Pathway Programs for International Students

by Matthew Sweeney

Updated September 9, 2022 • 6 min read is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

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Pathway programs can help students from all over the globe gain the English language proficiency they need to succeed in academia.

Many world-class degree programs are taught exclusively in English, and non-native English speakers can struggle in these courses. If you're in this group, you might consider applying to a university pathway program at an English-speaking institution in the U.S., U.K., Canada, Australia, or New Zealand.

Pathway programs are an increasingly popular way for schools to offer resources to driven, international English language-learner (ELL) students. Read on for more information about what to expect when considering university pathway programs as part of your degree path.

What Is a University Pathway Program?

University pathway programs are academic preparation programs tailored to international ELL students. These programs help international students who cannot meet the English proficiency requirements for regular admission to develop their English skills in pursuit of degrees.

These programs also allow international learners to test-run the educational experience in a different culture before full-time enrollment. Students can also use scholarship programs to help pay for pathway programs. Once enrollees complete a pathway program, they can often enroll directly in the school where they studied or apply to other schools.

What Are Pathway Courses?

A pathway experience combines English language development, study skills, and general education coursework. Most colleges and universities offering pathway courses also allow students to customize their pathway track to fit certain majors, including business, engineering, and health sciences.

Students often enroll in pathway programs as part of a cohort, allowing them to build relationships with other international students and with faculty at the school. Some programs also include online courses.

What Does the Student Journey Look Like in a Pathway Program?

To start your pathway student journey, you must apply to a program, using your academic transcripts and any required English test scores. You may also need to obtain a student visa.

Once you settle in, you can get a feel for the campus and your cohort. You may find classes difficult, but you will receive constant support from your dedicated advisor and instructors. Most programs include about 20 hours of coursework and homework time, so prepare for that.

Some pathway programs conclude with a final standardized English test, such as the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) or the International English Language Testing System (IELTS). Not all programs require a final exam.

The next steps depend on your country and program. Admission to a college or university is not always guaranteed, though it is usually likely.

Quick Guide to English-Language Pathway Programs

English pathway programs vary by requirements, length, and post-completion outcomes. Some English-speaking countries' pathway programs occur at specialized language schools, while other countries host these programs in conventional university settings.

Pathway Programs in the United States

U.S. pathway programs allow ELL students who have not passed the TOEFL to improve their English skills while participating in the U.S. college and university experience. International students who enroll in these programs typically want to study in the U.S. but first need to improve their English skills and acclimate to American culture.

Pathway programs in the U.S. generally last a year and take place in conventional two-year, four-year, or technical universities. Students in these programs participate in both class discussion and campus culture, while also taking general education courses in the humanities, sciences, and social sciences.

Successfully completing a pathway course usually increases learners' chances of gaining admission to the host school, though admission is not guaranteed.

Pathway Programs in the United Kingdom

U.K. pathway programs, known as foundation courses, cover general academic subjects, study skills, and English language development for international students entering undergraduate programs.

These pathway programs take a year to complete and often cater to international students who are building English proficiency and have already chosen undergraduate programs at U.K. schools. Applicants usually need a 4.5 IELTS score before they can take foundation courses in the U.K.

Foundation courses in the U.K. typically cover art, business, engineering, and social sciences. At most public colleges and universities, completing the program guarantees admission to the host school. There are also private international schools that offer foundational courses in the U.K., and these schools allow students to apply to other U.K. institutions after graduating.

Pathway Programs in Canada

Pathway programs in Canada allow international students with insufficient English or French skills to prepare for degrees at Canadian universities. Typically, pathway programs in Canada take place at a separate Canadian Designated Learning Institution from the four-year institution that the student will eventually attend.

After completing a pathway program, international students usually receive guaranteed admission at one of the many schools that have agreements with these language institutions.

Canadian pathway programs generally take six months to a year to complete. International students in programs that will last more than six months usually need to apply for Canadian study permits. Even in programs shorter than six months, international students still need temporary resident visas or electronic travel authorization.

Pathway Programs in Australia

Pathway programs for international students in Australia are also called foundation courses. In Australia, these programs usually last one year and can take place in technical institutes, traditional universities, and specialty foundation course schools.

Learners typically take foundation courses in particular tracks, such as business, health science, or humanities. Schools in Australia usually offer foundation courses through traditional lectures and tutorials with extra English language support.

Some foundation courses in Australia promise guaranteed admission to specific programs, such as engineering or business undergraduate degrees, upon completion. Some schools offer foundation courses in a nine-month, accelerated format, and many provide added flexibility by allowing students to start at different times of the year with varying levels of English proficiency.

Pathway Programs in New Zealand

Most foundation programs in New Zealand take place through the University of Auckland or Taylors College, though the programs are recognized by all institutions of higher education in New Zealand, including technical colleges. Foundation program enrollees complete coursework in technology, business, and the performing arts.

Typically, admission to a foundation program requires at least a 6.0 in IELTS proficiency. A New Zealand foundation program typically takes 8-18 months to complete and guarantees admission to an undergraduate or certificate program at any New Zealand higher education institution. Some New Zealand schools also offer scholarships for foundation program graduates.

Graduate Pathway Program in the United States

Graduate pathway programs in the United States are largely tailored to international students who have four-year degrees from their home countries and need further English development to transition into U.S. graduate programs. These selective programs demand intense academic rigor from applicants, though some may offer conditional admission for candidates who lack the necessary English skills and minimum 3.0 GPAs.

A graduate pathway program usually lasts about a year. Course topics typically include business, English, and the humanities. Depending on the program, learners can sometimes expect direct admission to graduate programs upon completion of their pathway studies, depending on their GPAs and English skills.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can a Foreigner Study in the United States?

Yes. After choosing a school, foreign students usually need to take the TOEFL and submit those scores with their applications. After gaining admission, enrollees need to apply for student visas using I-20 forms sent by their schools.

Do You Have To Speak English To Live in the United States?

Strong English skills make it much easier to live and work in the United States, although many professions are shifting toward multilingual workplaces. There is no official language in the United States, but most people speak English.

Which English Exam Is Required for Study in the United States?

U.S. colleges and universities typically require international student applicants to pass the TOEFL or IELTS exams. Pathway programs usually require a minimum IELTS score.

Which Type of IELTS Is Required for U.S. Universities?

Learners looking to study in the U.S. need to take the IELTS Academic exam. U.S. universities typically look for scores of at least 6.0.

What Challenges Do College Students Face?

College students face challenges both inside and outside the classroom. Difficulties with coursework may accompany limitations brought on by mental health or other medical issues, limits on one's time, or a lack of financial support.

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