Being able to communicate effectively is of vital importance to your success at business school and in your career. As most Master in Management (MiM) programs are taught in English, proficiency is essential to securing a place — even at business schools in countries where English is not the first language.
One way for schools to assess English competency is via the TOEFL, one of the most popular English-language tests, which is used by more than 10,000 universities, colleges and agencies in over 150 countries.
Students typically come to an MiM course from a wide range of nationalities and cultures, so having one unifying language in which to converse is essential to the learning and networking experience.
Schools also know that communication skills are coveted by employers and that the dominant business language is English. For the schools, offering programs in English can help to attract more international students who want to learn the lingo.
“Some form of English Language evaluation is necessary to determine the likelihood of success in a business degree program, given the heavy emphasis programs…place on business communications,” says Shari Hubert, associate dean for admissions at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business, which runs one of the highest-ranked MiMs globally.
She adds: “If the goal is to…work within an English-speaking organization, it’s critical that one have a solid understanding of English.”
If English is not your first language, or you are not fluent, taking the TOEFL—or the IELTS, another common English-language test used in Master in Management admissions—can be a good way to spot areas of weakness and brush up on those all-important communication skills. Many people, even in their native language, can find it difficult to convey their ideas clearly and concisely.
However, finding the time to study for the TOEFL can be a real challenge for MiM candidates, who often are wrapping up an undergraduate degree and working competitive internships at the time of applying to business school — not to mention working on the other elements of what is a lengthy application process.
“The test itself is a nice spotlight on where to focus, but it’s the hard work and practice that you have to put into learning the language that may…increase your chances of securing employment, as well as then being successful in an organization,” says Hubert.
For candidates whose English is not up to scratch, Duke Fuqua offers an English language “boot camp” — an intensive, two-week course before the MiM starts. The school also offers English language coaching throughout the program for students who need extra support.
Many candidates do not take the TOEFL seriously enough because they have spent brief periods of time living in an English-speaking nation. But the TOEFL tests an applicant’s ability to read, speak, listen and write — they need to be far more than conversational to do well on the exam.
“Many applicants are told that the test is ‘easy’ and don’t learn that it is all relative until quite late in the game,” says Jeremy Shinewald, founder and president of mbaMission, an admissions consulting firm. “Unfortunately, language skills can’t be picked up that quickly — it is important to get ahead of the game early on and understand where you stand, well in advance of test day.”
Alex Min, CEO of The MBA Exchange admissions firm, says that top-tier business schools expect a minimum TOEFL score of 90, with the most selective looking for scores higher than 100. “Since most MiM applicants seek admission before gaining full-time work experience, the overall academic profile is the key component of a candidacy,” he says.
Many schools publish their minimum TOEFL scores, but aiming for the minimum is rarely good enough, according to Min. “Assuming two otherwise equally qualified and accomplished applicants, the one with a higher TOEFL score is more
likely to get accepted,” he says.
He advises candidates to take practice tests, converse often and at length with native English speakers, and consider hiring a professional TOEFL tutor.
But he adds that the test is probably the least important requirement for MiM acceptance. “So an astute candidate should not devote excessive time and effort to prep for the TOEFL, if that means spending less time and effort preparing for the GMAT, GRE or essays.”
ESMT Berlin requests that MiM candidates score a minimum of 95 on the TOEFL, “but if it is lower and the applicant’s English is fine in the interview, then this is not an issue,” says Boban Sulic, senior admissions manager. “In our admission process, we are very flexible when it comes to TOEFL, or any other English proficiency test.”
Do you have to take the TOEFL for an MiM application?
Sulic says that candidates can ask for a TEOFL waiver in certain instances, for example if they graduated from a university at which English is spoken, or have worked in an English-speaking environment. “Students have to prove their skills in interviews and assessment tests that go beyond TOEFL requirements,” says Sulic.
Duke Fuqua encourages but does not require the TOEFL. Between 10-20 percent of the school’s applicants provide a TOEFL score. Fuqua’s candidates do not have to take the TOEFL if have previously studied at a four-year US institution, or are a US citizen or a permanent resident.
Hubert points out that there are several other ways admissions teams can gauge an applicant’s ability to read, write, comprehend and speak in another language, such as the GMAT or GRE, written essays, recommendations, and the interview.
Shinewald concludes that once a certain TOEFL threshold is achieved, “then all other aspects of the application become far more important as differentiators”.