Do Colleges and Universities Prefer IELTS or TOEFL?

Both the IELTS and TOEFL can be your passport to international study. But which is best? Do universities prefer IELTS or TOEFL?

In the United Kingdom, do college and universities prefer IELTS or TOEFL?

The first thing many students wonder is whether the IELTS is preferred in the United Kingdom. After all, the IELTS focuses on British English. And the United Kingdom is home to Cambridge and the British Council, two organizations that design and administer the IELTS. If you’ve guessed that the IELTS is the preferred exam for U.K. student visas, you’re correct.

In fact, as of 2014, the United Kingdom made a change to its student visa requirements, removing TOEFL from its list of acceptable exams for student visas. It is still possible to use the TOEFL iBT to get a U.K. visa for international study under some circumstances. Schools in the United Kingdom can choose to accept the TOEFL at their individual campus. If they do that, they can give international applicants special authorisation to study with a TOEFL score, even though the British government does not officially accept the exam.

Ultimately, the TOEFL is not the preferred exam for acceptance into university in the United Kingdom. If you already have a TOEFL score and don’t want to take the IELTS, you can probably find a U.K. school that will sponsor your student visa. However, if you haven’t sat either test, it’s best to take the IELTS for study in the United Kingdom.

In the United States and Canada, do universities prefer the IELTS or TOEFL?

In past decades, the preferred English exam in America was the TOEFL. However, since the 1990s, the IELTS exam has gained greater and greater acceptance across English-speaking North America. At this point, the IELTS and TOEFL are equally accepted in the U.S. and Canada. Nearly every university in this part of the world will accept either IELTS or TOEFL.

What about English speaking universities in the rest of the world?

Ireland has a policy regarding TOEFL and visas that is similar to the one in the U.K. Also like the United Kingdom, it’s still possible to study in Ireland with a TOEFL score if you apply to an individual campus that accepts the TOEFL. Overall, TOEFL scores are somewhat more acceptable in Ireland than they are in the U.K. Most–but not all–of the places where you can study in Ireland are TOEFL accepting schools.

In the rest of the world–Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and other parts of the world that have English-language degree programmes–the TOEFL and IELTS have similar acceptance rates.

If a school accepts both the TOEFL and IELTS, will they ever prefer one over the other?

No. If a school accepts both exams, they will treat both exams as equally valid for admissions purposes. This is true even in places like Ireland and the U.K., where the TOEFL has less governmental support. In these two countries, schools that accept the IELTS and the TOEFL will not give preferential treatment to applicants who have IELTS scores.

By the way, improve your IELTS score with Magoosh!

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  • David Recine

    David is a Test Prep Expert for Magoosh TOEFL and IELTS. Additionally, he's helped students with TOEIC, PET, FCE, BULATS, Eiken, SAT, ACT, GRE, and GMAT. David has a BS from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire and an MA from the University of Wisconsin-River Falls. His work at Magoosh has been cited in many scholarly articles, his Master's Thesis is featured on the Reading with Pictures website, and he's presented at the WITESOL (link to PDF) and NAFSA conferences. David has taught K-12 ESL in South Korea as well as undergraduate English and MBA-level business English at American universities. He has also trained English teachers in America, Italy, and Peru. Come join David and the Magoosh team on Youtube, Facebook, and Instagram, or connect with him via LinkedIn!

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