How long is an intensive English program?

Ready to get serious about learning English? And have a rich cultural experience?

An Intensive English Program (IEP) immerses you in General English, Academic English, and Business English on a daily basis. To reach your personal goals, an IEP demands a commitment of time and passion. Like exercising at the gym, studying English in an IEP gives greater rewards with greater effort.

First, we’ll look at specific numbers. Then we’ll discuss general concepts.

A typical Intensive English course in the USA runs 5 days a week, Monday through Friday. Most IEPs consist of 18 hours of class time per week or more. The Intensive English program for international students may clock 21 weekly hours.  Some schools offer evening or weekend ESL classes to accommodate the diverse scheduling needs of adult students. 

How does the 18+ hours get divided up? If you’re an international student on an F-1 Visa, your schedule may be Monday through Friday 9:00am to 2:30pm with an hourlong noontime lunch break and Friday afternoons off. That means most days of your Intensive English course have 4.5 hours of classroom time on site with instructors and classmates.

It is common for ESL schools to run monthly sessions. New students  join the ongoing Intensive English course at the beginning of every month. Meanwhile, returning students can continue smoothly month after month improving their English, staying as long as three years. It is also possible for a school to run semester-long sessions with restricted dates of entry resembling a university schedule.

Numbers aside, it’s also your attitude which puts the Intensive in an Intensive English program for international students.

Intensive study means listening, reading, writing, speaking English all day, every day, everywhere. Intensive means immersing yourself in the language AND culture by attending social, arts, and sports events in the evenings and on weekends. Intensive means using English during class AND after class by reading online articles, watching TV shows or movies, and making small talk with new acquaintances in English.

The ideal way to study English in the USA is to live with a host family. Living with a host family exposes you to the natural English of daily life 24/7. You can hear relaxed pronunciation, different regional accents, and idioms you might not find in books or online.

In a host family, you get to know native speakers, share meals, and go out on the town together, so you learn English faster. 

Who are intensive English courses designed for?

Intensive English programs are designed for adults with personal or professional goals related to English. Most IEP students are Beginner (A1/A2) or Intermediate (B1/B2), as defined by the six CEFR levels.

An Intensive English program is best suited for students with the time and focus to commit to English 24/7 for at least a month. As an IEP student, you’re expected to use English in class all day and use English at home and in town all night. That’s the only way to make significant progress. If you have major family or job commitments that take up hours of every day, you may benefit more from part-time ESL classes or private English lessons.

Most Intensive English courses are designed to meet the needs of three types of ESOL students:

  • Young adults learning English for university.
  • Middle-aged or younger adults studying English for career advancement at an international company.
  • Adults taking ESL classes for cultural and community connections while traveling or living in the USA. 

Many Intensive English learning programs mix students with similar English levels from all three groups. College students, business people, and international tourists mingle. That makes Intensive English programs ideal if you’re interested in working with globe-trotting adults from different walks of life.

An IEP is best suited for individuals with basic knowledge of English letters, sounds, and everyday vocabulary. If you’re reading this, you’re definitely good to go! 

Can you say basic phrases about where you live, who you are, or what you know? If so, you can join an Intensive English program for international students at an A1 Beginner level. 

True beginners may not have A1 skills, making them a “pre-A1.”  If you’re able to speak and understand only a few words, you should begin with private lessons instead of an Intensive English program. In private lessons, you can learn how to introduce yourself, identify everyday objects, and give basic information about your life. 

Once you’re a solid A1 user ready to communicate with other A1 users, you’re ready to join an Intensive English course.

Intermediate B1/B2 English users also benefit from the immersive experience of an academic intensive English language program. You’ll develop essential writing skills, vocabulary knowledge, and speaking confidence.

Next we’ll take a look at the scenario of advanced English students in an Intensive English program. 

Is an Intensive English program the best option to learn English at an advanced level?

Let’s say you just scored an 85 on the TOEFL iBT or a 6 on the IELTS. Congratulations! Those are excellent scores, equivalent to a B2 (Upper Intermediate). Many U.S. universities will accept you. You can write a solid essay, give a short presentation, and join a small discussion about your field of study.

But are you really an Advanced user?  Can you not only gain admission but earn a degree at a U.S. university? Can you succeed among native speakers in an unfamiliar culture? Can you thrive and not just survive?

