Intensive English Programs and the TOEFL

Sometimes the best way to master English is to study it full time in an English-speaking country. Intensive English programs, or IEPs, are courses of full time English study abroad. They are designed to help you pass the TOEFL and other university entrance exams. True to their name, they require an intense amount of class time. Most programs involve 25-30 classroom hours per week. If this sounds appealing to you, an intensive English program might be right for you.

Of course, an IEP is not the only way to successfully pass the TOEFL. Let’s look at some of the pros and cons of these programs.


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Intensive English Program Pros

  • IEPs can sometimes let you bypass the TOEFL altogether. IEPs that are hosted by universities (such as this one and this one) usually let you study at the host university without taking the TOEFL, once your English improves.
  • IEPs let you dramatically improve your English in a short time. I have taught and tutored for intensive English programs for about four years now. Some of my students raised their TOEFL scores from low to passing in as little as one semester. I’ve also seen many beginner-level students become fluent and ready for degree courses in just a year.
  • Many intensive English programs offer direct TOEFL support. To give one example, the Global Language Institute in Minnesota offers TOEFL iBT practice in their regular IEP Program and offers a special TOEFL-focused program.
  • Once your TOEFL score is high enough, Intensive English programs will help you find and transfer to a university of your choice. Most IEPs have admissions and transfer specialists, as well as academic advisers.


Intensive English Program Cons

  • IEPs are expensive. Studying in the U.S. in general is not cheap. Intensive English programs tend to cost as much or more than tuition in a regular degree program.
  • IEPs take up time as well as money. If you are already close to your TOEFL target score, enrolling in an IEP could add months to your journey to TOEFL success.
  • IEPs require you to relocate to a foreign country. You may need to relocate again once you graduate from the IEP, if the degree program that accepts you is not nearby. Relocation takes time, money, thought, and energy. It can be a distraction from your actual studies and long term goals.
  • Many IEPs do NOT offer much TOEFL support. In the West, especially in English speaking countries, there is a strong cultural belief against “teaching to the test.” Additionally, many of the students in Intensive English programs are not ready for TOEFL study. And many other IEP students enter the program specifically to avoid taking the TOEFL.

Intensive English programs can be a rewarding path to a high TOEFL score and fluent English. On the other hand, IEPs also require a lot of commitment and vary greatly in TOEFL preparation offerings. If you decide this might be a good option for you, I suggest you “shop around” for a program that will meet your needs. Here is a pretty good list of the IEPs in the U.S. You can find a similar list for Canadian intensive English programs here.


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