Language Aptitude Test Alienates International Students


Phoebe Kuo, Contributing Writer

NYU prides itself as a university with a growing number of international students, recruited from all reaches of the globe. Its Global Network Program is part of its strongest pitch for prospective students — international or domestic. But, when it comes to the logistics of becoming a Violet, NYU has proven to have a dubious policy in determining language proficiency for those international students already admitted.

The American Language Institute is an organization under NYU School of Professional Study that claims to offer advanced English classes to students who failed to attain a certain level of English proficiency. It claims that its purpose is to help international students prepare for the rigorous curriculum in NYU while avoiding the additional struggle of a language barrier.

This all sounds practical — except for the fact that the ALI charges students for taking their examination. Additionally, if you are among those who have to take full-time or part-time ALI classes in your first semester, you may end up paying up to $13,000 before you are cleared of your requirement. One student who was initially exempt from taking ALI classes arrived in New York only to be demoted to ALI level 8, which forced her back into the classes.

International students already have to submit their Test of English as a Foreign Language to complete their admission process in the first place. But every question sent to the ALI office asking with the additional exam is necessary receives the same boilerplate response: “We feel that TOEFL fails to reflect the true proficiency level of applicants.” But if that’s true, then NYU has no business accepting these test results in the first place. Regardless of the TOEFL scores, all applicants are required to take an ALI examination anyway.

Even the format of the exam is arbitrary. The written part requires the test-taker to write two essays on random topics in 30 minutes, while the online interview is an even more unpredictable conversation with the ALI interviewer. Rather than asking a relevant question — why NYU? — or any other personal questions regarding the application, the interviewer asks you to describe the weather, or whether or not you believe in God.

The results of both the written and speaking parts are confidential, and there are no guidelines or instructions that illustrate how the ALI will evaluate your performance. By the time the test results come back to the applicant, they usually only came with a brief phrase — “ALI Level 4,” or “Does not need to take ALI” — with no justification or breakdown of the results.
Most the schools in the U.S. deem TOEFL sufficient for evaluating English proficiency for international students, and there’s no reason NYU shouldn’t do the same. International students face a number of unique challenges in coming to — and affording — NYU as it is. They do not need a witch-hunt of a language test to further commercialize their college experience.

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Email Phoebe Kuo at [email protected].