As an international student, there are so many different steps you’ll need to understand and navigate when applying to universities in the United States, one question that we are frequently asked is ‘Do I need to take an English language test?’. The answer to this question is not quite as straight forward as it might appear, not all colleges will require international students to take such a test, but even if their college does not require one it may still be advisable to take one anyway.
Colleges and universities will look for an international student’s ability to study in English as part of their admissions process. All courses are going to be taught in English so it makes sense that anybody they accept will need to be able to understand what they are being taught. The most common method of assessing this ability is by asking students to complete an International English Language Testing System (TOEFL) test which is a standardised test to measure the English language ability of non-native English speakers. Most colleges and universities will also accept The English Language Testing System (IELTS) but being a UK based English language test it does not have the same level of recognition for students aiming to attend a US institution. More recently colleges have also started to accept the Duolingo English Test.
There are a few situations in which non-native speakers of English don’t need to take an English language test. If all of your high school education was conducted exclusively in English, you will often be exempted from the test requirement. There are some institutions that will accept students who have not been taught in English, without an English language test score, but the acceptance is usually conditional upon the student demonstrating their proficiency prior to starting their studies. It may also be waved if you are enrolling in an English immersion course.
When you have been accepted by the college of your choice the next step will be to apply for a student visa, sometimes called an F1 Visa. When considering the application, one of the questions the consular official will seek to answer is ‘Can the student expect to be at least minimally successful in the chosen program with the language skills they have today.’
To help answer this your college will issue you with a SEVIS I-20 form, which informs the visa office that you have a genuine offer from an approved institution. An I-20 is supposed to be a prima facie assurance from the institution that a student is believed to have a good chance to graduate, which includes the student’s ability to communicate in English. Not all institutions are equally reliable in their assessments though, which can put a question in the mind of the officer. For this reason, we always advise students to take a TOEFL or similar English language test even if they have been taught exclusively in English.