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International grad students: Do you need TOEFL, IELTS, or another test of English proficiency?

Katie Schenk - November 04, 2019

International grad students:
Do you need TOEFL, IELTS, or another test of English proficiency?

Top international graduate programmes – even in countries like Spain and China – use English as the medium of instruction in many cases. You’ll need to demonstrate English proficiency to get a seat.

There are a variety of common English proficiency tests, but no normal set of standards. Each university sets their own minimums for scoring and determine the English language exams they'll accept. 

You’ll need to do your research before tackling one of these English proficiency tests.

Proving English proficiency to international universities

Every programme sets its own parameters, but there are some generalities you can expect.

For a start, waivers are often provided for applicants from certain countries. If you're from Australia and want to study in England or the United States, you  probably won’t need an English proficiency exam.

But, if you're an English-speaking applicant from a multi-lingual country, you might not be so lucky.

If you're from India or South Africa, you might need to take an English proficiency test even if your mother tongue is English or you previously studied in English. 

But, there are often ways around these stipulations.

If you recently completed an undergrad degree using English or you've worked for at least 2 years in a country with English as an official language, you're likely to receive an exemption.

Remember, however, that the United States does not have an official language, so American citizenship or residence may not be enough for admissions committees.

Common tests of English proficiency

While there are several exams out there, only a few are widely accepted at the top post grad universities. 

The most common are TOEFL and IELTS tests.

TOEFL exam

The Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) is perhaps the most widely accepted – and, therefore, the best known exam of English proficiency.

There are currently two different types of TOEFL exams:

  • The internet-based version, TOEFL iBT, is usually the easiest to access. And, almost every top business or engineering school accepts the TOEFL internet test with the exception of Warwick Business School. If you’re looking for the safest bet that can be used for a number of applications, you should opt for the TOEFL internet-based test.
  • The TOEFL pBT – or paper-based test - has recently undergone changes, and it’s only available in areas where the iBT version is not available (in regions with low internet infrastructure). Many, but not all, universities accepting the internet version, also accept the paper version.

Following the recent revisions of the TOEFL pBT, the scoring is the same between the new formats:

  • Reading (scored as 0–30)
  • Listening (scored as 0–30)
  • Speaking (scored as 0–30)
  • Writing (scored as 0–30)

If you've already taken the TOEFL pBT, universities will continue to accept those scores until the two-year expiration point is met.

IELTS exam

There are two International English Language Testing System (IELTS) exams; the General Training Exam and the Academic Exam.

While many universities accept the IELTS exam, there are fewer programmes that will take these scores than will accept TOEFL scores. And, most post-graduate universities that take the IELTS test only accept the Academic test.

The IELTS also tests your reading, writing, listening, and speaking abilities, but the scoring is considerably different from the TOEFL exam. Final scores are provided on a nine-band scale.

Other English proficiency exams

In addition to TOEFL and IELTS, there are a few other tests available. Though less common, you will find programmes that accept these exams. If you happen to attend an institution that proctors these tests, you may find it easier to enrol in them, but you may struggle to find schools that accept them.

PTE exam

One of the biggest benefits of the Pearson (Academic) Test of English (PTE) is that results are available within 5 days and many receive their results in as little as 2 days. If you need to rush your English test, give this one a go.

The PTE is scored on a scale between 10 and 90, with a 90 being generally comparable to a 9 on the IELTS.

In addition to the TOEFL, IELTS, and PTE tests, you'll find that there are institutions that accept other exam results.

The number of schools accepting other scores is relatively low. But you should consider them if:

  • You plan to apply only to schools accepting them.
  • The dates, prices, or proximity of testing centres is better than one of the more common options. 

Understanding English test preferences

Even if universities accept TOEFL, IELTS, and PTE results, many have a preference for one or another.

Additionally, some departments  have a different requirement than the university generally.

For example, Duke University accepts IELTS and TOEFL scores for many grad-level programmes. But, if you want to attend the Pratt School of Engineering, you can only submit a TOEFL score.

