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Articles / Applying to College / TOEFL for Student in U.S. for 10 Years?

March 28, 2010

TOEFL for Student in U.S. for 10 Years?

Question: I am from Vietnam and had lived in the U.S. for more than 10 years and am a U.S. citizen. Given that, do I still need to take the TOEFL?

The short answer is "No," but there may be some exceptions. The usual rule of thumb is that, if English has been your primary language of instruction throughout high school (for at least four years), then the TOEFL is not required. In fact, most colleges would totally disregard a TOEFL score from someone who has been in the U.S. as long as you have. (And citizenship doesn't factor into the TOEFL issue at all. The key is the amount of time you've spent studying in English.)


However, once you identify your list of target colleges, you would be wise to check each Web site carefully (or call admission offices) because policies can vary from school to school. You may occasionally see that a college (e.g., Carnegie Mellon) asks for a TOEFL score from any candidate whose first language isn't English. You may also find that, at some colleges (e.g., Amherst), students who score below a particular cut-off on the Critical Reading section of the SAT are asked to submit a TOEFL score, too.

If only one or two colleges on your list seem to want a TOEFL from you, and if your Critical Reading score is well in the ballpark for these schools, you can probably get a waiver on the TOEFL if you so choose. Just make sure you get it in writing (e-mail is fine) and keep a record of it in your files.

I know that such inconsistencies can be a pain, but this whole process is so full of them that this may be good training for what lies ahead. :-(

Written by

Sally Rubenstone

Sally Rubenstone

Sally Rubenstone knows the competitive and often convoluted college admission process inside out: From the first time the topic of college comes up at the dinner table until the last duffel bag is unloaded on a dorm room floor. She is the co-author of Panicked Parents' Guide to College Admissions; The Transfer Student's Guide to Changing Colleges and The International Student's Guide to Going to College in America. Sally has appeared on NBC's Today program and has been quoted in countless publications, including The New York Times, The Washington Post, USA Weekend, USA Today, U.S. News & World Report, Newsweek, People and Seventeen. Sally has viewed the admissions world from many angles: As a Smith College admission counselor for 15 years, an independent college counselor serving students from a wide range of backgrounds and the author of College Confidential's "Ask the Dean" column. She also taught language arts, social studies, study skills and test preparation in 10 schools, including American international schools in London, Paris, Geneva, Athens and Tel Aviv. As senior advisor to College Confidential since 2002, Sally has helped hundreds of students and parents navigate the college admissions maze. In 2008, she co-founded College Karma, a private college consulting firm, with her College Confidential colleague Dave Berry, and she continues to serve as a College Confidential advisor. Sally and her husband, Chris Petrides, became first-time parents in 1997 at the ripe-old age of 45. So Sally was nearly an official senior citizen when her son Jack began the college selection process, and when she was finally able to practice what she had preached for more than three decades.

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