“Is my English good enough to study in the US?”
During the 11 years I spent working with international students in Istanbul, this is a question I heard a lot. If you want to study in the US, how high should your English level be?
To get into an undergraduate program in an American university, you need a minimum TOEFL score of 61-80, but some schools may require a TOEFL score of at least 100. Graduate programs usually require scores of at least 90-100.
Some schools, such as Northwestern University, do not require a minimum TOEFL score, but simply state that students “often score in the high range on all four sections” of the TOEFL and are also required to submit an SAT score.
A TOEFL or an SAT score is only just the beginning
High test scores will help you gain admission, but being able to communicate fluently in English will enhance your experience and help you become more successful.
If you are an international student who already speaks excellent English, congratulations. You’ll have every opportunity to succeed in an American university.
If you’re not 100% confident in your English communication skills, there are specific actions you can take to improve your academic English, social English, and professional English.
To improve your English and succeed in American universities, these are the 3 key areas you need to focus on:
To be able to do well in your classes, English fluency is crucial. There will be class discussions, and sometimes, you may receive a participation grade. You might have to give a presentation. In many graduate schools, especially MBA programs, you are required to participate in group projects.
If you are a science or engineering major, you will have to write lab reports.
In both undergraduate and graduate programs, your reading assignments will be in English. The more fluent your English, the faster you’ll be able to complete your work.
Fluent speaking, reading, and writing in English are foundational skills for success in American universities.
Here are 3 ways to master academic English and succeed in American universities:
- Practice reading textbooks:
- Read science, history, and popular non-fiction books. For example:
- Guns, Germs, and Steel – Jared Diamond
- The Tipping Point and Outliers – Malcolm Gladwell
- Steve Jobs – Walter Isaacson
- Read magazines and/or newspapers including:
- The Economist
- The New York Times
- The Financial Times
- Popular Science
- National Geographic
When you are in America, it is great to hang out with people from your country. When I was living in Istanbul, I had many American friends and it felt great to spend time with people from ‘home’.
But when I started speaking Turkish, my world opened up. I met new busıness contacts, made new friends, joined new organizations, and finally felt connected to my new home.
I had so much more fun…
And I started meeting all the right people.
Networking is a key skill for success in your career.
If you really want to reach the highest level of your profession and have a great career, you have to master the English language.
Here are 3 ways to improve your social English while studying in America:
- First, improve your listening. Good listening skills are essential to speaking English in social situations. Use these resources to practice and develop your listening skills:
- VOA (Voice of America) – news articles in simplified English.
- Deep English – short, interesting articles perfect for listening practice.
- English Central – an English improvement tool using video.
- Ted Ed – short, educational videos on a variety of topics.
- Podcasts – Find a podcast you really love and subscribe.
- Join a student organization. Student organizations are great places to meet new people and perfect your English communication skills.
- Dorm government/Student government
- Charities such as Dance Marathon
- School Newspapers
- Sports Clubs (ski clubs, intramural sports clubs)
- Be friendly. Say hi to classmates. Say hi to your neighbors in your dorm. Just introduce yourself. Say, “Hi, I’m ________.” You will start many nice conversations this way – and maybe make a few friendships.
If you’re studying in the US, and you’re considering working for a US-based company in the future, then you will have to be ready to do internships and job interviews in English.
Here’s how you can make sure your English is good enough to land the best internships and job opportunities:
- Get involved in your industry. If you’re interested in engineering, design, medicine, architecture, finance, technology – or any other kind of business – then find and read the best publications and news from your industry. If you have the opportunity, attend industry conferences and networking events.
- Join an organization. Help out for a cause you believe in. According to a recent study, people who volunteer are more likely to find employment. When you volunteer, you’ll not only get a chance to practice your English, but you’ll also make lots of great contacts who can help you get your career started. Here are just a few places where you can find volunteer opportunities:
- Work with a mentor. Nothing can accelerate your success faster than working with a mentor. You might also want to hire a mentor or professional consultant to help you prepare for your interviews.
- Find the best companies/individuals in your industry and offer to work for them for free.
- Find a great coach or consultant to help you improve your English speaking. Invest in yourself, work hard, and learn.
- Commit yourself to success in your area of study and your career. When you are dedicated to a pursuit of learning and success, your fluency in English will continue developing indefinitely.
Achieving a high level of English fluency will help you succeed academically and ensure a successful start to your career.
At the same time, speaking English fluently will make your time studying in the US much more enjoyable. You’ll make more friends, learn more about the culture, and create many more opportunities for yourself both professionally and personally.
Have questions about improving your English for studying in the US? Leave a comment on this article or ask me on Twitter: @ianprz.