If you're hoping to get a teaching or research assistantship, the minimum score you need might be higher than the admissions requirement.

Additionally, while most test results are valid for 2 years, many universities require the test scores to be valid until the first day of class – not the date of admission. If you’re results are aging, you may need to sit the exam again.

Minimum English proficiency scores for top US engineering schools

  • TOEFL iBT: 90
  • TOEFL pBT: 577
  • IELTS: no min
  • PTE: n/a
  • TOEFL iBT: no min
  • TOEFL pBT: no min
  • IELTS: n/a
  • PTE: n/a
  • TOEFL iBT: 90
  • TOEFL pBT: 570
  • IELTS: 7
  • PTE: n/a
  • TOEFL iBT: 84
  • TOEFL pBT: n/a
  • IELTS: 7
  • PTE: n/a

California Institute of Technology

  • TOEFL iBT: no min
  • TOEFL pBT: no min
  • IELTS: no min
  • PTE: no min
  • TOEFL iBT: 88
  • TOEFL pBT: 570
  • IELTS: 6.5
  • PTE: n/a

Georgia Institute of Technology

  • TOEFL iBT: 90
  • TOEFL pBT: 577
  • IELTS: n/a
  • PTE: n/a

Purdue University West Lafayette

  • TOEFL iBT: 77
  • TOEFL pBT: n/a
  • IELTS: 6.5
  • PTE: n/a
  • TOEFL iBT: 90
  • TOEFL pBT: n/a
  • IELTS: 6.5
  • PTE: no min
  • TOEFL iBT: 102
  • TOEFL pBT: 610
  • IELTS: 6.5
  • PTE: n/a
  • TOEFL iBT: 99
  • TOEFL pBT: 599
  • IELTS: 6.5
  • PTE: 68

University of California San Diego (Jacobs)

  • TOEFL iBT: 80
  • TOEFL pBT: 550
  • IELTS: 7
  • PTE: n/a

University of Texas Austin (Cockrell)

  • TOEFL iBT: 79
  • TOEFL pBT: n/a
  • IELTS: 6.5
  • PTE: no min

Cornell University

  • TOEFL iBT: 97
  • TOEFL pBT: n/a
  • IELTS: 7
  • PTE: n/a

Texas A&M University College Station

  • TOEFL iBT: 80
  • TOEFL pBT: n/a
  • IELTS: n/a
  • PTE: n/a
  • TOEFL iBT: 87
  • TOEFL pBT: 560
  • IELTS: 7
  • PTE: n/a

Johns Hopkins University (Whiting)

  • TOEFL iBT: 100
  • TOEFL pBT: 600
  • IELTS: 7
  • PTE: n/a

Princeton University

  • TOEFL iBT: no min
  • TOEFL pBT: no min
  • IELTS: no min
  • PTE: n/a
  • TOEFL iBT: 100
  • TOEFL pBT: n/a
  • IELTS: 7.5
  • PTE: n/a

Northwestern University (McCormick)

  • TOEFL iBT: 90
  • TOEFL pBT: 550
  • IELTS: 7
  • PTE: n/a

Harvard University

  • TOEFL iBT: 80
  • TOEFL pBT: n/a
  • IELTS: n/a
  • PTE: n/a
  • TOEFL iBT: 100
  • TOEFL pBT: n/a
  • IELTS: 7
  • PTE: 68

University of Wisconsin Madison

  • TOEFL iBT: 92
  • TOEFL pBT: 580
  • IELTS: 7
  • PTE: n/a

Duke University (Pratt)

  • TOEFL iBT: no min
  • TOEFL pBT: no min
  • IELTS: n/a
  • PTE: n/a

North Carolina State University

  • TOEFL iBT: 80
  • TOEFL pBT: 550
  • IELTS: 6.5
  • PTE: n/a
  • TOEFL iBT: 80
  • TOEFL pBT: 550
  • IELTS: 7
  • PTE: n/a

Ohio State University

  • TOEFL iBT: 79
  • TOEFL pBT: 550
  • IELTS: 7
  • PTE: n/a

Rice University (Brown)

