I’ve been searching for the graduate requirements of some university. As regards the language test scores, TOEFL>90 or IELTS>7 are necessary. However, I stumbled upon undergraduate requirements: TOEFL>100 (>25 each) or IELTS>7.5.

In my opinion, graduate studies are more complex thus require higher levels/skills, so what could be reasons that the graduate scores are lower than the undergraduate ones?

  • 10
    Pure guess: undergraduates in the US study a wider variety of subjects, so their English skills need to be strong. Graduate students can get by on learning their field's jargon. (Not saying I agree with the logic, since graduate students often serve as TAs, where language skills become quite important.)
    – user37208
    Aug 12, 2016 at 17:52
  • One possibility is that they are upgrading the requirements starting from the lower levels. Aug 12, 2016 at 17:53
  • @user37208 that was my guess as well.
    – sitilge
    Aug 12, 2016 at 17:53
  • 7
    Another possibility is that the pool of good candidates is larger for the undergrads, and thus can be more picky.
    – Davidmh
    Aug 12, 2016 at 17:57
  • 6
    Also, graduate applications are to a specific department, and are more closely vetted by the department. The university is giving departments more discretion for those. Aug 12, 2016 at 19:55

1 Answer 1


While I don't know what exactly went into these decision making processes, here are some relevant factors (some more likely than others):

  • As mentioned in the comments, undergraduates need to take a wide range of classes (e.g., gen eds) including classes which may involve a serious amount of reading, writing and/or verbal interactions. So undergraduates need pretty well-rounded English skills.

  • For graduate studies, one can often get by with a much more narrow range of English proficiency depending on the field. For instance, less language skills are needed to follow a mathematical lecture than one about politics. My school has higher TOEFL requirements for certain graduate programs (e.g., business administration and political science) than the general grad college requirement. A more flexible policy makes sense for grad programs.

  • While some grad students may have teaching duties, there can be separate English proficiency requirements for this. My school does this, and international grad students just grade rather than teach until the English requirements are met.

  • By allowing grad programs lower standards of English, one can get a larger pool of international grad student applications. (Both increasing the fees obtained and improving one's chances of getting academically stronger international grad students. If we really want a specific student with poor TOEFL scores, we can petition the grad college to waive the language requirement for them, but if the student just looks at the online requirements, they may not apply in the first place.)

  • Having higher English requirements for undergrads may make a school seem more selective (this may be factored into college rankings, but the grad student requirements may not be). Related to this, in the current age colleges are evaluated by student success rates (e.g., pass/fail, retention and graduation rates). Colleges may feel/have evidence that international students with lower TOEFL scores have lower success rates, and not want to take chances on them.

  • Higher TOEFL requirements may boost enrollments in the university's ESL program if there is one.

  • Or in the case of someone coming to do a graduate program in, say, German literature, their knowledge of English may be pretty irrelevant, so long as they can speak German (goes with your second point) Aug 14, 2016 at 8:32

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