If have met English test requirement without ever experiencing an academic Intensive English Program in the USA, ask yourself: 

  • Can you meet professors’ expectations of academic originality, self-direction, and class participation? 
  • Can you navigate unfamiliar systems to access campus resources like libraries, writing centers, and mental health services, all of which may prove essential to your success? 
  • Will you excel in your classes and build career relationships–or will you struggle through low grades and feel confused and isolated?

The university experience is not just about walking with a piece of paper and points on yourAdvanced ESOL students from the Fulbright Foundation. resume. It’s also about building practical skill sets and making friendships and professional relationships that last a lifetime.

To make the most of higher education opportunities, you need genuine English language proficiency, communication skills, and cultural fluency.

Tests do not perfectly measure any of that. IELTS and TOEFL test prep doesn’t prepare you for the real world. 

The TOEFL and IELTS show certain aspects of English proficiency and test-taking skills, such as choosing the best answer, scanning texts for ideas, or organizing a response to a prompt. But that’s just one piece of academic competence.

And that’s where an Intensive English program can come in to save the day.

The best academic Intensive English courses prepare you for the new environment into which you’ll be thrown. An Intensive English Program in the USA can be a soft place to land before starting your university coursework. 

Think of it as cultural training. Just like a city or a company has a distinct culture, so does a campus or a college.

First off, by joining an IEP you can get comfortable living in a new country. Do you really want your first month in college–which is crazy hard–to also be your first month in a new country–which is also crazy hard?

More importantly, that crazy hard first semester can be much more manageable after an Intensive English Program. In an IEP, you practice active classroom collaboration, independent writing tasks, and public speaking.  

You learn the English phrases and cultural etiquette necessary to do things like visit your professors during their office hours, reach out to colleagues appropriately via email, and debate sensitive issues. Taking notes during a lecture, following fast-talking peers, meeting syllabus deadlines independently–all of this and more goes into academic success. 

College means lots and lots of reading. Are you ready to scan, skim, and analyze hundreds of pages of authentic academic English a week? Academic IEPs train you in active reading for main ideas without getting stuck on every word or doubt. You’ll also gain an understanding of word parts for better vocabulary and an understanding of organization for better reading comprehension.

When you walk into a college class, the professor assumes that you have read the assignments and expects you to come prepared with questions, interpretations, and opinions–that you will actively speak up. An Intensive English program helps you find your voice.

Besides discussing the reading, you’ll need to use your voice to write. It’s not enough to write TOEFL/IELTS style mini-essays. You need to write 3-5 page (sometimes 10+-page) papers with a thesis statement, supporting evidence, and persuasive English. Your ideas need to be your own–your own original analysis with objective evidence and reasoning. 

This takes the confidence that grows from taking risks and learning from mistakes.

In an Intensive English Program you make mistakes before they matter. 

You learn the dos and don’ts of academic research (nope, Wikipedia is not acceptable in college!). Importantly, you learn how to avoid plagiarism, which can really get you in trouble at a university in the USA. To avoid plagiarism, you practice reading multiple sources, paraphrasing text in your own words, and citing sources properly. None of this necessarily happens automatically without the support of .

If you’re planning to attend a  university in September, it’s a good investment so join an Intensive English summer program so you can hit the ground running in the fall. 

With an IEP experience, you’ll be fully confident and comfortable on campus. You can adapt to dorm life, take advantage of free college services, and speak and write English the way your professors expect.

Let’s say you’ve moved beyond B2 and you’re a C1 Advanced with a TOEFL score over 100 and an IELTS score over 7. Most universities, even top schools, will gladly accept your score. As a truly proficient speaker, you can use and understand most native-level English without much effort.

Should you still join an academic Intensive English language program if you’re C1?

Maybe, for the reasons above. Many students with C1 test scores still need support transitioning to a university setting. Advanced users may still have trouble avoiding plagiarism, volunteering during class discussions, and navigating cultural expectations. Individuals who are great at taking English tests may end up struggling in the real world.

However, if your English is truly fluent and near-native level, an IEP may not be the best fit. you may get more out of taking community college classes among native speakers. 

Local community colleges in the USA offer affordable courses in most academic fields, from engineering to poetry to gender studies to business to health to economics–pretty much everything. You won’t be studying English itself; rather; you’ll be studying a topic in English. 

At a community college, you’ll build nuanced vocabulary and grasp subtle grammatical structures from context. You’ll gain insights into hot issues, important values, and key idioms in academic English settings. You’ll get a sense of what it takes to ace a college course. 

