ESL Policy

Why Do We Require Strong English Skills?

Strong English skills are very important for success at the Conservatory or any school in the United States. In fact, the U.S. government requires that all students applying for an F-1 student visa show that they have strong enough English proficiency for their course of study.

English is the language used for instruction at the Conservatory, and strong language skills will therefore allow you to learn more and get more out of your time and tuition dollars. A strong command of the English language will allow you to:

  • Understand what your teachers are saying, helping you to learn
  • Complete required readings and write high-level academic papers with less effort and greater success
  • Make connections with future colleagues and employers from around the world
  • Be a part of campus life at Boston Conservatory at Berklee and feel more comfortable with U.S. culture

Because of this, all non-native speakers of English must submit a TOEFL or IELTS score with their application for admission to the Conservatory (click here for test score requirements). This will help us determine if your English ability is high enough for you to succeed in your studies here.

Students who are not able to earn a high enough TOEFL or IELTS score for admission may be invited to enroll in Berklee’s Music and English Intensive Program, which combines full-time ESL coursework with private music/dance lessons and chamber music/ensemble opportunities. Click here for additional information about MEIP.

Study English, Not "the TOEFL"

Many applicants believe that if they can only get a high enough test score, everything will be fine. They study very hard just to get the highest score possible. There are also many schools that offer special training for passing the TOEFL test. This is the wrong way to go! Instead, spend your time learning how to speak, listen, read, and write in English, since these are the skills you will need as a student. A strong TOEFL score will surely follow, and you will be ready for your studies in the United States. Students who study only for the TOEFL and earn a high score but cannot communicate in English often have trouble once they arrive here and begin their studies.

ESL Placement Testing upon Arrival

All new students who are non-native speakers of English are required to take an ESL placement test during orientation, regardless of their TOEFL/IELTS score. This test includes grammar, vocabulary, and listening comprehension sections, as well as a writing evaluation and a face-to-face interview with one of the Conservatory's ESL teachers. Based on your score on the ESL placement test, one of three things will happen:

  • You may be excused from taking ESL classes. Only the strongest students who can communicate easily and fluently and who can read and write very well, demonstrating a solid command of the language, are exempted from ESL.
  • You may be placed in one of the four levels of ESL for degree-seeking students at the Conservatory: Intermediate A or B or Advanced A or B. Placement in ESL coursework makes these courses required for your degree. Students in ESL classes have some restrictions on their enrollment in other required classes and may find it challenging to complete their degree in two or four years, especially if they start at the intermediate level.
  • You may be placed in our Music and English Intensive Program (MEIP), a full-time ESL program for musicians. Students placed in MEIP will not be able to begin their academic programs and will experience delays in completing their degrees. MEIP students attend 18 hours of ESL instruction per week and have weekly private music/dance lessons with a Conservatory faculty member. Instrumentalists also participate in chamber music, while voice students join a Conservatory choral ensemble. Students will be tested at the end of the term to see if their English proficiency has improved enough for admission to a degree program.
ESL Requirements and Information
  • Boston Conservatory at Berklee provides four levels of ESL instruction: Intermediate A and B and Advanced A and B. Students enrolled in the bachelor's or master's programs must complete Advanced B in order to earn their degrees. Students in G.P.D. programs must complete Intermediate B to satisfy the ESL requirement.
  • Intermediate ESL classes meet for eight hours per week and are very intensive. Advanced ESL classes meet for four hours per week and are designed to support students with their other academic coursework, such as Writing About Music for master's students.
  • All required ESL classes (graduate or undergraduate) must be passed with a B- grade or better in order to advance to the next level.
  • ESL placement limits students' ability to enroll in academic classes. Students in Intermediate ESL may not enroll in any liberal arts, music history, or graduate writing/history courses. Students in Advanced ESL may only take one course per semester.
  • For undergraduate students in ESL: Up to three credits of Intermediate ESL may be applied to liberal arts elective requirements; Advanced ESL replaces the writing workshop requirement, allowing students to move into sophomore-level liberal arts courses upon successful completion of Advanced ESL.
  • For graduate students in ESL: All ESL courses are considered remedial, and credit for these courses cannot be applied to other degree requirements.
  • Students who are placed in Intermediate ESL will be academically advised by the director of international student services in collaboration with the student's artistic advisor.