Test Prep

Which Admissions Tests Should International Students Take?

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If you're applying to a US university as an international applicant, you may have some questions about your test prep program. Most of the application requirements for domestic and international students tend to be the same, including the submission of an SAT or ACT score. The only extra test that is usually required is an English language proficiency test -- either the TOEFL or the IELTS. Let's take a closer look at the testing requirements for international applicants:


SAT or ACT

Joanna E. Cain, president and founder of Global Academic Consultants, explains that the SAT, SAT Subject Tests and ACT requirements are generally the same for domestic and international students. "What is required of domestic students is required of international students. There are typically no exceptions," Cain says. However, if you are applying to a test-optional school, make sure to find out if this policy applies only to domestic applicants or also to international applicants.

Cain points out that admissions committees "are known to rely heavily on, and thus place more weight on, standardized test scores from international students to determine if students can rise to the academic rigors of the institutions." This is usually because it is more difficult for admissions officers to compare and evaluate the high school transcripts of international applicants. (Although international students still must get their high school transcripts evaluated by an approved organization, like the National Association of Credential Evaluation Services (NACES) or the Association of International Credential Evaluators, Inc (AICE), that "translates" the courses taken in a foreign country into US terms so that admissions officers can understand them.) Essentially, this means that international applicants must be sure to invest plenty of time and effort into test prep and aim to do as well as possible on their SAT or ACT.

For high school students outside the US, the SAT is given four times a year internationally: October, December, March and May. The SAT Subject Tests are offered internationally in October, November, December, May and June. The ACT is offered internationally six times during the 2019-2020 school year. Detailed information on ACT test dates for international students can be found here.

TOEFL or IELTS

The primary extra test requirement for international applicants whose native language is not English is the TOEFL or IELTS, both of which measure proficiency in the English language. So how do you know which test you should take? That will depend on the specific requirements of your target schools, although the TOEFL is more widely accepted by US universities.

However, Cain points out that some colleges may waive the TOEFL or IELTS requirement if your scores on the Evidence-Based Reading and Writing (EBRW) portion of the SAT or the Reading sections of ACT are high enough – yet another reason to do as well as possible on your SAT or ACT. Some universities also may waive the TOEFL or IELTS requirement if you have been studying for the past three or more years in a school where English is the language of instruction. Every university tends to have a slightly different policy when it comes to these tests, so be sure to read all the details very carefully to find out if you have to take a test or not.

While these standardized tests certainly do matter for international applicants, Cain explains that in the end, the admissions committee is seeking assurance that the international student "can manage the coursework, communicate clearly with other students and faculty and assimilate into the college culture."