Welcome to the third post in our series on applying to a college or university in the United States as an international student. If you’ve been following along, you’ve already read about picking a degree and major and how to select the best schools for you to apply to (this post also had a great directory of Nashville-area colleges and universities). Later, we’ll talk about transcripts, admissions essays, letters of recommendation, and other necessary paperwork.

As you begin the college application process, you need to learn about and register for any standardized tests that are required. Carefully read the admissions information (particularly for international students) for each school you plan to apply to and see tests scores are needed.

Below, we list and describe the exams you might encounter. You can find a variety of books and web-based programs to help you prepare for any of these exams.  The website for each exam is a good place to start looking for free or paid practice tests and preparation materials. Some students also choose to use private tutors or classes.

English proficiency tests

American colleges and universities require that international students prove they have sufficient English language ability to be successful in university study. Each university determines its own rules for what tools they will accept as proof of linguistic ability and what minimum scores are needed.

The most common tools for proof of English ability are these two widely-accepted language proficiency tests.

TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language)


The TOEFL is accepted by most U.S. colleges and universities (search for schools here). It is an internet-based test that includes the following sections (with a 10-minute break after listening):

  • Reading: 60-100 minutes
  • Listening: 60-90 minutes
  • Speaking: 20 minutes
  • Writing: 60 minutes

You can register to take the TOEFL at test centers across the U.S. and around the world, including here in Nashville.

IELTS (International English Language Testing System) 


IELTS is the main English proficiency test used in the United Kingdom and Australia, but it’s also accepted by over 3,300 schools and organizations in the U.S. The test is paper-based, except for the speaking test, which is a face-to-face interview that takes place either the same day as or up to seven days after the other three parts.

  • Listening 30 minutes
  • Writing 60 minutes
  • Reading 60 minutes
  • Speaking 11-14 minutes

You can register online to take the IELTS at a test center in one of 130 countries. The closest test center to IEI is in Murfreesboro, about 40 miles from Nashville.

No Test Required: Special Agreements with IEI

IEI has agreements with four area colleges and universities that can allow our students to be admitted without taking the TOEFL or IELTS:

Tennessee Technical University, Volunteer State Community College, Middle Tennessee State University, and Tennessee State University.

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Tests for undergraduate admissions

Universities may require other examinations to demonstrate your readiness to study. These are exams that American students are also required to take for admission. Check with each university to see what is required and what minimum scores are needed. These tests are taken by American high school students who want to go to universities in the US. Some universities require international students to take these tests as well.

SAT (Scholastic Aptitude Test)

  • Includes reading, writing/language, and math sections

ACT (American College Testing)

  • Includes English, math, reading, science reasoning, and writing sections

Tests for graduate admission

These tests are usually required by graduate programs to determine if students are prepared for study in their programs. They are required for both American and international students. Again, check with the schools and degree programs you are applying to in order to see what tests they require.

GRE (Graduate Record Examination)

  • Used by a wide range of graduate programs
  • Includes verbal , quantitative, and analytical writing sections

GMAT (Graduate Management Admission Test)

  • Used by graduate programs for business
  • Includes analytical writing, integrated reasoning, quantitative, and verbal sections

MCAT (Medical College Admission Test) 

  • Used by graduate programs for medical studies
  • Includes physical sciences, verbal reasoning, and biological sciences sections

LSAT (Law School Admissions Test)  

  • Used by law schools
  • Includes logical reasoning, reading comprehension, analytical reasoning, and writing sample sections

DAT (Dental Admission Test) 

  • Used by dental schools
  • Includes natural sciences, perceptual ability, reading comprehension, and quantitative reasoning

apply now

We hope that this series has been useful to you. Applying to a college or university in your second language is not always easy, but we’ve helped hundreds of students to achieve their dreams of earning a degree in the U.S. Read a few of their stories here, and if you’re ready to take the first step in preparing to reach your goal, find out how we can help you!

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