Yale offers flexibility in English proficiency evaluation for international applicants
For international students applying to universities in the United States, navigating various English proficiency tests — and different universities’ requirements — can be stressful. Yale offers a suggested list of potential exam types, but also stresses to its applicants that English proficiency is just one piece of a larger admissions picture.
Madelyn Kumar, Senior Photographer
When students apply to Yale College from abroad, they go through essentially the same process as domestic applicants. But for international applicants who are not native English speakers, Yale requires demonstration of English language proficiency.
To help students navigate the many possible tests and platforms through which they can demonstrate their English language knowledge, the Yale admissions office offers a non-exhaustive list of accepted exams, along with the baseline scores associated with “Yale’s most competitive applicants,” on its website. In line with Yale’s overall holistic approach to admissions, however, admissions officers stress that English proficiency is just one piece of a bigger picture, and scores below any of the cited baselines are not disqualifiers to admissions.
“With English proficiency, we know that it’s absolutely essential for incoming students to have a firm command of English in order to succeed in Yale coursework,” wrote Mark Dunn, the senior associate director for outreach and Recruitment at the Office of Undergraduate Admissions, in an email to the News. “We also know that there are multiple avenues for students to demonstrate their readiness to succeed in an English-speaking classroom. This built-in flexibility aligns neatly with our holistic review process, in which any individual score or indicator can be illuminating, but none alone is determinative.”
Students who have taken at least two years of secondary education in English are not required to offer further proof of English proficiency.
The set of tests that Yale lists on its admissions website include the Test of English as a Foreign Language, International English Language Testing System, Cambridge English Qualifications, Duolingo English Test and InitialView. These platforms offer a mix of written and oral competency portions, with some also including a brief unscripted interview segment.
Most of these options cost around $200 and are available at designated test sites. The Duolingo option is less comprehensive, costs $49 and can be taken from any place where a student has WiFi access.
This list, however, is nonexhaustive. Associate Director of Admissions and Director of International Admissions Keith Light told the News that students may choose a different option of showing language proficiency if they prefer.
Light described the differences between these tests, noting that cost and accessibility are major factors when students decide which test to take.
The TOEFL, IELTS and Cambridge English Qualifications are administered at testing locations around the globe and require advance registration. The TOEFL is perhaps the most widely-known English test worldwide, but it has also historically been among the most expensive.
The exact price varies based on what part of the world a student is testing in, but generally, Light said the cost of the TOEFL usually ranges between $200 and $275 in U.S. currency. The IELTS and Cambridge English Qualifications are similarly priced.
Both the TOEFL and the IELTS are relatively comprehensive, as they include a live speaking portion as well as a written portion. On the other hand, InitialView allows students to engage in live, unscripted and recorded interviews that they can submit to colleges for their consideration. There is no scoring attached to the InitialView interviews. But like the other options, InitialView remains relatively expensive, as one interview costs a standard price of $245, though the total value may change based on a student’s individual context.
Pranava Dhar ’25, who was formerly a staff writer for the News, applied to Yale from India. His secondary schooling was conducted in English, so he did not necessarily have to take an English proficiency test to apply to Yale, but he did have to demonstrate language competency to apply to other universities in the U.S.
Dhar chose to take the IELTS, which he said cost him $200.
“I had to take the IELTS to even be eligible to apply to most American universities,” Dhar said. “It was something that felt a little pointless, for I had attended school in English my entire life and had to pay $200 dollars to have an external authority verify that.”
The Duolingo English Test, which came out in 2016, introduced a different kind of proficiency evaluation to the market, as it allowed students to take a $49 test from any WiFi-enabled location. While more compact, the test still includes both a written and spoken portion, and is the cheapest of all proficiency test tools on Yale’s website.
Following the emergence of other lower-cost and at-home tests, such as the one offered by Duolingo, TOEFL and IELTS created new and condensed versions of their exams, which are less expensive and can be taken from home. The TOEFL Essentials test lasts an hour and a half, compared to the standard three-hour TOEFL, and costs between $100 and $120.
Since these exams are administered by third-party organizations, Yale cannot offer fee waivers specifically for proficiency tests. However, many of the testing organizations offer their own fee waiver or reduction system.
In the overall Yale admissions process, Light and Dunn both stressed that English proficiency test results are one piece of a larger story — much like other standardized tests and grade point averages. They also said Yale does not employ cut-offs for any of these metrics.
The University aims to stress this holistic review process to prospective students who come from schooling environments abroad where, conversely, test scores are the only factor in admissions processes.
“Whether it’s proficiency testing or an SAT score or grades or anything else, we look at [application elements] in context of resources available to students and other background circumstances,” Light said. “All these things are indicators rather than some kind of secret gateway that closes, but in many places abroad, testing is the only thing that figures into college admissions. We want to make sure our audience knows that this is part of a large range of indicators.”
In some cases, an applicant — especially one that did not grow up speaking English — may have “modest results” on a proficiency test but demonstrate through the rest of their application that they could be a “brilliant future Yalie.”
In other cases, Yale Admissions may reach out to a student to ask if they have taken a language evaluation because they see promise in the applicant overall but also notice syntax issues or other language-related concerns. The written responses in the Yale application package can themselves serve English language proficiency indicators.
Ozan Say, the director of the Yale Office of International Students and Scholars, declined to offer comment for this story, noting that OISS only works with admitted international students and remains entirely separate from the admissions office.
For students who are admitted and decide to matriculate to Yale, a variety of campus resources exist to help transition to an educational environment conducted in English. Among these is Yale’s English Language Program, which offers workshops and classes for non-native English-speaking students, fellows, visiting researchers and faculty.
The ELP is geared primarily toward students in the graduate and professional schools, said ELP director James Tierney in an interview with the News, but also welcomes undergraduates.
“While undergraduates are most welcome to join our classes, we presently see only a small number each year,” Tierney wrote in an email to the News. “We will be launching a new program this semester for students in the College interested in language teaching.”
Tierney noted that the ELP is not tied to the admissions process at all; the program works to improve proficiency rather than measure it.
According to Light, one benefit of the Yale-provided suggested list of proficiency evaluations is that it makes it easier for students to navigate the “explosion of organizations” offering these tests. It also shows the wide variety of ways students can demonstrate competency in English.
“Everybody assumed that the English test was [just] TOEFL, and that’s not true,” Light said. “The value [of this list] is that it’s signaling to students and their families and counselors that there’s not only one way to show you are proficient in English… We thought it would be helpful to point out some of those options.”
Of the 1,557 students in the current first-year class, 12 percent are international.