What TOEFL Score Do You Need to Get into College?

College Admissions and the Test of English as a Foreign Language

TOEFL and TOEIC Study Guides
TOEFL and TOEIC Study Guides. KniBaron / Flickr

If you're a non-native English speaker and you're applying to a college in the United States, chances are you're going to need to take the the TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language), IELTS (International English Language Testing System), or MELAB (Michigan Language Assessment Battery). In some cases you can take a combination of other standardized tests to demonstrate your language skills. In this article we'll look at the types of scores different college admissions offices require on the TOEFL.

TOEFL Score Requirements for Top Schools

Note that the scores below vary widely, and in general the more selective the college, the higher the bar is for English proficiency. This is partly because the more selective colleges can afford to be more selective (no surprise there), and also because language barriers can be disastrous at the schools with the highest academic expectations.

You'll find that you need to be nearly fluent in English to be admitted to the United State's top colleges and top universities. This makes sense: even in fields such as engineering, a significant portion of your overall college GPA is going to come from written work, discussion, and oral presentations. In the humanities, often over 80% of your total GPA comes from written and spoken work.

I've also included links to graphs of GPA, SAT and ACT data for applicants to each school since grades and test scores are essential pieces of the application.

All data in the table is from the colleges' websites. Be sure to check directly with the colleges in case any admissions requirements have changed. Also be aware that the paper-based TOEFL was revised in July of 2017 and is now available only in a few parts of the world where internet-based testing isn't feasible.

98 percent of test-takers use the internet-based TOEFL.

Test Score Requirements
College
(click for more info)
Internet-Based TOEFLPaper-Based TOEFLGPA/SAT/ACT Graph
Amherst College100 recommended600 recommendedsee graph
Bowling Green State U71 minimum500 minimumsee graph
MIT90 minimum
100 recommended
577 minimum
600 recommended
see graph
The Ohio State University79 minimum550 minimumsee graph
Pomona College100 minimum600 minimumsee graph
UC Berkeley80 minimum550 minimum
60 (revised test)
see graph
University of Florida80 minimum550 minimumsee graph
UNC Chapel Hill100 minimum600 minimumsee graph
University of Southern California100 minimumnot reportedsee graph
UT Austin79 minimumnot reportedsee graph
Whitman College85 minimum560 minimumsee graph

If you score a 100 or higher on the internet-based TOEFL or a 600 or higher on the paper-based exam, your demonstration of English language skills should be strong enough for admission to any college in the country. A score of 60 or lower is going to restrict your options drastically.

Note that TOEFL scores are generally considered valid for just two years because your language proficiency can change significantly over time. Also, some colleges may require additional verification of English proficiency such as an interview because of some issues with cheating on the TOEFL.

Cases in Which the TOEFL Requirement is Waived

There are a few situations in which non-native speakers of English don't need to take the TOEFL or IELTS. If all of your high school education was conducted exclusively in English, you will often be exempted from the TOEFL requirement. For example, a student who spent all of high school at the Taipei American School in Taiwain would not need to take the TOEFL in most cases.

Some colleges will also waive the TOEFL requirement if a student does extremely well on the ACT English sections or the SAT Evidence-based Reading exam. At Amherst, for example, a student who scored a 32 or higher on the Reading section and took the Writing exam can will be exempted, as will a student who scores 730 or higher on the SAT Evidence-based Reading exam.

Low TOEFL Score? What Now?

If your English language skills aren't strong, it's worth reevaluating your dream of attending a highly selective college in the United States.

Lectures and classroom discussion will be fast-paced and in English. Also, regardless of subject—even math, science, and engineering—a significant percentage of your overall GPA is going to be based on written work. Weak language skills are going to be a severe handicap, one that can lead to both frustration and failure.

That said, if you're highly motivated and your TOEFL scores aren't quite up to par, you can consider a few options. If you have time, you could keep working on your language skills, take a TOEFL preparation course, and retake the exam. You could also take a gap year that involves English language immersion, and then retake the exam after building your language skills. You could enroll in a less selective college with lower TOEFL requirements, work on your English skills, and then attempt to transfer to a more selective school (just realize that transferring into very top schools such as those in the Ivy League is highly unlikely).