Many students who want to study in the U.S. say they have little chance of admission to an American college or university because of weak English skills.
But what if that barrier was removed from the application process?
It’s called conditional admission, and could pave the way for foreign students seeking an American higher education, says Rob Hardin. Hardin is the senior assistant director for international student recruitment at the University of Oregon in Eugene.
Many schools understand that some of the best students in the world may not speak English well. Over the past decade, more schools are using conditional admissions to help these students.
“It adds significant value to have a student from Beijing, a student from Hanoi, a student from London in the classroom with the student from Portland, Oregon,” Hardin told Voice of America. “We think that enhances the student from Portland, Oregon’s experience.”
At the University of Oregon, international students apply as any other student would, providing grades, extracurricular activities, Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) scores, and other information.
The University of Oregon's conditional-admission program allows students to sharpen their English skills and get used to the American college experience. (University of Oregon)
While many colleges and universities reject applicants with low TOEFL scores, other schools are willing to take a deeper look, Hardin says.
If the University of Oregon thinks an applicant has other attributes that make up for a lack of language skills, it will accept them into a special program, according to Hardin.
The conditional-admission program teaches in seven levels of progressive English. As the student’s knowledge increases, their test scores improve.
Hardin says many international students prefer to study English in their native countries to save money and be closer to home, until they can test into a traditional degree program.
But schools like the University of Oregon that offer conditional admissions start students on their degree program once they complete the highest level of the language program.
These conditional admissions programs help students get used to the American college experience. Cultural differences in teaching styles between school back home and school in the U.S. can be addressed. Also, while living on an American college campus, surrounded by English speakers, students often improve their language skills faster.
“You’re going to have to figure out how to go to the grocery store and buy apples,” Hardin said. “You’re going to take what you’re learning in the classroom and you’re going to be able to immediately apply it to your daily life.”
Hardin notes that this newer path to admission is not just for students with weak English-language skills. Even strong applicants may not realize that they lack the English abilities to fully succeed at the college level.
For students who need additional support, some schools offer a bridge program. At the University of Oregon, students in the bridge program take as many as six additional English classes, often related to subjects the students are taking.
International students should not expect every college and university in the U.S. to offer such programs. At top schools, competition is fierce and students who are already strong in English have a better chance at acceptance.
By PETE MUSTO