Admission Testing

Colleges and universities often have specific testing requirements for international students. For example, many institutions require applicants to submit scores from a standardized English proficiency exam like the TOEFL, IELTS, or CAE.


Frequently Asked Questions

Q:  Should international students take the TOEFL (or other tests such as IELTS, CAE or PTE) instead of the ACT/SAT or in addition to the ACT/SAT?

A:  Information from colleges suggest any piece of testing information that may lend support to an applicant is useful. Have students take the tests and then decide how to package them in regards to individual college requirements. There are some colleges that require English proficiency exams, especially if the language spoken at home is in the native language other than English.

Q:  Should international students focus more on achieving high English Language Proficiency test scores or on the standardized exams like the SAT or ACT?
A:  One does not replace the other- they complement one another and give greater insight to strengths.
Q:  Is one standardized test more international-student-friendly than the others?
A:  No. Standardized tests cause the same level of anxiety for all students, domestic and international. Some students lean toward one test company over another because of the home country test prep cram schools’ preference. For example: students who were previously enrolled in a British educational system tend to prefer the IELTS or CAE exam instead of TOEFL. It is the preferred exam for entry to universities in the United Kingdom.
Q:  How many times should an international student attempt the SAT, ACT or English Proficiency Exams prior to applying?
A:  There is no limitation but two to three times over a period spanning the junior and senior years is usual.
Q:  Do colleges offer conditional acceptance to students who submit scores below their stated TOEFL/IELTS minimums?
A:  Yes they can do. A student could be redirected to a bridge program which could be a summer course, a semester or a yearlong program. It can be helpful to state this as an acceptable possibility in the Counselor Statement.

Q:  Should all international students take an English Language Proficiency exam or is a high school diploma from a US high school sufficient? If an international student has obtained a high school diploma from a US high school, can they waive any TOEFL requirements from a prospective university?
A:  This depends on the university in question since they all have different rules. If the standardized test scores from SATs or ACTs are very high, a university may waive the TOEFL requirement, but this needs to be checked out with each institution.

Q:  How much is TOEFL/IELTS/other testing? What if a student cannot afford it?
A:  TOEFL is around $195.00 in the US (higher abroad) and there is no fee waiver program for foreign exchange students. IELTS is around $235 and are usually offered by English language preparatory providers in major cities.



  • If registering your students for the TOEFL and figuring out that transportation to test sites is difficult to coordinate, consider becoming a TOEFL test site
  • Anticipate the test dates that will get English Language Proficiency tests and other standardized exam scores to colleges and universities by their required deadlines.
  • Colleges and universities may or may not require a TOEFL/IELTS score results for admission. Some schools require TOEFL scores from all international students, even if they are native English speakers. Articulate clearly to international students that TOEFL/IELTS minimums are a starting point and there is an expectation by universities that English language skills are to improve if there has been a few months since the test was taken.
  • Interview services through private vendors such as Vericant or InitialView are sometimes required as a supplement to test scores or an alternative to them. Make sure your student is aware of the requirements from the school to which they are applying and the costs and timeline of these interview services.
  • It is also important to know that some colleges and universities do not require students to submit test scores to be reviewed for admission. The National Center for Fair & Open Testing provides a list of these institutions, which is updated regularly. Some institutions, however, have different requirements for domestic students than for international students so it is always best to check directly with the institution.
  • Search for schools that accept IELTS scores.

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Relevant Resources

Guide to International University Admission

A comprehensive resource for counselors and students about undergraduate college options abroad.

The State of College Admission Report

Examining the transition from high school to postsecondary education through survey data collected from colleges and universities across the country.

Commissioned Agents and NACAC's Guide to Ethical Practice Series

A series of six periodically released resources aimed at guiding NACAC members in the responsible use of commissioned agents in international student recruitment.