  • TOEFL iBT: 90
  • TOEFL pBT: n/a
  • IELTS: 7
  • PTE: n/a

University of Minnesota Twin Cities

  • TOEFL iBT: 79
  • TOEFL pBT: n/a
  • IELTS: 6.5
  • PTE: n/a

University of Washington

  • TOEFL iBT: 93
  • TOEFL pBT: 580
  • IELTS: n/a
  • PTE: n/a

University of California Davis

  • TOEFL iBT: 80
  • TOEFL pBT: 550
  • IELTS: 7
  • PTE: n/a

University of Colorado Boulder

  • TOEFL iBT: 75
  • TOEFL pBT: 537
  • IELTS: 6.5
  • PTE: 51

Virginia Tech

  • TOEFL iBT: 80
  • TOEFL pBT: 550
  • IELTS: n/a
  • PTE: n/a
  • TOEFL iBT: 79
  • TOEFL pBT: 550
  • IELTS: 6.5
  • PTE: n/a

Pennsylvania State University University Park

  • TOEFL iBT: 80
  • TOEFL pBT: 550
  • IELTS: 6.5
  • PTE: n/a

Boston University

  • TOEFL iBT: 90
  • TOEFL pBT: n/a
  • IELTS: 7
  • PTE: n/a

University of California Irvine (Samueli)

  • TOEFL iBT: 80
  • TOEFL pBT: 550
  • IELTS: 7
  • PTE: n/a

Yale University

  • TOEFL iBT: no min
  • TOEFL pBT: no min
  • IELTS: n/a
  • PTE: n/a

Vanderbilt University

  • TOEFL iBT: 88
  • TOEFL pBT: 570
  • IELTS: 7
  • PTE: n/a
  • TOEFL iBT: 90
  • TOEFL pBT: n/a
  • IELTS: 7
  • PTE: n/a

Iowa State University

  • TOEFL iBT: 79
  • TOEFL pBT: 550
  • IELTS: 6.5
  • PTE: 53

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

  • TOEFL iBT: 88
  • TOEFL pBT: 570
  • IELTS: n/a
  • PTE: 60

University of Virginia

  • TOEFL iBT: 90
  • TOEFL pBT: 600
  • IELTS: 7
  • PTE: n/a
  • TOEFL iBT: 80
  • TOEFL pBT: 550
  • IELTS: 6.5
  • PTE: 60

University of Florida

  • TOEFL iBT: 80
  • TOEFL pBT: 550
  • IELTS: 6
  • PTE: n/a

University of Rochester (Hajim)

  • TOEFL iBT: no min
  • TOEFL pBT: no min
  • IELTS: no min
  • PTE: no min

Brown University

  • TOEFL iBT: 90
  • TOEFL pBT: 577
  • IELTS: 7
  • PTE: n/a

University of Dayton

  • TOEFL iBT: 80
  • TOEFL pBT: n/a
  • IELTS: 6.5
  • PTE: 60

University of Delaware

  • TOEFL iBT: 79
  • TOEFL pBT: 550
  • IELTS: 6.5
  • PTE: n/a

University of Notre Dame

  • TOEFL iBT: 80
  • TOEFL pBT: n/a
  • IELTS: 7
  • PTE: n/a

University of Pittsburgh (Swanson)

  • TOEFL iBT: 80
  • TOEFL pBT: 550
  • IELTS: 6.5
  • PTE: n/a

Minimum English proficiency scores for top global business schools

  • TOEFL iBT: 100
  • TOEFL pBT: 600
  • IELTS: 7
  • PTE: 68

Harvard Business School

  • TOEFL iBT: 109
  • TOEFL pBT: n/a
  • IELTS: 7.5
  • PTE: 75
  • TOEFL iBT: 105
  • TOEFL pBT: 620
  • IELTS: 7.5
  • PTE: 72
  • TOEFL iBT: no min
  • TOEFL pBT: no min
  • IELTS: n/a
  • PTE: no min

