Monday, February 24, 2014

[ADMISSIONS EXPERT] Mr. Lawrence "Larry" Bell: Choosing the Best ESL Program for You!

WES Student Advisor: What are some benefits and who would benefit the most from taking an ESL (English as a Second Language) program in the U.S.?

Mainly, an ESL program would be beneficial for students who don’t feel that their English ability is good enough to begin an academic program in the U.S. Students who may have taken the TOEFL and its score is lower than what the university requires can approach English in a more relaxed environment by taking an ESL class. Also, it may be advantageous for graduate students who wish to improve their English fluency and have a better chance for a graduate assistantship to help pay for their studies.

The benefits of starting in an ESL program vary from student to student. First reason may be that you have never been to the U.S. and might want time to adjust to a new language and culture, particularly the academic culture. Secondly, it allows you to make friends in your new school and adjust to the U.S. before your studies begin. Lastly, because ESL courses are not for credit, there is less pressure and more time to adjust.

WES Student Advisor: What are the various types of programs available in the U.S.? How do students know which program best fits their needs and goals?

It will be up to the student to make a decision on what program will be best for them. In the U.S. there are generally three different kinds:

  1. Non-intensive English program
    • This offers more flexible classes and connected to a specialized training program
    • Usually during the summers
    • Generally cannot grant a visa because they are not intensive or full-time study
  2. Intensive English Program
    • Rigorous study of English, often to prepare students for academic studies
    • Usually 18-24 hours per week of classroom learning
  3. Pathway/Bridge/Transitional Program
    • Generally part of a university
    • ESL courses along with academic courses
As you can see in the chart, there are also different settings where these ESL programs are placed. Make sure your criteria are based on your English ability and how much you want to study!

WES Student Advisor: Can you explain the general application process for ESL programs?

The admissions cycle is year-round as most programs can accept students multiple times a year. Also, application processes are different for each school but general criteria are:

  • Biographical data 
  • Academic background
  • Amount of previous English study
  • Proof of financial ability to pay (required by the U.S. government for visa application)

Also, some things to note when applying to ESL programs are:

  1. Most programs do not require a TOEFL score to begin the ESL program
  2. Schools rankings do not have an effect on the admissions criteria
  3. Check if the university with an ESL program has “conditional admission”
    • This allows you to be “conditionally” admitted to a degree program as long as you successfully complete the English language requirement!

WES Student Advisor: Many students are concerned about the cost of a U.S. education experience. Are ESL programs costly? And are there scholarships or financial assistance available for ESL students?

In general, most ESL programs are similar to the cost of an academic degree program at a university. So look at the university tuition per semester and divide it by the amount of weeks you want to study. In terms of paying for the program, most programs do not have scholarships or fellowships available for its students. So as a student, it is very important that you check with your local and government offices for scholarships in your country. Another great resource is to check with an EducationUSA center or U.S. embassy for any additional scholarships for students within your country.


Mr. Lawrence “Larry” Bell is the Director of International Education at the University of Colorado Boulder. He is an ESL (English as a Second Language) Program Expert who ran an intensive English Program for 12 years. He speaks from over 30 years of international higher education experience. Mr. Bell also holds a Master’s degree in Linguistics from Southern Illinois University.

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