Evidence that International Undergraduates Can Succeed Academically Despite Struggling with English


  • Barry Fass-Holmes University of California-San Diego, United States
  • Allison A. Vaughn San Diego State University, United States




academic success, English as a second language, grade point average, international undergraduates, TOEFL, writing


Many American universities require international applicants whose native language is not English to submit English proficiency exam scores presumably because of proficiency’s potential to predict future academic success. The present study provides evidence, however, that such applicants can succeed academically despite struggling with English. Over 60% of two cohorts of degree-seeking international freshmen at a West Coast public university struggled with English—they failed the university’s English writing proficiency requirement. These international freshmen consequently were required to attend classes in English composition and/or English as a second language. Their average academic marks in these classes were between D+ and C- (18–45% earned less than C), yet their term grade point averages (which excluded the community college classes) were between B and B+. The present findings indicate that these international undergraduates can succeed academically despite apparently inadequate English proficiency.

Author Biographies

Barry Fass-Holmes, University of California-San Diego, United States

BARRY FASS-HOLMES received his Ph.D. in Psychology from Clark University. He currently is the Analytical Studies Coordinator for the International Students & Programs Office in the International Center at the University of California, San Diego. His research focuses on international students’ academic achievement. We thank Lynn C. Anderson, Dulce Amor L. Dorado, Matthew Kearney, and Dr. Kirk Simmons for their helpful suggestions. 

Allison A. Vaughn, San Diego State University, United States

ALLISON A. VAUGHN received her Ph.D. in Psychology from the University of Utah. She is an assistant professor in the Psychology Department at San Diego State University. Her research interests include social relationships, (friends, significant others, work colleagues), mental health (anxiety, depression), physical health (cardiovascular functioning; e.g., blood pressure and heart rate), and student achievement. 




How to Cite

Fass-Holmes, B., & Vaughn, A. A. (2015). Evidence that International Undergraduates Can Succeed Academically Despite Struggling with English. Journal of International Students, 5(3), 228–243. https://doi.org/10.32674/jis.v5i3.418



Research Articles (English)