Is Your English Level High Enough to Study Abroad?

What is your level of English? B1, B2, or even C1? If so, your level completely meets the admission requirements.


Eighty points on the TOEFL or a 5-6 on the IELTS is not enough to allow you to reveal your full academic potential. You may not believe it, but it’s true.

In this article, we will:

  • Explain why high English proficiency test scores do not guarantee high in-class performance
  • Reveal common problems that international students face in their destination countries
  • Share some secrets on how to overcome the language barrier

Internalization or Profiteering: Why Do Institutions Lower the Admission Requirements?

The fact that educational institutions across the globe lower their admission requirements for international students is not exactly shocking news. Let’s find out why this happens.

There are a few reasons for artificially lowered admission requirements:

  • A demographic drop in the number of 18-year-olds in top destination countries. Numerous reports show a decline in the number of 18-year-olds compared to older people. To explain this phenomenon, let’s look back to the 1990s and early 2000s.

For example, in the UK, average fertility rates dropped from 1.83 children per woman in the 1990s to 1.63 children per woman in 2000 and 2001.

Similar tendencies can be seen in most developed countries like the USA, Canada, Australia, Japan, and so on.

To close this gap among domestic students, universities in these countries are seeking new ways of recruiting—and one of them is to lower admission criteria for foreigners.

The median age of the australian population

Source:[email protected]/0/1CD2B1952AFC5E7ACA257298000F2E76?OpenDocument
  • A desire to earn more money. Another reason to decrease the requirements for international students may seem too prosaic, but it’s true. On average, international students pay two or even three times as much as their domestic peers.

A clear example of this can be found in a Daily Telegraph investigation: Chinese students with three С grades on their A-levels were admitted to elite UK universities, while at the same time, their domestic peers with higher grades did not get an offer.

In fact, it’s not only institutions that benefit from lowered admission requirements. International students make a significant contribution to the economies of destination countries. They rent apartments, buy food at local grocery stores and restaurants, and pay for healthcare and medical insurance. On average, an international student’s living expenses vary from $15,000 to $30,000 per year. Thus, the longer a student stays in the destination country, the more money is being spent there. Just think about these figures: Chinese students spend $56 billion annually on education abroad.

Another reason why institutions may profiteer is a lack of budgetary funding. Universities and colleges lower not only academic but also language requirements. Below, we will show you why a TOEFL of 70-90 points and an IELTS of 6-7 are not enough to thrive academically.

English Level B1 is not Enough: Common Issues International Students Experience

You could say that the problems of an institution’s profit do not bother you. After all, the main goal of your education abroad is to obtain high-quality knowledge and skills.

But here’s the deal:

The required levels of English, B1 and B2, will not save you from the language barrier or the many other common problems faced by international students.

International students experience a lot of issues upon arrival in their destination countries, and here are some of them:

  • Culture shock

Every country has its own culture. And it’s not only about cuisine, historical places, music, and so forth. We’re talking about the different manners and rules that influence how people in a certain country treat each other.

Culture shock diagram



You might be aware of the particularly notable differences like food, behavior, and clothes, but you’ll probably still miss some important details like attitudes to business and academics, how people decide what is important, and how time is observed.

You may find that people in your new country have a completely different approach to core values, assumptions, and beliefs. Such a discovery can be surprising and stressful.

  • Language and social barriers

Social and language barriers are among the most common issues that international students experience.

International students often feel helpless when it comes to establishing a social network in their destination country. Most newcomers hang out with people from their home countries, and it’s hard for them to make new friends among domestic students.

Common stressful situations



Students struggle with language and insufficient adjustment, and they tend to participate in university social activities less than native speakers.

Other factors that may negatively affect an international student’s social life are shyness and a lack of communication skills. Students may feel too awkward to join in on the discussions of their native-speaking classmates. They may feel isolated, and even a simple task like shopping or going to the library might be too stressful due to the language barrier.

  • Study stress

Other problems that international students face due to a lack of English proficiency are study-related stress and anxiety.

Take a look at these quick facts: 50% of international students experience high levels of anxiety, 75% feel more stressed than their domestic peers, and 34.5% experience varying levels of depression.

International students have to produce dozens and dozens of assignments. The lack of language skills and tough professor requirements result in more time spent on homework and lead to an increase in stress levels.

Want to learn more about study stress? Check out this guide for students!

  • Academic problems

Constantly speaking, listening, and writing in a foreign language is a daunting task. International students often have trouble understanding lecture materials and reading assigned books. They also tend to skip in-class activities such as debates and group work. Both professors and domestic students speak quickly, and foreigners feel embarrassed to ask them to repeat what they said.

Sayuri japanese student in the US

As you can see, most international student problems arise due to a lack of English proficiency.

You may say: “But I’ve passed the required test!”


Most language prep courses are designed to train you to solve only those tasks similar to the ones you’ll have to complete during these exams. Moreover, the overwhelming majority of IELTS and TOEFL teachers are ESL speakers, and some of them have never been outside of their home country. Needless to say, the quality of such courses typically leaves much to be desired.

Now that you’re aware of the most common problems that international students experience, we’re going to reveal a few key lifehacks on how to deal with these issues.

How to Overcome Language Barrier and Related Problems

As we mentioned above, the language barrier can cause a lot of problems. But the IvyPanda team is always here to help you. Check out our experts’ advice on how to deal with language-related issues that may arise when you enter your destination country:

1. Prepare for future studies. In most cases, you will search for language prep courses. Before you enroll, do some thorough research on companies and tutors that provide such services. The best option for you would be to enroll in a prep course at a language school in your destination country or to take a preparation year. The vast majority of institutions offer such programs for future students. Why you should do this? Simple. Taking a preparation course will allow you to learn more about the education system, meet your future professors, and dive into the university or college culture.

At the same time, if you have not yet decided on your college or university, you can still spend a couple of months at a language school in your destination country. You will learn a new language and also immerse yourself in a foreign culture. You may pick up not only IELTS or TOEFL prep courses but also vacation or subject-specific programs like English + Football, English for Business, etc.

By the way, with an IvyPanda subscription, you will get access to study guides and sample papers written by experienced academic experts. Check them out to receive guidance on how to write academic papers and excel in your studies.

Hana Korean student in the US

2. Read a lot and start a journal. The more English books, newspapers, journals, and websites you read, the more new words you’ll learn. You can also start a journal or a blog where you express your opinion about what you’ve read and thus improve both writing and reading skills.

3. Practice speaking English on a daily basis. You can join English club meetings in your city or even try online games where players actively communicate with others.

4. Actively participate in class and other social activities. Don’t skip in-class or other student activities. The more you engage in debates and participate in various organizations and events, the better your English speaking skills will become.

Dee Singh indian student in Canada

5. Do not hesitate to seek professional advice and counselling. Most universities and colleges abroad provide academic support and coaching to their students. At the same time, if you experience study stress and anxiety, you should contact a licensed counsellor. By the way, you can check your stress levels right now by taking our quiz.

Now you know why B1-B2 English levels may not guarantee your academic success. However, we hope that this article will help you overcome the language barrier with ease.

Irene Fenswick
Irene Fenswick

Irene Fenswick is a freelance writer and blogger with a Master's degree in English Literature. She has been working as an academic advisor for undergraduate students for five years and she is willing to share her knowledge about writing. Irene has 15+ years of expertise in solving academic-related issues.

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