English Language Proficiency Requirement

What You Need to Know

  • Testing accommodations related to the COVID-19 pandemic can be found in the COVID-19 section of our FAQ.
  • To be successful in Cornell’s rigorous graduate and professional degree programs, students must be highly proficient or fluent in English.
  • Students in doctoral degrees or research master’s degree (MA, MS, MFA) programs who are appointed as teaching assistants (TAs) must demonstrate a higher level of English proficiency. These students are supported through Cornell’s International Teaching Assistant Program (ITAP) in the Center for Teaching Innovation.
  • Applicants can demonstrate English Language proficiency using IELTS Academic or TOEFL iBT scores or can provide proof of an exemption.
  • Some graduate fields and programs have additional language requirements. They may require higher IELTS Academic or TOEFL iBT scores or may request an interview before offering admission.

How to Meet the Requirement

All applicants must provide proof of English language proficiency.  There are 3 ways this may be done:

  1. Submit Scores – Provide official IELTS Academic or TOEFL iBT test scores that meet Cornell’s minimums.
  2. Request a Standing Exemption – Attest that you meet one of the standing exemptions outlined below. Provide documentation if required.
  3. Request a Special Exemption – In exceptional cases, applicants may ask for a special exemption. See the guidelines below.

Test Score Guidelines

Research Degree Applicants (PhD, DMA, MA, MS, MFA)

Research degree applicants must demonstrate language proficiency at a level that will allow them to be successful in their graduate studies and as teaching assistants (TA). Admitted applicants from Score Tier A are automatically approved to serve as a TA, while applicants in Score Tier B should consult with their department to arrange for an English Language Assessment with Cornell’s International TA Program to determine whether additional language support in an ITAP course is required.

English Language Test Score Guidelines
 IELTS AcademicTOEFL iBT
Score Tier A –
Admissible with no additional language assessment needed to be a TA
8 or above

Speaking: 27 or above
Reading: 20 or above
Listening: 15 or above
Writing: 20 or above
Score Tier B –
Admissible with an English Language Assessment and support plan required before being appointed as a TA

7.0 – 7.5Speaking: 22 - 26
Reading: 20 or above
Listening: 15 or above
Writing: 20 or above

Professional Master’s Degree Applicants

IELTS Academic:

  • An overall band score of at least 7.0

TOEFL iBT

  • Speaking: 22 or above
  • Reading: 20 or above
  • Listening: 15 or above
  • Writing: 20 or above

How to Send Your Scores to Cornell

IELTS Academic

  • When you register for the exam, you may select up to 5 institutions to which you would like to have your scores sent. Cornell University has multiple IELTS accounts so please be sure to select Cornell University Graduate Admissions when registering for your IELTS test date.
  • You may also ask your test center to send additional score reports to institutions not originally listed on your test registration form. Scores must be sent electronically (e-delivery) to the Cornell University Graduate Admissions, Caldwell Hall e-download account. E-delivery may also be referred to as an e-TRF by your test center. Paper TRFs (Test Report Form) are not accepted.
  • Your IELTS Academic scores must be valid as of your program’s application deadline (scores are valid for 2 years after your test date).

TOEFL iBT

  • Have scores delivered electronically to Cornell University Graduate School, Institution code 2098. Department codes are not needed;  if ETS requires you to select a department code, you may choose code 99 “undecided.”
  • Your TOEFL scores must be valid as of your program’s application deadline (scores are valid for 2 years after your test date).
  • If you have taken the TOEFL iBT more than once within the last 2 years, have ETS send us your most recent score report. ETS will automatically include your MyBest scores along with the traditional scores from your selected test date. If your most recent scores do not meet the Graduate School’s minimum sub-score requirements, but your MyBest scores do, let the Graduate School and your proposed field of study know that you would like us to consider your MyBest scores. Please note: while the Graduate School accepts MyBest scores, individual graduate fields may not accept them.

Standing Exemptions

For admissions purposes, Cornell University Graduate School does not require IELTS or TOEFL scores from applicants who meet one of the following standing exemptions. However, applicants admitted to research degrees may still need to complete the English Language Assessment before being a TA.

  1. Speak English as a first language and are a citizen or permanent resident of a country where English is an official language. Applicants who meet this exemption are automatically approved to serve as a TA without an individual English Language Assessment.
  2. At the time of enrollment at Cornell, will have earned a bachelor’s degree from an accredited U.S. college or university. Applicants who meet this exemption will need to complete the English Language Assessment and may be offered an individual support plan.
  3. At the time of enrollment at Cornell, will have earned the international equivalent of a U.S. bachelor’s degree from a college or university in a country where English is an official language, and where English is the language of instruction. (The medium of instruction must be indicated on the transcript or easily verified on the institution’s website.) Applicants who meet this exemption will need to complete the English Language Assessment and may be offered an individual support plan.
  4. At the time of enrollment at Cornell, will have studied and/or worked full-time for at least 2 consecutive years within the last 10 years in a country where English is an official and widely spoken language. (This experience must be noted on a transcript and/or described on a resume or CV. We will accept a combination of study and work—e.g., an applicant who completed a 1-year master’s degree in the U.S. followed by 1 year of OPT. If you are or were a student, English must be the language of instruction for your studies.) Applicants who meet this exemption will need to complete the English Language Assessment and may be offered an individual support plan.

Special Exemptions

Applicants who speak English as a first language, but do not otherwise qualify for a standing exemption, may be considered for a special exemption under the following circumstances: 

  • Speak English as a first or native language, but citizenship does not meet the Standing Exemption criteria.
  • Full-time study or work in a primary English country was for less than 2 years, was not consecutive, or occurred more than 10 years ago.

Contact the Graduate Admissions Office if you think you qualify for a special exemption. Note: Applicants with special exemptions admitted to research degrees may still need to complete the English Language Assessment prior to being a TA.

Graduate Field Requirements

Questions about your English language proficiency? Contact the graduate field to which you are applying. Administrators in your proposed field will guide you through the application process and will communicate with other offices at Cornell as needed to gather additional information.

Find the contact information for your field of interest.

If you still have questions after talking to your graduate field, contact the Graduate Admissions Office for more information.