In an effort to expand accessibility for international applicants, Oberlin will begin accepting the Duolingo English Test as supplementary application material. Duolingo, a popular language learning app, offers the test separately from its language learning software.
The Duolingo English Test competes with the two currently most-used tests for international applicants: the Test of English as a Foreign Language and the International English Language Testing System. While many major institutions already accept Duolingo’s test for the English language testing requirement, for now, Oberlin will only accept the test as supplementary material.
“We are still in the exploration phase,” said Senior Assistant Director of Admissions Jim Caldarise. “We would love to see what students are sending in and what scores we are seeing.”
Although traditional foreign language exams are still required for most international admissions, Oberlin hopes to move toward allowing students to send in the Duolingo tests as an alternative to the TOEFL or the IELTS in the future. Submitting at least one of these tests is required for applicants whose first language is not English.
“We want to see [if] it is as accurate at assessing and predicting a student’s language ability as the TOEFL and IELTS,” said Senior Assistant Director of Admissions Sophie Mettler-Grove, who is responsible for international student recruitment.
The Duolingo test has become popular in the admissions world in the past few years because many see it as much more accessible than the TOEFL.
“It provides a level of access for international students that previously was not the case,” Caldarise said. “The TOEFL and IELTS are actually not offered in several countries, and if they are offered, in certain countries they may only be offered in the capital city, which could be hours or a flight away. They are typically offered on very limited dates, and they are extremely expensive exams.”
The cost of a TOEFL test varies based on country but can be around $200. Andreea Procopan, a College first-year from Moldova, says that on top of this cost, her friends back home had to pay for prep classes.
“With tests like the TOEFL you need to take it multiple times,” Procopan said.
For students that cannot afford to take the test more than once, cost presents additional challenges.
“[That] puts a lot more pressure on you [which] that affects your score as well,” Procopan added.
College fourth-year Kelley Zhong, who is from China, had to travel to Hong Kong to take the TOEFL.
“I just took the bus and traveled three hours,” she said. “It’s not that hard, but I had to stay the night.”
The Duolingo English test costs $49 and is taken entirely online. By accepting the Duolingo exam as an admissions supplement, Oberlin hopes to offset the financial burden of applying to the school as an international student.
“The Duolingo test is significantly cheaper,” Caldarise said. “It can also be taken anywhere that there is a stable internet connection.”
Part of the test is a video component that students can send to schools. Oberlin already accepts video interviews to gauge English levels, and Caldarise says that the video component of the Duolingo English Test is very beneficial from an admissions standpoint.
“It is a really good way for us to assess the verbal and spoken level of English, which is often very difficult to ascertain from a written test,” said Caldarise.
There are other aspects of the Duolingo test that make it more financially accessible than the competing options.
“Duolingo is generous in providing institutions with several fee waivers for applicants who face a financial barrier to taking the test,” Mettler-Grove said.
Although the impact of accepting the Duolingo exam at Oberlin is yet to be determined, ultimately, Caldarise and others hope that the Duolingo English Test could be part of a process to increase diversity and equity among international admissions.
“I think it could bring in a different demographic or perhaps provide a wider level of access to students interested in Oberlin,” Caldarise said.