The Value of English Language Testing in U.S. University Admissions
Image courtesy and with approval to use from SUNY-Clarkson
In this month’s View From Campus article, Colleen Flynn Thapalia, Director, International Graduate Recruitment & Admission at Clarkson University, shares her extensive experience in university admissions on how English language testing is viewed by U.S. colleges and universities.
Describe your institution in 5 words?
Leader in Innovation & Technology Education
For what is your institution best known overseas?
- Great career outcomes.
- Innovative solutions to real-world and theoretical problems at the nexus of science, engineering, technology and business.
What are your top academic programs (undergrad & grad)?
- Grad — MS in Engineering Management, MBA, Engineering (several disciplines)
- Undergrad – Engineering, Business, Biology/Bioscience, Psychology, Mathematics
What are the top 5 countries represented at your college?
Canada, China, India, Iran, Sri Lanka
How does your institution use an IELTS result in the admissions process?
As documentation of English proficiency for purposes of admission. For students under consideration for teaching assistantships, English testing helps determine whether the candidate has balance among the four key skills of speaking, writing, reading and listening.
Why is English proficiency testing so important for U.S. colleges and universities in the admissions process?
Since classes are delivered in English, international students must be ready to participate from Day 1. US institutions employ a participatory style of teaching, therefore students need to be able to speak and write extensively, as well as listen to lectures and read textbooks.
Why do required minimum test scores differ so greatly from institution to institution or even program to program within a university?
Institutions and departments have differing philosophies on this. For example, in science and technology fields, English skills are not as tied to mastering the disciplines as in other fields but help in non-scientific coursework. For programs in the Arts and Humanities, English ability is strongly connected to academic success.
Higher test scores may also be required if the student’s degree is in a field like English literature, theater, communication or speech pathology, where the discipline itself relies on a proficiency grasp of English.
Can students who do not meet minimum English test score requirements still be admitted to a U.S. college or university program?
Yes. “Conditional admission” is when students are admitted pending submission of the required English score. In this case, universities typically recommend that a student re-take the proficiency exam or complete a US-based English as a Second Language (ESL) program. But, not all universities offer conditional admission. If the website doesn’t mention this, prospective students can write and ask.
Can students who have been educated entirely in English be exempted from English proficiency test requirements?
This varies a lot. Students educated in an English-speaking country can often get a waiver. But, the definition of “English speaking” is not uniform. The most important thing is to check the university’s website. Applicants shouldn’t be afraid to ask for a waiver and explain their situation, but they should be prepared for many colleges and universities to be quite strict with testing policies.