We know how important it is to create a diverse learning environment, so we invited Beau Benson, Northeastern’s Senior Associate Director of International Recruitment in the Office of Undergraduate Admission, to explain how choosing to accept DET scores helped Northeastern University tap into a diverse pool of international applicants.

Students need pathway to success

Northeastern University takes pride in its efforts to embrace student diversity and foster an inclusive campus community. With a focus on promoting cross-cultural understanding and enriching educational experiences, the university has implemented a range of initiatives to further diversify its student body.

Our international students in particular are an integral part of our diverse student body, bringing with them cross-cultural experiences from all around the world. Recruiting such a broad and diverse international student body starts with our admissions office: we believe that the brightest minds and greatest ideas can come from anywhere — and we must strive to make sure they come from everywhere.

Yet international students seeking to study abroad face many hurdles. For example, English language testing remains a massive and frustrating barrier to studying abroad, given the significant test costs and the inaccessibility of test centers. We realized that for us to truly reach our goals of having a diverse international student body, we needed to eliminate some of the barriers which were in place.

Photo courtesy of Northeastern University

The DET appeals to students from diverse backgrounds

Back in 2016, Northeastern was the very first university to adopt the Duolingo English Test (DET) for assessing English proficiency. The DET is an accessible and affordable test of English that is now used by over 4,500 universities around the world. We started accepting DET scores because we knew how important it was for students to have an accessible option for English proficiency testing.

Not only has the response from students been overwhelmingly positive, we’ve also seen a substantial upward trend among international applicants from underrepresented backgrounds*. Take a look at the table below, which summarizes self-reported ethnicity data from Northeastern’s international applicant pool for academic years 2020-2024:

* Defined as Black, Hispanic, Hawaiian/Pacific Islander, and Indigenous.

Applicants who took the DET come from a much broader range of ethnic backgrounds, with 20% of applicants hailing from an underrepresented background compared to only 7% or 4% for other tests. This trend was also mirrored among students actually admitted to Northeastern, with over 23% of admitted DET students coming from underrepresented backgrounds.

What makes the DET so appealing to students from underrepresented backgrounds applying to Northeastern University? It isn’t a question of ability; the data also shows that these underrepresented applicants on average score higher on the DET than other applicants. They also score higher on the SAT than underrepresented applicants who take other English language tests.

Instead, it’s about access. The DET’s innovative and accessible nature gives our  international student community a convenient way to showcase their English proficiency. With its adaptive format and quick results, the DET provides a reliable assessment that caters to the needs of our international applicants and aids in their successful academic journey.

Small changes can have big impact

Northeastern’s commitment to a diverse student body permeates at many different levels. As shown, something as simple as adopting a more inclusive, accessible English language testing policy can have a profound effects on who’s able to apply. We hope this helps pave the way for a more equitable and empowering educational and language testing landscape.