CEIBS

  • TOEFL iBT: no min
  • TOEFL pBT: no min
  • IELTS: n/a
  • PTE: n/a
  • TOEFL iBT: no min
  • TOEFL pBT: no min
  • IELTS: no min
  • PTE: no min
  • TOEFL iBT: 104
  • TOEFL pBT: 600
  • IELTS: 7
  • PTE: 70

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (Sloan)

  • TOEFL iBT: n/a
  • TOEFL pBT: n/a
  • IELTS: n/a
  • PTE: n/a

Columbia Business School

  • TOEFL iBT: no min
  • TOEFL pBT: no min
  • IELTS: no min
  • PTE: no min

University of California at Berkeley (Haas)

  • TOEFL iBT: 890
  • TOEFL pBT: 570
  • IELTS: 7
  • PTE: n/a

Yale School of Management

  • TOEFL iBT: 100
  • TOEFL pBT: n/a
  • IELTS: 7
  • PTE: 70

IESE Business School

  • TOEFL iBT: 105
  • TOEFL pBT: n/a
  • IELTS: n/a
  • PTE: 68
  • TOEFL iBT: 110
  • TOEFL pBT: n/a
  • IELTS: 7.5
  • PTE: n/a

Northwestern University (Kellogg)

  • TOEFL iBT: no min
  • TOEFL pBT: no min
  • IELTS: no min
  • PTE: n/a

Dartmouth College (Tuck)

  • TOEFL iBT: no min
  • TOEFL pBT: no min
  • IELTS: no min
  • PTE: no min

University of Cambridge (Judge)

  • TOEFL iBT: 110
  • TOEFL pBT: n/a
  • IELTS: 7.5
  • PTE: n/a

National University of Singapore Business School

  • TOEFL iBT: no min
  • TOEFL pBT: no min
  • IELTS: no min
  • PTE: n/a

HKUST Business School

  • TOEFL iBT: 80
  • TOEFL pBT: 550
  • IELTS: 6
  • PTE: n/a
  • TOEFL iBT: 100
  • TOEFL pBT: 600
  • IELTS: 7
  • PTE: 70

Duke University: Fuqua

  • TOEFL iBT: n/a
  • TOEFL pBT: n/a
  • IELTS: n/a
  • PTE: n/a

Esade Business School

  • TOEFL iBT: 100
  • TOEFL pBT: n/a
  • IELTS: 7.5
  • PTE: 68

IMD Business School

  • TOEFL iBT: n/a
  • TOEFL pBT: n/a
  • IELTS: n/a
  • PTE: n/a

University of Virginia (Darden)

  • TOEFL iBT: no min
  • TOEFL pBT: no min
  • IELTS: no min
  • PTE: no min

Indian School of Business

  • TOEFL iBT: no min
  • TOEFL pBT: no min
  • IELTS: no min
  • PTE: no min

New York University (Stern)

  • TOEFL iBT: no min
  • TOEFL pBT: no min
  • IELTS: no min
  • PTE: n/a

University of California Los Angeles (Anderson)

  • TOEFL iBT: 100
  • TOEFL pBT: 610
  • IELTS: 7
  • PTE: n/a

Cornell University (Johnson)

  • TOEFL iBT: 100
  • TOEFL pBT: n/a
  • IELTS: 7
  • PTE: no min
  • TOEFL iBT: no min
  • TOEFL pBT: no min
  • IELTS: n/a
  • PTE: no min

Georgetown University (McDonough)

  • TOEFL iBT: 100
  • TOEFL pBT: 600
  • IELTS: 7.5
  • PTE: 68

Nanyang Business School

  • TOEFL iBT: 100
  • TOEFL pBT: 600
  • IELTS: n/a
  • PTE: n/a

IE Business School

  • TOEFL iBT: 100
  • TOEFL pBT: n/a
  • IELTS: 7
  • PTE: n/a

SDA Bocconi

  • TOEFL iBT: no min
  • TOEFL pBT: no min
  • IELTS: no min
  • PTE: no min

Indian Institute of Management Bangalore

  • TOEFL iBT: no min
  • TOEFL pBT: no min
  • IELTS: n/a
  • PTE: n/a

Fudan University School of Management

  • TOEFL iBT: 90
  • TOEFL pBT: n/a
  • IELTS: 6.5
  • PTE: n/a

Carnegie Mellon (Tepper)