Community colleges are affordable and open-access, which means they charge lower tuition than four-year colleges and accept virtually anyone who applies. Most programs offer two-year associate degrees, certificates, or job training. Many students begin their studies at a community college and then transfer to a four-year school. You won’t have an option to live on campus, so you’ll need to arrange your own living accommodations. 

Two students chatting outside.By interacting with native speakers more regularly you’ll get you past the stage of just barely being able to follow fast English to being able to grasp natural speech effortlessly. Your own pronunciation will become clearer through this immersion.

It is important, however, not to rush into community college classes. Even if you test as a C1 user, the wisest option is to begin your studies by joining an Intensive English program with a university pathways option. That way you can get your feet wet in academic English for a smoother transition to prime time. 

Another benefit of an Intensive English course is that you receive academic counseling to ease the transition. Your IEP advisor can help you choose the best program and school, submit the right paperwork, and write a personal statement for university applications.  

Since you may even earn credits towards a two-year degree or credits that may transfer to a four-year school, IEP academic counseling can guide you through the process. 

Advanced level English users should consider enrolling in an academic Intensive English Program. Both the curriculum and counseling provided by an IEP opens doors to higher education in the USA.

Are Intensive English programs recommended for international students?

Absolutely, yes. Intensive English programs come highly recommended for international students, regardless of country of origin or previous education attainment. In fact, an Intensive English program curriculum is designed specifically for international students. 

An Intensive English program curriculum is developed to be accessible to students of all ages, socioeconomic backgrounds, and native languages.

Since ESOL educators are sensitive to issues regarding cultural differences and individual preferences, the best Intensive English programs create warm, welcoming environments. 

Providing both language and cultural training, an IEP is the best option for an ESOL student from anywhere in the world.  A typical IEP curriculum provides both guidance and flexibility, both of which are key for international students.

Guidance comes from the materials selected for the Intensive English program curriculum. The topics are selected for their relevance to the daily lives, interests, and careers of the modern ESL student. 

An Intensive English program curriculum also incorporates cultural training important to international students unfamiliar with the norms, expectations, and values of the USA, Canada, or the U.K.

Flexibility comes from the open-ended assignments, choices of topics, and student-centered instruction of the best Intensive English programs.

When should I consider an Intensive English program?

Intensive English programs are popular year-round. Any time is a good time to immerseStudents jumping with arms up in a large outdoor picture frame. yourself in English.

Summertime tends to be an especially busy time for IEPs. Intensive English summer programs fill up with a mix of travelers on vacation, professionals brushing up on their business English abroad, and college students gearing up for fall semester.

If more sounds merrier, you may opt for a summer Intensive English program. A possible plan to consider: 

  1. Arrive in April to get accustomed to life in the US. Get the culture shock out of your way.
  2. Stay in your IEP through July to build your skills and confidence. See how far your English level advances in three months.
  3. Decide in August whether to continue in your IEP to increase your English proficiency or pivot to other career or life opportunities. 

If an Intensive English summer program doesn’t work for your schedule or preferences, how about the other three seasons in the USA?

If you opt for a January start date, there may be fewer students and smaller classes in your Intensive English course.  While summer brings more outdoor events like music festivals, farmer’s markets, and parades, winter brings holiday parties, movie nights, and walks in the snowy woods. Maybe you’d like to experience the snow of New England in the winter. Massachusetts winters can be beautiful, cozy, and different from the weather in many countries. 

Fall and spring IEPs coincide with college semesters. By choosing an IEP start date in September or March, you’ll be studying at the same time as local university students. There may be more events on campus to attend and more young people in town to meet.

If school or work opportunities are on the horizon, now may be the best time. That way you can give yourself the several months it takes to develop English proficiency. If you’re currently A2, you’ll need at least a year in an IEP to reach B2.

 Intensive English programs run year-round and accept applications on an ongoing basis. Don’t worry about deadlines or pressure. You can apply now, prepare for the future, and begin your IEP at the best time that works for you.

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While you book your Intensive English course improve your language skills by reading our free English articles or watching our free English lesson videos.

Bringing decades of passion as educators, at the International Language Institute of  Massachusetts we believe in open access to education for language learners around the world, regardless of race, religion, gender identification, physical and mental abilities, economic standing, documentation status, and educational levels.