IELTS for College Applications

Examples of IELTS Policies for Undergraduate Study

Universities in English-speaking countries expect their undergraduate applicants to demonstrate sufficient language skills, but there are a variety of approaches to enforcement of this provision. Undergraduate admission to Columbia University, for instance, is contingent upon the applicant being "comfortable with rapid and idiomatic spoken English," but students may satisfy this requirement in a few different ways. Scores of 700 or higher on the SAT's Evidence-Based Reading and Writing section or 29 and above on the English or reading sections of the ACT will fulfill Columbia's English proficiency standard without need for further assessment. Applicants who received instruction in English "for the duration of [their] secondary school" are assumed to possess the requisite language abilities and do not need to take any language tests. Alternatively, Columbia will accept the TOEFL (minimum total score of 100) or the IELTS (minimum total band score of 7.0). Other schools have more specialized policies for international students. The University of Cambridge uses candidate interviews to determine which further assessments of English language skills are necessary. Admission to Cambridge may be granted on the condition that the student pass the IELTS (minimum total score of 7.5 and at least 7.0 on each paper), Cambridge English, or some other formal qualification.

International Undergraduate Student Populations at Major Universities

Many selective universities in the English-speaking world have significant percentages of international students. The University of Oxford reports that 17% of its undergraduates are citizens of more than 140 countries other than the United Kingdom. Approximately 1,300 students from countries outside of the European Union are currently enrolled at the University of Cambridge, representing about 11% of the total undergraduate population. Other UK institutions that are especially welcoming to students from overseas include the University of Liverpool (21% international undergraduates), the University of Buckingham (24%), and the London School of Economics (22%). Prominent American universities that attract and accept a large percentage of international students (at least 19% of the total) include Carnegie Mellon University, Boston University, Brandeis University, and Northeastern University.

Acceptance Rates for International Undergraduate Applicants

It is not unusual for universities in the United States to report lower acceptance rates for international undergraduate applicants than for their American counterparts. This is partially because the international applicant pool has grown significantly in recent years, but unofficial enrollment quotas can also factor into the equation. The international student admit rate at the University of California-Los Angeles is 14%, compared to an overall acceptance rate of 18%. In one recent admissions cycle at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the admit rate for American applicants (almost 11%) was more than three times the acceptance rate for international applicants (3%).

Improving the Odds for International Undergraduate Applicants

Experts on college admissions concede that international students can be at a disadvantage at the most selective universities. One reason for this is the fact that admissions officers are largely unfamiliar with secondary education in other countries, and evaluation of secondary coursework is therefore a challenge. Although no institution will say so publicly, the percentage of admitted international students tends to remain stable over several admissions cycles, and larger groups of applicants lead to lower acceptance rates. According to professional admissions counselors, international applicants can improve the odds by receiving high SAT or ACT scores, submitting passing TOEFL or IELTS scores, engaging in a number of extracurricular activities, and targeting schools with smaller international student populations. International applicants can also use their essays to emphasize the contributions they will make to campus diversity. Disclosure of financial aid status can be helpful, because candidates who are able to pay full sticker price will have an advantage over those who require monetary assistance.

The IELTS and Transfer Applications

Language testing policies for undergraduate transfer students are most often similar to those in place for first-year applicants. IELTS scores are valid for two years, and if a student is transferring within this window, he or she will not need to take the exam again (as long as they are at or above the IELTS score expectations of the new program). Transfer applicants with expired test scores, regardless of where they completed their initial coursework, will very likely have to undergo the IELTS examination again. IELTS exemptions for secondary education in English will usually apply equally to transfer students.