All About English Language Tests for College in the USA

Do you want to go to college in the United States? If you are from a country where English is not the primary language, then you will be required to show your proficiency in English in order to be accepted. Here is what you need to know about English as a Second Language (ESL) tests and college applications.

Who Must Take English Language Tests?

Most colleges and universities in the United States require ESL testing for students from countries where English is not the main language. If you are from the UK, Ireland, Australia, Canada, or New Zealand, you will be exempt from taking these tests.

You may also be exempt from ESL testing if you went to secondary school (high school) in a country where English is spoken. However, each school has its own requirements. For example, Harvard only exempts ESL testing if you’ve completed four years at an English-language high school. With other universities, it may just be 2 or 3 years.

 

What English Language Test Should I Take?

There are many options for English language testing for college admissions. The most popular are:

  • TOEFL
  • IELTS
  • PTE Academic

Of these, TOEFL is the most-widely recognized and accepted. Almost all US colleges and universities will accept TOEFL. Another benefit of TOEFL is that there are multiple forms of the test, including one which you can take online. This is not true of the IELTS and PTE Academic tests; they only have paper versions which must be taken in person at an official testing center.

 

Types of TOEFL Tests

Up until the late 1990s, anyone taking an English language test for college admissions would have to go to an official testing center and take a paper test. This made it difficult for people living in areas where there were no testing centers. They would have to travel long distances to take the TOEFL test. Now, the TOEFL Paper Based Test (PBT) is being phased out and replaced by an Internet Based Test (iBT).

Note that the TOEFL iBT is not taken at home over the internet! This would make it too easy to cheat on the test. Instead, the test is given over the internet at approved testing centers.  Since the test is administrated online, there is no need for there to be official administrators at the testing site.

 

When to Take the Test?

Some USA colleges and universities require you to send English language test results along with your application. For these institutions, you will have to take the test before you apply.

Other institutions allow you to apply before taking the English language test. If you meet their requirements, you will be given “Conditional Acceptance.” This means that you are not officially accepted or registered until you submit your English test scores. If you do not meet the English test requirements, then your acceptance will be revoked.

It is generally best to take the English language test well before you apply to colleges in the United States. This will give you enough time to retake the test, if needed. Keep in mind that tests are only offered on certain dates, and they can book up quickly.   Schedule your test early on so you have time to take the test, and retake it if necessary. Don’t take the English test too early though, because test scores do expire (usually after 2 years).

 

How Are Test Scores Sent?

This is very important! Colleges and universities in the USA do NOT accept paper or PDF versions of your English test scores. The test scores must be sent by the official testing center. Each test has its own system for sending out test results.

TOEFL:
Before taking the TOEFL iBT test, you can log into the online portal (up until 10pm the night before the test) and select up to 4 institutions where your scores will be sent for free. After taking the test, you can still log in and request your scores to be sent to institutions, but it will cost USD 19 for each test score you want sent out.

IELTS:
When taking the test, you can list up to 5 institutions on your form. The results will be sent to these institutions for free. If you need to send your results to institutions after you have taken the test, then you must contact the Test Center and have them send the results out. It will cost a fee for each result you want to send.

 

PTE Academic:
You can send your test score to as many institutions as you want, for free. Just log into their online portal and select the institutions you want to send the scores to.

 

What English Test Scores Do I Need to Get Accepted to College in the USA?

Each college and university sets its own standards for what scores you need to get in order to be accepted. In general, more competitive institutions have much higher requirements for English test scores.

For example:

  • Harvard requires a minimum TOEFL iBT score of 100, IELTS score of 7.0, or PTE Academic score of 68
  • California State University requires a minimum TOEFL iBT score of 61 (though some campuses require higher scores)
  • Colorado State University requires a minimum TOEFL iBT score of 79, IELTS score of 6.5, or PTE Academic score of 53

 

Preparing for the English Language Test

Even if you think your English is great, you should still take the time to prepare for the test. You can find practice material and tests online, as well as sample questions so you know what to expect on test day. Take the time to prepare for the test. You can always retake if you don’t like your test scores, but then you will have to wait for the next testing date and re-pay the testing fee.