To Test or Not to Test – English Proficiency for US University Study

There are two ways for a foreign student to prove his or her English proficiency for acceptance into a university or college in the US:

1. The first option is to enroll in an ESL school with a university preparation program offering letters of conditional acceptance into a US university. This means that if the student moves through the English program and graduates successfully, he or she will be accepted at that college or university without needing an IELTS or TOEFL score. (The IELTS and TOEFL tests are the two English language proficiency exams most commonly required by university admissions departments for non-native speakers of English.) The student will have to apply to the university and be accepted, of course, before being issued the letter of conditional acceptance by the university’s admissions office and beginning the ESL program.

Some students feel this is the best way to go because there is no need to take an English proficiency exam like the iBTOEFL or IELTS to qualify for entrance into the university. In addition, some government scholarship programs and immigration offices require a letter of conditional acceptance in order to issue financial support or a student visa.

If you plan to take this route, research the requirements of the specific program you want to attend. Program requirements vary, even within the same university, and some programs may not participate in issuing letters of conditional acceptance. In this case, the student – even after passing successfully through the ESL program and graduating – would still be required to take either the IELTS or iBTOEFL. Also be aware that there is no guarantee of graduation, and therefore of university acceptance, by entering such an ESL program. You must complete all required work and reach the English proficiency level that the university expects of you before entering the regular academic classroom.

2. Another option is to take an English language proficiency test. Some students prefer to study with the objective of passing a test, either the IELTS or the iBTOEFL. The advantage to this is it gives the freedom to go to any university or college that you want. Armed with the required score from either of these tests, the ESL student in the US is qualified to enter any program or school, anywhere in the country. Likewise, they have the freedom to transfer schools in the future without worrying about re-qualifying in English.

Talk to the admissions office at the university where you want to study and get their advice. You might also talk to individuals studying at an ESL program or graduates from an American university back home in your country, to get their opinions about the best way for you to prepare to enter your study program at an American college or university. Then you’ll know if it’s better to test or not to test! Good luck!