For prospective international students planning to attend college or graduate school in the U.S., standardized English proficiency tests are typically required for admission. Tests such as the TOEFL, or Test of English as a Foreign…
For prospective international students planning to attend college or graduate school in the U.S., standardized English proficiency tests are typically required for admission. Tests such as the TOEFL, or Test of English as a Foreign Language, and IELTS, or International English Language Testing System, help demonstrate to admissions counselors how well international applicants grasp the English language.
Many schools accept IELTS scores from applicants. Over 3 million IELTS tests were taken in the last year and the test is accepted by more than 3,400 institutions in the U.S., according to a spokesperson from the British Council, one of the owners of the test.
Test-takers can choose to take the IELTS on paper or computer, either of which typically takes about three hours. Students are assessed in four different sections: listening, reading, writing and speaking, and receive a score between 1 to 9, referred to as bands, for each section. The overall band score is the average score across all sections, rounded to the nearest whole or half band, such as 6.0 or 6.5. There is no pass or fail on the IELTS.
U.S. institutions that accept the test each have their own IELTS minimum score requirements, and what is considered a good score can vary between universities.
Undergraduate admissions. Experts say students should check with individual universities to learn what constitutes a good IELTS score for undergraduate admission, as well as other details beyond the minimum score.
“Some programs require an overall score in a certain range, usually 6.0 to 7.0, but then add a stipulation that students must achieve a particular score in one or more of the specific sections of the test — often, the writing section,” says Eliot Friesen-Meyers, IELTS curriculum manager at Magoosh, an online test preparation company based in California.
Other schools have differing policies. For example, several Ivy League universities require an overall score of at least a 7.0 and most other universities require a 6.5, says Chris Pell, managing director of test prep service IELTS Advantage. Pell, who is based in the United Kingdom, designed IELTS courses for the British Council and trained IELTS teachers.
“To be honest, if a student is not getting a 6.5, I don’t think they’ll be able to cope with the demands of a degree in English,” Pell wrote in an email.
The Florida Institute of Technology considers a 6.0 the minimum IELTS score for university level academic English proficiency, says Stacey Reeder, associate director of international and graduate admission, and liaison for international programs.
“We feel an international student who obtains an overall band score of a minimum of 6.0 has the necessary English skills to be academically successful here,” Reeder says.
But students who don’t meet that score still have options. She says admitted applicants who score a 5.5 on the IELTS can enroll in Florida Tech’s ESL Bridge Program for two semesters to strengthen their academic English skills and get started on a few classes, such as math. Students who score below a 5.5 can apply and enroll at the school’s Melbourne ELS Center, designed to give intensive English instruction to students seeking to study in the U.S.
Graduate admissions. Experts say U.S. graduate schools typically require prospective international students to provide evidence of English language skills and that IELTS score requirements may vary by department.
A good IELTS score for admissions at the undergrad and graduate level in the U.S. probably depends on what a student considers a good school, says Ray Marx, director of college counseling at Colegio Americano de Quito in Ecuador and an independent college counselor at CO2 Admissions. Marx says most of the top 200 undergraduate and graduate programs have minimums between 6.0 to 7.0, with some highly selective universities looking for scores around 7.5.
Graduate programs at the University of California–Los Angeles, for example, require a minimum overall band score of at least 7.0, with some majors requiring higher scores. The school’s Master of Social Science requires an overall IELTS score of 7.5, and bioengineering requires a score of 8.0, according to the school’s website.
At the University at Albany–SUNY, the minimum IELTS score for graduate general admission is 6.5. However, not all of the school’s programs accept the IELTS test, and some that do may require higher scores for departmental consideration, according to the school’s website.
Students should be aware that some U.S. graduate programs do not accept the IELTS. For example, the MBA program at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School accepts only the TOEFL and the Pearson Test of English Academic, or PTE Academic.
Friesen-Meyers says international students planning to apply to U.S. schools should start their exam preparation as early as possible.
“Ideally, they will know the specific programs to which they plan to apply and understand the specific IELTS requirements of those programs. This helps to provide a concrete goal when studying for the exam,” he says.