English Proficiency Certification

This information is intended to assist admitting departments with questions surrounding certification of English proficiency.


English Proficiency Certification for Admission and Visa Purposes


U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) requires universities admitting international students to verify that each nonnative English speaking student has sufficient English language proficiency to succeed in the academic program. Therefore, admitting departments must present proof of this level of proficiency for each nonnative English speaking student before visa eligibility documents can be processed by the Office for International Students and Scholars (OISS).

The standard way to ensure the appropriate level of English language proficiency is 1) to require applicants to complete an objective, standardized English language assessment, and 2) to require an appropriate minimum score in order for applicants to be considered for admission. The test most frequently taken by WUSTL applicants is the TOEFL iBT.

When Applicants Should Take the TOEFL



Educational Testing Service (ETS, which administers the TOEFL) will not report scores that are more than two years old. For an applicant’s TOEFL score to be valid for the purpose of English proficiency verification, the applicant needs to plan on taking the test within two years before requesting that the score be reported to the university.

About the TOEFL iBT and Appropriate Minimum Scores



TOEFL iBT tests listening, speaking, reading, and writing, and includes sections which integrate these skills (e.g., asking test-takers to speak in response to a passage they hear or read). Selected scores on the TOEFL iBt compare with the other versions of the TOEFL as follows:

TOEFL iBT
(total score)
Computer-based TOEFL
(total score)
Paper-based TOEFL
(total score)
120 300 677
110 270 637
100 250 600-603
90-91 233 577
Source: Educational Testing Service (2005), TOEFL Internet-based Test Score Comparison Tables, p. 6

In addition to the composite score, the TOEFL iBT score report includes sub-scores for four skill areas: listening, speaking, reading, and writing. Each sub-score ranges from 0-30.

For WUSTL, the ELP recommends that departments establish a minimum composite score of at least 90 in order for applicants to be considered for admission. For programs whose students will need to serve as teaching assistants, do extensive reading and writing, or otherwise meet a particularly high standard of English communication skills, departments may find that a more appropriate minimum composite score is 100.

About the IELTS Academic Module and Appropriate Minimum Scores


In addition to the TOEFL, WUSTL accepts the International English Language Testing System (IELTS) Academic module. The IELTS Academic module tests listening, speaking, reading, and writing. One distinctive feature of the IELTS is that speaking skills are assessed in a ten- to fifteen-minute face-to-face interview. Further information about the IELTS is available in its guide for educational institutions. To learn more about how the IELTS compares to the TOEFL iBT, see ETS’s Frequently Asked Questions About Comparing TOEFL Scores to Other Test Scores.

The overall IELTS score ranges from 0-9. The score report also includes component scores of 0-9 for four skill areas: listening, speaking, reading, and writing.

For WUSTL, the ELP recommends that departments establish a minimum score of 6.5 on the IELTS Academic module in order for applicants to be considered for admission. For programs whose students will need to serve as teaching assistants, do extensive reading and writing, or otherwise meet a particularly high standard of English communication skills, departments may find that a more appropriate minimum score is 7 on the IELTS Academic module.

Waiving the English Proficiency Test Requirement



The English proficiency test requirement may be waived for international students whose preparation for living and studying in an English language environment over an extended period of time can be demonstrated in another way. For example, the English proficiency test requirement may be waived for a student who has completed three or more years of study at the undergraduate level in the United States or in another country where English is the primary language of daily life and the language of instruction in the student’s university. Alternatively, departments may choose to require the TOEFL or IELTS Academic Module for all applicants whose first language is not English.