Studying in the United States can be a very fulfilling learning experience. You get to experience a new culture while pursuing higher education in a globally-recognized institution. Studying abroad, even for just a short period, will give you an added advantage in your resume.

However, one hurdle international students face is the language barrier. Many find it difficult to get admitted to their university of choice because they fail to meet the minimum English language proficiency score. Fluency in English is an important factor to consider when planning to study abroad, especially in an English-speaking country like the US.

Most universities in the country often ask for a TOEFL or IELTS as proof of language proficiency. But if you are one of the degree-seeking students who have not taken the IELTS or have failed to meet the minimum score, there are still ways to study in the US without having to present an IELTS certificate. In this article, we will provide ways and a list of universities that do not require an IELTS certificate.

Ways to Study in the USA without IELTS

Different institutions have different criteria for IELTS exemptions. However, here are some of the common requirements that will exempt international students from needing to present an IELTS score.

1. English is Your Native Language

One way to get exempted from providing an IELTS certificate is to prove you are a citizen or a native of an English-speaking country. Other than the US, several countries use English as their primary language like the UK, Australia, Canada, and New Zealand. Citizens in these areas usually need to present their passport/national ID as proof to get exempted.

2. Attended High School or a University Whose Primary Language of Instruction is English.

Education systems in several non-English speaking countries require primary and secondary education to be taught in English. Countries like Barbados and Singapore are prime examples. Although standards are different for each, some universities will allow students who have attended secondary school with English as a primary language of instruction to be exempted from passing an IELTS.

3. English Language Programs

Degree-seeking applicants who are not interested in taking the IELTS, can take similar programs available. Students will need to take an English language course often referred to as the English as a Second Language course. The classes cover English reading, writing, listening, and speaking. It also covers proper grammar usage in both written and spoken categories. These classes are offered at the university. So basically, students will take a year of ESL classes before starting their degree program.

Several universities in the United States do not consider the IELTS as a necessary requirement for admission purposes. These universities include:

Drexel University – citizen from a recognized English-speaking country
– received a bachelor’s, master’s, or Ph.D. degree from a recognized English-speaking country
– worked in the US for 5+ years- obtained a bachelor’s, master’s, or Ph.D. degree that is entirely conducted in English
State University of New York – provide other English proficiency exam like TOEFL
– provide ACT or SAT score
University of Arkansas – native from an English-speaking country
– provide other English proficiency exams (TOEFL, Duolingo, SAT, ACT, C1 Advanced)
University of Dayton – students who have obtained a secondary diploma from an accredited US institution
– a native from the following countries (Australia, Belize, Caribbean countries, Canada, Ghana, Ireland, New Zealand, Nigeria, or the UK)
– attend an Intensive English Program
University of Delaware – submit one of the following standardized tests (TOEFL, DET, PTE Academic, SAT, DET, Cambridge English Assessment, ACT,  GCE/GCSE/IGCSE or O-Levels, IB English
Many other state universities

The first step is to check if your chosen school requires an IELTS certification. As with the schools listed above, IELTS is not mandatory. That is if you meet their other equally important requirements.


English proficiency tests should not be a hindrance for international students. In fact, students should take this as an opportunity to learn a new language. For one, this can be a truly rewarding experience as it may come in handy in your future endeavors. If you are considering permanently living in an English-speaking country, then an IELTS certificate can immensely help in getting your foot through the door. Language competency is a requirement that one cannot simply skip.


For those taking the leap and heading out to schools internationally, we wish you good luck! Hopefully, this post on studying in the USA without IELTS was insightful. Make sure to also check out the Guide to Studying in the USA and Available Programs for International Students sections!

About the Author: Hyun Lee

Hi! I am Hyun, and I am the founder at Global Scholarships. I've received a full-tuition scholarship at Birmingham-Southern College and a $1,000 Burger King Scholarship for my undergraduate degree and was offered a fully funded scholarship consisting of tuition, living stipend, and health insurance for computer science Ph.D. program at North Carolina State University. You can read more about my scholarship journey here. If you are interested, you can follow me on Linkedin where I regularly write about scholarship opportunities.

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