If you’re an international applicant to business schools in America and Europe then you probably are already aware that a test of English language abilities is required to apply. The TOEFL is considered the standard that’s accepted at most American MBA programs, and the IELTS and PTE are accepted at some as alternates. We talk solely about “the TOEFL” on the blahg because it’s much more common for MBA admissions, but as with all things, you’ll need to check the requirements of your specific target schools carefully to see what they want.
If you attended a college whose curriculum was conducted entirely in English, then most U.S. bschools will waive the TOEFL requirement altogether (though there are some important exceptions, including Berkeley and UCLA). This TOEFL waiver policy has been in place at most schools for many years.
However, there’s always been MIT, the one no-TOEFL-required school — they never made you submit the TOEFL as part of their app, at least not as far back as EssaySnark can recall. Now a quiet trend of other schools also becoming no-TOEFL has slowly started.
In the past few years, Yale also announced a no-TOEFL policy, and last year Duke quietly dropped their TOEFL requirement as well, though Duke does invite you to share your score if you already have one.
This year, Columbia similarly ditched its TOEFL requirement, and now there is no need for any such English test regardless of your nationality if you’re applying there.
Why these changes?
Well, this past season, many admissions teams saw international applications go down, and there have always been parts of the world where they’ve struggled to get significant numbers of candidates. If you’re applying from Europe, you’re almost always at an advantage, at least to a degree, if you’re trying for an American MBA program. Same thing with Australia and New Zealand. Historically, Latin America had been in that category too, where there weren’t that many people trying for the U.S. MBA programs, however these days there are a seemingly ever-increasing number of applicants coming from Brazil and Argentina, so the top schools don’t tend to go wanting for applicants from those countries especially right now. If you’re trying for an American MBA from countries like Mexico or Nicaragua or many other Spanish-speaking nations, the American schools do want you — provided you can see past some of the political challenges going on right now, of course.
It’s because of these political challenges that the international applications have decreased at American schools.
By contrast, we’ve heard that applications are through the roof at the best Canadian MBA programs, and there’s also been good numbers at European programs, including in the UK. The Brexit vote has had little lasting impact over there. The political issues in America are not going away for the time being, and because of this, many MBA admissions teams that value international students within their classes are looking for ways to make it easier to apply. Removing obstacles to completing an app is one way to do that.
Since the GMAT and the GRE both require a certain level of English proficiency just to get through them, and they each have a verbal component and a written essay as standard parts of the exam, then the TOEFL is rather redundant. If you do well on the GMAT verbal then it’s likely you’d do equally well on the TOEFL, at least the reading and writing pieces. The main value that the TOEFL provided was the speaking part, and since all of these schools require an interview before they will admit you, then the adcoms are using that in-person (or Skype) experience to evaluate communication abilities. It’s doubtful that there’s anyone out there who would be convinced to apply to Columbia today only because they no longer have to take a TOEFL, so we’re skeptical that this is going to have any meaningful impact on app volumes. But still, simplicity is nice, and we’re keen for anything that makes the application process easier on candidates.
So, impact to you?
If you’re an international candidate there will hopefully be less competition this year for you, particularly if you’re coming from one of those countries named above. If you’re from Singapore, China, India, and many other Asian countries then the competition is still likely to be fierce.
If you’re looking to simplify your app strategy as an international applicant then you could even consider targeting only MIT, Yale, Duke and Columbia, since they each have no TOEFL requirement at all.
It’s likely that you may need to take the TOEFL anyway, since this is one of those things where the real value would only come when ALL the schools make the change. Like they did with accepting the GRE as an alternate to the GMAT, which believe it or not only came about as an industry-wide thing for every top school within about the past five years. Maybe next year the no-TOEFL policy will be more the norm.
For now, don’t overlook the requirement for a TOEFL and be sure to doublecheck the policies at each of your target schools multiple times, since again, this is something that’s changing and there may be other schools making adjustments this season, who just haven’t announced their new plans yet.
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