English Language Requirement

Labj photoAcademic success at USC is strongly dependent upon the ability to communicate in English. Listening, speaking, reading and writing proficiency must be well developed in order to assimilate large amounts of difficult material under limited time conditions with full comprehension. Such proficiency is much greater than that required for ordinary everyday living. Therefore, every effort should be made to acquire English proficiency prior to entering the university.

Admitted international students are normally required to take the International Student English (ISE) Examination at the beginning of the first term of study. The results of the examination determine whether or not students must take courses in English.

Any student not demonstrating adequate English proficiency will be required to enroll in the American Language Institute (ALI) at USC. ALI provides courses designed to improve an international student’s oral and writing skills in English. The extent to which a student may be required to take courses at the ALI is determined by his or her performance on the ISE Exam. After completing the ISE Exam, some students may have no ALI requirement, and others may be required to take ALI courses concurrently with their regular USC courses. Students may be required to enroll in additional ALI classes beyond their initial ISE placement based on their level of placement and progress in their ALI classes.

ALI tuition units are charged at the regular university rate. Current rates are listed for each semester in the USC Schedule of Classes. Entering students who need to take English language classes should be aware that the ALI course requirements may add to the overall length and cost of their degree program. Undergraduates may earn up to 12 units of credit toward their degree for ALI courses numbered 100 and above. Some departmental restrictions may apply. Graduate students will not be able to count ALI course work as credit toward their degree. ALI classes can normally be taken concurrently with a student’s other university classes and must be completed at the earliest opportunity.

Students who meet the following conditions may not be required to take the ISE Exam:

  • Ph.D. and undergraduate students who have achieved an Internet Based TOEFL (iBT) score of 100, with no less than 20 on each sub-score; or an IELTS score of 7, with no less than 6 on each band score, taken within the past 2 years.*
  • Students admitted to master’s degree programs who have achieved an iBT score of 90, with no less than 20 on each sub-score; or an IELTS score of 6.5, with no less than 6 on each band score, taken within the past 2 years.*
  • Students who hold a bachelor’s degree from a regionally accredited university located in the United States or in another country in which English is both the language of instruction and the only official language of the country. The entire program (typically 4 years) must be completed in the qualifying country. Please note: a graduate degree from a U.S. college or university does not exempt students from taking the ISE Exam.
  • Students whose native language is English.

* Some departments may have higher requirements for English proficiency than what is listed above. USC must receive scores electronically from the testing service for them to be considered official. Photocopies or paper copies of scores are not acceptable. Scores must be received no later than the Friday before classes begin. Students should contact the American Language Institute (ALI) Office  before the deadline to confirm that their scores have been received.


For students with disabilities, please contact the office of Disability Services and Programs (DSP) for accommodation requests.