TOEFL prep classes or private tutoring are much more cost-effective options.

International Students at Graduate Schools

International students are well represented at graduate programs in English-speaking countries. Foreigners are over 30% of the graduate student population at Cornell University, and this institution offers several forms of assistance to students from overseas (including overviews of immigration and visa policies, orientation programs, and arrival guides). At the University of Oxford, citizens of countries other than the United Kingdom represent 42% of the total student community. Among Oxford graduate students, 16.7% are from non-UK countries in the European Union, and a further 38.7% are from non-EU nations, for a total of 55.4% international students.

Average TOEFL Scores for Graduate Students

ETS data indicate that the mean TOEFL scores for graduate students in non-business programs are 85 total, 21.7 reading, 21.0 listening, 20.8 speaking, and 21.3 writing (the average scores for graduate business students are almost identical). Total scores of 100, 104, and 108 represent the respective 77th, 85th, and 91st percentiles of all test-takers.