Graduate Admission

Proficiency in English

The ability to communicate effectively in English-to read, write and speak the language fluently-is vital to your success as a university student. USC graduate applicants are therefore expected to demonstrate English-language proficiency as part of the application process.

English Proficiency Criteria

Beginning with those seeking admission to Fall 2013, international graduate applicants must demonstrate English-language proficiency by submitting either TOEFL or IELTS scores.

IMPORTANT: There is no minimum score required for admission. Scores are required for placement purposes only and are used to determine whether an admitted student is required to take the International Student Examination (ISE) upon arrival at USC (see below)..

PhD applicants are exempt from the ISE if they have an Internet Based TOEFL (iBT) score of 100, with no less than 20 on each section or an IELTS score of 7, with at least 6 on each band.

Master’s applicants  are exempt from the ISE if they have an iBT score of 90, with no less than 20 on each section or an IELTS score of 6.5, with no less than 6 on each band score.

Official scores must be received directly from the testing service and date no earlier than 2 years (24 months) prior to the start of your intended first term at USC. If you are sending TOEFL scores, the institution code for USC is 4852 (no department code is required). If you are sending IELTS scores, please choose USC from the list of available institutions.

Note: some USC master’s programs have different score requirements. Please refer to the homepage of your intended graduate program to verify individual department policy.

International applicants are exempt from the TOEFL/IELTS requirement under the following circumstances:

1) You hold a Bachelor’s degree completed in residency in United States or other Anglophone country.

The Bachelor’s degree should come from a regionally accredited university located in the United States or officially recognized university in another country where English is both the language of instruction and the only officially recognized language of the country. Please note that the entire program must have been completed in the qualifying country.

We do not waive the English-proficiency requirement based on either a graduate degree from a university in the U.S. or other qualifying country or an undergraduate program taught in English in a non-Anglophone country.

2) Your native language is English.

This applies to native English speakers from countries such as the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, and Canada (except Quebec) where English is both the only official language of the country and the language of instruction.

The criteria listed above are the only means by which international applicants can demonstrate English proficiency. USC does not waive the English-proficiency requirement based on any other consideration (work experience, ESL enrollment, etc.).

International Student English Examination (ISE)

The International Student English Examination (ISE) is a placement examination that determines the English proficiency of admitted international students. There is no charge for the ISE. The test is administered during International Orientation by USC’s American Language Institute. Your performance on the ISE will determine whether you can matriculate directly into regular graduate courses or if additional English-language study is required prior to or concurrent with regular graduate enrollment.


American Language Institute

Your level of achievement on the ISE will determine whether you must enroll in English-language courses at the university’s American Language Institute (ALI) before or during your first semester at USC. The number of required courses—up to one full year of study—will be based on your level of English-language proficiency.

ALI classes cannot be deferred. If you are required to enroll in ALI, you must begin English-language classes in your first semester and continue each semester until all ALI course work is completed. ALI also offers elective classes for international students in pronunciation, grammar, dissertation writing and other subjects.

Please be aware that English-language study will increase the overall cost of your degree program, because courses at ALI are billed at the regular tuition rate.

For more information about the American Language Institute, click here. For questions not answered by the website, contact the American Language Institute at (213) 740-0079.

English-language Requirements for Teaching Assistants

If you are planning to accept a position as an international teaching assistant (ITA), you must demonstrate English-language proficiency in the oral interview examination conducted by the International Teaching Assistants Program. The examination consists of a 10- to 15-minute interview. Depending on your score (mark), you may be permitted to teach while taking ALI courses, or be required to complete ALI courses before assuming teaching duties.

Students who meet one of the following requirements may request a waiver of the oral interview:

  • Your native language is English.
  • You scored 29 or better on the speaking portion of the TOEFL and 25 or better on the listening portion of the TOEFL Internet-based examination.
  • You score 8.5 or better on the speaking portion of the IELTS and 7 or better on the listening portion of the IELTS.

If you have questions about the oral interview that are not answered on the ITA website, please e-mail the ITA Program Coordinator at ita@usc.edu, or call (213) 740-0096.

Preparation and Training for Teaching Assistants

The International Teaching Assistants Program also offers a weeklong ITA Institute in August, in partnership with the Center for Excellence in Teaching. The Institute prepares ITAs for the oral exam and also offers intensive training in methods of presenting information, eliciting student participation and other aspects of effective teaching. For more information, contact your Teaching Assistant Coordinator or Graduate Student Advisor.