IELTS PhD Requirements

Language Testing Policies in Doctoral Programs

IELTS waivers for graduate programs, including those that culminate in the awarding of a doctor of philosophy, are commonly granted to applicants with bachelor's degrees from universities in which English is the main language of instruction. However, advanced degrees earned in English do not always satisfy language requirements. A PhD applicant who completed a bachelor's degree in France and a master's degree in the United States, for example, may be required to take an English language assessment. Specific examples of PhD programs with this sort of policy include the Harvard Graduate School of Education and the Yale School of Public Health. Other PhD programs are more generous with their waiver policies. The Booth School of Business at the University of Chicago considers one year or more of full-time study at a university in an English-speaking country and/or any undergraduate or graduate degree from such an institution to be convincing proof of language skills.

IELTS Acceptance at the Doctoral Level

Applicants to PhD programs at universities in most English-speaking countries are probably safe in assuming that the IELTS will be accepted, although it is most definitely a good idea to verify the requirements of a given doctoral degree offering before proceeding with test preparation. Universities in the United States often prefer the TOEFL over the IELTS, probably because the former is an American assessment that features American English. The majority of American institutions will consider the IELTS, but some PhD programs will accept the TOEFL only. The Harvard Graduate School of Education permits doctor of education leadership (EdLD) students to submit IELTS scores, but PhD applicants must take the TOEFL. At the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School, the TOEFL is the only acceptable English exam for doctoral study, and the IELTS may not be substituted.

IELTS Score Requirements for PhD Study

Study at the doctoral level will be difficult if not impossible to complete without the ability to fluently communicate in the English language. IELTS score expectations therefore tend to be quite high for PhD programs, although some schools have a single IELTS benchmark for graduate students at all levels. The Harvard Graduate School of Education "seeks" doctoral applicants with IELTS scores of at least 7.5 on each paper of the academic test. The IELTS minimum score for the PhD offering at the University of Chicago's Booth School of Business is 7.0 per section, which equals a minimum total score of 7.0. Applicants to the PhD program at Case Western Reserve University's Frances Payne Bolton School of Nursing must also receive a total IELTS score of 7.0 or above. The Department of Computer Science at Kent State University expects all graduate applicants, including those pursuing a PhD, to produce a total score at or above the 6.0 level.

The IELTS and Teaching Assistantships

Some graduate schools will require international candidates for teaching assistantships to complete the IELTS or TOEFL even if they are waiver-eligible under standard admission protocols. The Department of Communication at the University of Arkansas is an example of a PhD program that expects all non-native English-speaking TA applicants to "demonstrate competency in written and spoken English," irrespective of citizenship and regardless of waiver status. The IELTS is accepted for this purpose, and the minimum scores are a 7.0 on the speaking paper and a 6.0 on the writing paper (waiver-eligible applicants do not have to take the other IELTS sections). International TA applicants may also be interested to know that some researchers have found a correlation between high listening assessment scores and high marks on course evaluations. Effective teaching is obviously dependent on effective communication.

Financing PhD Study

International students who are not citizens of the countries in which they are studying are often ineligible for financial assistance from host governments. However, a number of loan and grant options from other sources can be used to pay the expenses associated with PhD programs. For example, the Gates Cambridge Scholarships for International Students are available to PhD students at the University of Cambridge in any field of study. Applicants who are citizens of any country other than the United Kingdom are eligible, and these awards cover both fees and living expenses. The George Washington University Global Leadership Fellowships are intended for doctoral students from certain countries in Asia and Africa. These fellowships cover up to 18 credit hours of tuition per academic year, and they are renewable for up to five years. Some awards and grants use IELTS scores as a partial determinant of eligibility (the Global Leadership Fellowships require a minimum IELTS score of 7.5). Prospective PhD students would be wise to invest time in conducting internet research on available funding opportunities.

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