  • TOEFL iBT: 100
  • TOEFL pBT: 600
  • IELTS: no min
  • PTE: n/a

Warwick Business School

  • TOEFL iBT: n/a
  • TOEFL pBT: n/a
  • IELTS: no min
  • PTE: no min

University of Texas at Austin (McCombs)

  • TOEFL iBT: no min
  • TOEFL pBT: no min
  • IELTS: n/a
  • PTE: n/a

Emory University (Goizueta)

  • TOEFL iBT: 100
  • TOEFL pBT: n/a
  • IELTS: 7
  • PTE: 68

University of Florida (Warrington)

  • TOEFL iBT: 80
  • TOEFL pBT: 550
  • IELTS: 6
  • PTE: n/a

Imperial College Business School

  • TOEFL iBT: 100
  • TOEFL pBT: n/a
  • IELTS: 7
  • PTE: n/a

University of Hong Kong

  • TOEFL iBT: 80
  • TOEFL pBT: 550
  • IELTS: 6.5
  • PTE: n/a

Sungkyunkwan University GSB

  • TOEFL iBT: no min
  • TOEFL pBT: n/a
  • IELTS: no min
  • PTE: n/a

Singapore Management University: Lee Kong Chian

  • TOEFL iBT: no min
  • TOEFL pBT: no min
  • IELTS: no min
  • PTE: no min

Indiana University (Kelley)

  • TOEFL iBT: 100
  • TOEFL pBT: 600
  • IELTS: 7
  • PTE: n/a

Durham University Business School

  • TOEFL iBT: 102
  • TOEFL pBT: n/a
  • IELTS: 7
  • PTE: n/a

 University of Southern California (Marshall)

  • TOEFL iBT: 90
  • TOEFL pBT: n/a
  • IELTS: 6.5
  • PTE: no min

Indian Institute of Management Ahmedabad

  • TOEFL iBT: n/a
  • TOEFL pBT: n/a
  • IELTS: n/a
  • PTE: n/a

 University of California at Irvine (Merage)

  • TOEFL iBT: 80
  • TOEFL pBT: n/a
  • IELTS: 7
  • PTE: n/a

University of Washington (Foster)

  • TOEFL iBT: 100
  • TOEFL pBT: 600
  • IELTS: n/a
  • PTE: n/a

Indian Institute of Management Calcutta

  • TOEFL iBT: n/a
  • TOEFL pBT: n/a
  • IELTS: n/a
  • PTE: n/a

Shanghai Jiao Tong University (Antai)

  • TOEFL iBT: 90
  • TOEFL pBT: 575
  • IELTS: 6
  • PTE: n/a

These business schools don’t require English language tests

If standardised tests aren’t your strong point – and you already need to sweat through the GMAT or GRE, consider applying to one of the top business schools that doesn’t require the TOEFL or any other English exam. Believe it or not, these programmes do exist.

That doesn’t mean you can get by in another language; you’ll still need an excellent grasp of English – but you don’t need a test to prove it.

This small handful of universities check for English proficiency through essays, the verbal sections on the GMAT or GRE and interviews.

These schools include:

  • Duke University: Fuqua
  • IMD
  • Indian Institute of Management Ahmedabad
  • MIT: Sloan

Whether you can waive the requirement for an English exam, you’re not going to get away from verbal gymnastics in any grad-level course. It’s important to get in (or back in) the groove of reading complex texts regularly so you do well on your exams and in the classroom. 

Already passed your exams?

If you've already jumped through all the standardised testing hurdles, you might want to investigate how you'll pay for your international grad school education.

Prodigy Finance Ltd is authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority. 

Post updated for accuracy and freshness on November 4, 2019. Originally published on August 13, 2018.


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