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International Students and UC English Proficiency

International students, understandably, worry a great deal about fulfilling the UC English course requirements. Without successful completion, they cannot transfer to the University of California. The UC minimum requirement is two English composition courses. So how does an international fulfill this?

Here’s a quick and dirty breakdown of the rules.

International students transferring direct to a UC
If the language of instruction at your foreign institution is NOT English, then no English courses taken at the institution will fulfill the English composition requirement. Again, if your language of instruction was not English you cannot fulfill this requirement with coursework. Foreign applicants applying directly to a UC will need to take either the TOEFL or IELTS exams.

International students transferring from a CCC
If you are an international student transferring from a CCC, you have a much easier path toward English proficiency. Simply by taking the two English courses required at your CCC, you will have proven English proficiency and will need nothing else. However, there is a caveat, as various UCs have certain grade requirements regarding the two classes:

  • Berkeley, Davis, Irvine, Riverside, Santa Barbara:
    You must receive the standard grade of C or better in both English courses.
  • UCLA, Merced, San Diego, Santa Cruz:
    Here’s the trickier one. You must receive a grade of B or better in both English courses.

Assuming the above conditions are met, you do not need TOEFL or IELTS. However, if you get below a B at UCLA, Merced, San Diego or Santa Cruz, you need to discuss the situation with a UC specialist, because the odds are you will need to take TOEFL or IELTS.

Language other than English 
Moving on to foreign language, if you’re on the IGETC general education track you must fulfill what is called Language Other Than English (LOTE). This essentially means the UCs want to see another language. This should be a cinch for most internationals as all you need to do is bring a high school transcript to your CCC advisor showing at least two years of instruction in a language other than English. (It must be the same language.) You are then signed off as having fulfilled LOTE.

If you do not have two years of one language, there are testing options and other possibilities. For instance, if you have completed nine years of education taught in your native language (including one year of high school) you may receive credit for native language/literature course if they are upper division level. Additionally, you may possibly receive credit for upper division language/literature courses taught in U.S. English speaking institutions. However, you will not receive credit for any lower-division language courses that are in your native language. In other words, if your primary language of instruction is Spanish, you will not receive lower-division language credit for Spanish. (There are some possible exceptions if a lower-division course was only literature-based.)

As you can see it’s complicated, and the only way to know the outcome of your unique situation (if you do not have two years of instruction in your native language) is to work closely with a UC international specialist.  Don’t second-guess anything (even this blog post). Reach out.

Juts know that transferring via a CCC not only eliminates a lot of this worry, it also assures a much better end result, as international transfer students are overwhelmingly admitted from California community colleges, rather than foreign institutions.


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Lindy is an independent UC admissions consultant, who works with both transfers and freshmen. She also has just completed her first novel, a supernatural thriller set in San Francisco.

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