IvyWise Resources

How Important is the TOEFL?

How Important is the TOEFL?

By Joey, IvyWise Master Tutor

It’s a question on every applicant’s mind: how much will test scores impact my chances of admission to my top-choice universities? For international students, this level of wonder and interest is often leveled up a notch. Many students from abroad have a few additional steps to complete when applying to US universities, including English proficiency exams such as the TOEFL.

The TOEFL is a computer-based standardized test that is designed to gauge an applicant’s comfort with the English language, and is an important part of the application process for many international students for whom English is a second language. But just how important is the TOEFL? While many US universities are currently adjusting their testing requirements to account for interruptions due to the coronavirus pandemic, many will still require international students to submit English-proficiency test scores like the TOEFL. Especially given that many students will have access to the at-home TOEFL, now is the time for international students applying to US universities to plan for this exam and how it fits into their college prep.

While there is no one-size-fits-all answer, it is possible to assess how your TOEFL score might impact the way your college application is perceived and exactly what kind of weight your TOEFL score can carry throughout the college admissions process.

How Will the TOEFL Impact My Chances of Admission?

As with many topics related to college admissions, the question of the weight the TOEFL carries in an application is best answered with “it depends.” It’s always important to research the websites of your prospective schools’ for specific policies regarding international applications, noting similarities and differences among them. Although the overall college admissions process is quite similar for many US universities, every institution has their own policies and the weight of different factors may vary as a result. Students shouldn’t be afraid to get in touch with the admissions office in order to answer any questions they have regarding the TOEFL exam.

Broadly speaking, there are three ways a college or university might treat the TOEFL:

A Floor
Some schools clearly state a minimum TOEFL score which applicants must reach in order to gain admission. This kind of figure can act as a goal for aspiring students. A vast array of different types of schools use this floor model, ranging as far apart as the sprawling University of Iowa and the niche Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, which both require a minimum overall score of 80. A score higher than the minimum can of course only help an application, but not to an extent likely to “tip the scales” over other key factors.

A Pole Vault
This is where more careful internet research or contacting an admissions office outright can be important. While a school like Middlebury College might declare that it “has no minimum [TOEFL] score that would automatically eliminate an application,” its website is also quick to declare that the “average internet-based TOEFL score for matriculating students is 109.” If a student has a score nearer the frequent threshold of 80 mentioned above—equivalent to the 40th percentile according to the latest data from ETS —then they’ll need to realize they have a lot of work cut out for them if they want to gain acceptance to a college where the average score is above the 92nd percentile.

An option
In the same way that you’ll come across schools that are test-optional for the SAT and ACT, there are universities, like Harvard, that let you decide whether to submit your TOEFL scores. In these cases, their admissions programs might feel confident in learning about your English fluency via interviews or essays—or have decided that they have sufficient resources in place to help new students improve their English skills upon matriculating. Submit your TOEFL results to these schools if you feel they’re strong enough to boost your overall application.

If you encounter a school that will consider alternatives to the TOEFL such as your subscore in ACT English or SAT Reading, you will essentially double your “bang” for your studying “buck” by focusing your efforts on improving at those tests instead. That being said, the lack of speaking and listening elements on the subsections might not actually indicate whether you are personally prepared for college-level work in English.

Putting TOEFL Scores into Context

Ultimately, colleges are looking for the students best fit for the program they are running: a photography BFA would rather take an artist with an exciting new outlook, fresh portfolio, and weaker TOEFL than a more staid applicant with unimpeachable English. However, if that program can’t provide English classes, or if additional English coursework would severely hinder time-to-graduation schedules, then there will come a point at which a TOEFL score is too low for the applicant to be a strong admit.

As with everything related to university admissions, it’s important to do your research and plan ahead when preparing for testing, including the TOEFL. Taking a practice exam and having an idea of what scores are necessary in order to have the greatest chance of admission to your top-choice schools is the best place to start. At IvyWise, we have worked with students from over 40 different countries and helped create individualized plans for every applicant, including test prep for exams like the TOEFL. For more information on our college planning, test preparation, and tutoring services, contact us today.