Much can be lost in translation without the proper means to communicate in an international education setting. Even in these days of the Google Translator, when students and faculty, alike, gather around from various parts of the world, there needs to be a ready medium of instruction to help everyone work on a common baseline.
English being the frequently used tongue in most universities, even in the non-Anglophone countries, a testing provision allows for international students to demonstrate their skills in reading, writing, and speaking in the language.
It is for this reason that most of these English medium universities require students, especially the ones crossing the border in for their degrees, to present their TOEFL, IELTS, or PTE, scores, with their application.
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Well intentioned, as they are, such tests however pose an unnecessary burden to a lot of international students who should ideally be in no such obligation, owing to their background.
For instance, someone who has had a lifetime of education in English and has official proof of command over the language, shouldn’t be required to go through a redundant process like appearing for TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language), IELTS (International English Language Testing System) or PTE (Pearson Test of English), in principle (Read TOEFL vs IELTS vs PTE).
Also, given the fact that most undergraduate and graduate studies, abroad, are already quite an expensive affair, doing away with this redundancy can surely be a welcome option for them, financially.
Universities, across the globe, often do have such a scheme whereby these English Proficiency Tests can be waived in certain special circumstances.
What is a TOEFL, IELTS, or other English Proficiency Test, Waiver?
The first question to ask is what are these standardized test scores based upon. Let us go by TOEFL which is by far the most popular English Proficiency Test, accepted in over 130 countries and over 9000 colleges.
The exam is divided into four sections and is offered on both internet (iBT) and on paper (PBT). The four sections are –
- Reading where a student’s comprehension and vocabulary are tested
- Listening where students can qualify their ability to understand different accents as well as synthesize information orated to them as they would do in a classroom
- Speaking where fluency is measured, live
- Writing where communication skill, through written words, is tested
The TOEFL exam can cost from $160 to $250. The IELTS alternative is usually popular in Australia, Canada, UK and New Zealand (NZ). Although, it is becoming more popular with the years. The fees are similarly ordered around $180. PTE has popularity in the USA as well and costs around $140.
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In order to request a waiver on an otherwise English language requirement, you are expected to satisfy certain conditions. Now, these conditions may differ, in the details, between universities. Summarized are some of the common conditions.
- If you, the international student, belong to one of the following countries like USA, UK, Australia, Canada, NZ, Singapore, Ireland, etc, where English is a native language.
- Even if English is not your native language, you can request a waiver if you have completed an undergraduate or graduate degree in UK, USA, Australia, Canada, etc, where all courses were taken in that country and were taught in English. Some universities even accept waivers for students who have completed part of their degrees in a native English-speaking country and have secured a minimum GPA.
- If you have had full-time employment for a considerable period (usually over 2 years) in Australia, Canada, UK, USA, etc.
- If you are a non-native English speaker and you may have good reason to request a waiver, such as – official instruction has been in English medium, all official documentations are in English, and all documentations can be credibly authorized.
Depending on the conditions, related by individual universities, you may be required to specify the particulars if not already covered as an automatic exemption. In such cases, the admissions committees will most likely evaluate the validity of the waiver request on a case by case basis.
However, most universities advise their students to apply early as these decisions take time and students should not be held back because of a lack of a test score. If such a waiver request is indeed denied, the universities would want the applicant to have enough time to appear for the English proficiency test and produce the scores.
A lot of universities, where international students may be taking on Teaching Assistant roles, may demand that their students take additional oral and written exams at the university, for eligibility, even after an admission has been offered.
In fact, a lot of US universities offer Pathways or Bridge Programs where students study the English language for 12-15 months. The idea is to develop the proficiency skills needed in imparting instructions as well as actively participating in their own coursework.
The status of the student is considered probationary until he is able to successfully satisfy the qualification of such Bridge Programs and also secure a substantial GPA, in his coursework, during the course of this period.
Requesting a TOEFL, IELTS or other English Proficiency Test Waiver
Most universities offer a standard university prescribed template for sending in such waiver requests. While others, like MIT, specifically mention not to contact Graduate Admissions officers with waiver requests. They, like some other universities, encourage students to check the department specific requirements and instructions for obtaining a waiver, if available.
If not otherwise particularly mentioned, you may be required to send in a waiver request letter for further information. Here is an example of a letter to be considered for a TOEFL/IELTS/PTE waiver from the mandatory application material.
You’ll find many more examples of TOEFL Waiver Request Letters on the internet. Download some of them for review and build your own accordingly.
List of top universities that consider TOEFL, IELTS, etc, waiver requests
Below is a list of a few well-known universities where an English proficiency standardized test requirement is compulsory but can be conditionally waived.
|School||TOEFL/IELTS (etc) Waiver and Conditions|
|Massachusetts Institute of Technology||TOEFL or IELTS waivers offered on a limited basis for international students with several years of study at English speaking universities. Review specific department requirements here. Students should not contact main Grad Admissions Office.|
|Stanford University||Students from Canada (except Quebec), Australia, NZ, Singapore, and UK are exempt. Students with an US degree or a degree from the above countries are exempt.
TOEFL needed for all international non-native English speaking students. If they have a degree whose medium of instruction has been English, they can submit a TOEFL waiver request form after the submission of a Stanford application.
|Caltech||All non-native English speakers are required to take TOEFL, IELTS or PTE. Exemptions apply to:
All students will be screened prior to enrolment, irrespective of exemptions. Additional training may thus be recommended.
|University of Chicago||English language requirement can be waived only for applicants who are a native or have studied at least one year in USA, UK, Ireland, Australia, NZ, English medium universities in Canada or South Africa. Employment in these countries is not valid for exemption. More info here.|
|Princeton University||Exempt only for students with a minimum of a three-year degree in USA, UK, Ireland, Australia, NZ, or Anglophone Canada. Students with medium of instruction, in English, from India, Philippines, Hong Kong, etc are NOT exempt. More info here|
|Cornell University||Waiver not granted to non-native English speaking students even with a degree in an English medium school. Undergrad waiver request here
For grad school, waivers for students who are from, or studied at least for two years in USA, UK, Ireland, Australia, NZ, Canada. No waivers for students from India, Pakistan, Philippines, Hong Kong, Singapore, etc.
|Yale University||Can be waived for applicants who have studied in a college where English is the primary medium of instruction, for at least three years. TOEFL/IELTS will not be waived on the basis of an advanced degree. Here’s a tool to check exemption eligibility.|
|Oxford University||Can provide waivers as long as certain minimum university language requirements are met. More information here.|
|University of Cambridge||Strict requirement for English proficiency, not necessarily at the time of application, but by the time of enrolment. To check whether your country satisfies an exemption, use the tool provided here.|
|Nanyang Technological University||TOEFL/IELTS is a requirement for graduates from universities with non-English medium of instruction. However, applicants without TOEFL can be considered on a case-by-case basis. Applicants without TOEFL are eligible to apply and may be interviewed, or tested, by the school, if necessary.|
Sources: University websites
Well, there you have it. A starting point to research the school you are preparing to apply to. For all intents and purposes, it is better to assume that you may have to appear for the English Proficiency tests after all, as far as budgeting your application time and finances are concerned.
However, since evaluation of applicants, especially in the narrower pool of graduate applicants as compared to undergraduate applicants, is concerned, you may be able to try your good fortune and send in a waiver request for TOEFL, IELTS, etc.
Good Luck and read the following articles, that you may fancy, related to your study abroad endeavors.
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ETS also offers the Test of English for International Communication or TOEIC Exam for job seekers looking to establish their fluency in English in a global workplace, for those who are interested to explore further.