Don't Let TOEFL Determine Your Choice of School

Jon Hodge is the owner of Strictly English TOEFL Tutors.

I ask all our clients when they begin studying for the TOEFL, "what schools are you applying to?" I ask this because we need to know from the start what TOEFL score the student will need. If they want to attend Harvard Business School, they will need a 109, but if they want to attend Suffolk for an MBA, then they will only need an 80. Obviously, this will change the amount of time they need to prepare and the way we customize the student's course of study.

One answer to this question always surprises me. Every once in a while I get a student who says, "I'm not deciding on what schools to apply to until I get my TOEFL results." The applicants then explain that they will apply to the schools that have TOEFL requirements equal to their scores.

Let me make this very clear: This is a very bad way to choose the schools you will apply to.

First of all, a large part of your admissions file is your personal statement or statement of purpose that explains, among other things, why you want to attend the school you're applying to. Schools use this part of the essay to determine if you're serious about their program specifically. If the only reason you've chosen their school is because it matches your TOEFL score, then you will have nothing substantial to say about their program and why you like it better than other programs. Sure, you could invent some reason by looking at their website and finding something to talk about, but admissions offices can always tell when a student doesn't have a genuine passion for the school they are applying to.

Second, keep in mind that you'll want to be working on all of your admissions materials at the same time. You should be studying for the TOEFL while you're also working on your letters and other standardized tests. If you are waiting for your TOEFL results before applying to schools, you will most likely be left with very little time to prepare the rest of your materials. Especially because the students who decide to let their TOEFL score determine the schools they apply to are also the students who keep taking the TOEFL over and over again until the last minute. And this leaves them no time to craft powerful resumes and statements of purpose.

But let's stop here for a minute and think harder about the fact that applicants who want their TOEFL score to pick their schools are also the people who keep taking the TOEFL. Why take the TOEFL over and over again if you don't care what school you go to? Repeatedly taking the TOEFL suggests that these people really do have a goal they are trying to achieve, a school they passionately want to attend, but they are afraid to admit it, or they are afraid of failure.

If it were really true that they didn't mind that their TOEFL score would determine the schools they were going to apply to, then they would simply take the test once and, with their results in hand, they would pick their schools. In fact, they would be the first to complete and submit their applications! But this is not the case.

Therefore, I encourage everyone who picks their schools based on their TOEFL scores to question this decision. What might really be behind this presumably "practical" choice? Most likely, you do have a school that you feel passionate about. Don't be afraid to go for it! Work hard to raise your TOEFL results to the score you need for the school you love. You'll need this kind of dedication and perseverance once you're in graduate school anyway, so it's a good thing to begin training yourself now to achieve your goals. With the right support, you can achieve anything, even a high TOEFL score!