Weight of the TOEFL in an Application Package

Do I Have to Take the TOEFL?

Non-native English speakers applying to postsecondary degree programs in English-speaking countries will be expected to prove their knowledge of the English language. The TOEFL is one of the two most widely accepted means of demonstrating competence in academic English (the other is the IELTS). Some schools will waive language requirements for certain types of students. Undergraduate applicants to Washington University in St. Louis, for example, qualify for TOEFL waivers if they receive scores of 650 or higher on the critical reading section of the old (pre-2016) SAT, 600 or above on the Evidence-Based Reading and Writing section of the 2016 SAT, or at least 29 on the English section of the ACT. Other institutions require either TOEFL or IELTS scores from nearly all international students, regardless of their scores on other standardized tests. At the University of Wisconsin-Madison, all applicants from non-English speaking countries must pass one of these two tests. The only exception is for international students who spent all of their secondary school years at institutions that taught exclusively in English. The short answer to the question posed in the heading for this paragraph is therefore "it depends on the student and the school." International students must review the TOEFL requirements of their chosen universities, and they should also be aware that individual departments within those institutions may have different standards.

The TOEFL and Undergraduate Admissions

The most common practice at universities in English-speaking countries is to set minimum TOEFL scores for admission. In the vast majority of cases, the TOEFL is merely a prerequisite and is usually not a factor in the acceptance or rejection of applications. As long as the student achieves the passing standard, he or she will receive no further admissions benefits or penalties associated with the TOEFL (scores right at the benchmark will not hurt the applicant, and scores significantly above the benchmark will not help the applicant). University deadlines for TOEFL scores are generally the same as those that apply to the application as a whole, and applications submitted without TOEFL scores are usually considered incomplete. Students should note the numerical TOEFL code for each of their prospective schools, which ETS will need for the purposes of score reporting.

The Typical Consequences of Low TOEFL Scores

At many colleges and universities, students who fail to receive the required TOEFL scores cannot be considered for admission. Hunter College of the City University of New York is an example of a school that expects all of its applicants to meet minimum TOEFL standards, and this institution will not offer any sort of provisional admission to candidates who do not receive the required TOEFL scores. There are, however, a number of schools in English-speaking countries that are willing to grant admission to students with TOEFL scores that are below their requirements, on the condition that they complete remedial English study. This remediation is usually in the form of English courses, and students may also have to undergo additional English language testing after arriving on campus. At the University of Maryland, accepted undergraduates who score below 100 on the TOEFL iBT must complete a one-semester English course at the Maryland English Institute. This course meets for 2 hours per day, 5 days per week, and the fee is nearly $5,000 (which is far more costly than even the most expensive TOEFL prep).

Minimum TOEFL Scores for Undergraduate Admission to Highly Selective Universities

International students applying to the most selective universities should assume that their total TOEFL scores must be at least 100. This is the minimum requirement for undergraduates at institutions such as Yale, Harvard, Columbia, Cornell, Johns Hopkins, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Stanford, the University of Pennsylvania, and the University of Chicago. Among the few schools with even higher requirements, the University of Oxford stands out (minimum total score of 110). Princeton University (108) is also one of the outliers in rigorous consideration of the TOEFL. Because TOEFL requirements may vary by department and can change over time, prospective undergraduate students should verify the expected TOEFL scores of their programs.

Minimum Scores for Undergraduate Admission to Selective Universities with Lower TOEFL Standards

Many good schools have set undergraduate TOEFL benchmarks that are below 100. Highly regarded public institutions with lower TOEFL expectations include the University of California-Berkeley (80), the University of California-Los Angeles (83), and the University of Wisconsin-Madison (95). Selective private universities that will admit undergraduate students with scores that are less than 100 include Boston University (84), New York University (92), and Northeastern University (92).