Credit English as a Second Language (Credit ESL)

Credit English as a Second Language courses (Credit ESL) are for undergraduate and graduate students who have met the minimum language requirements for full admission to the University of Nebraska-Lincoln but still need additional support in certain language skill areas in order to truly excel in their academic studies.

Undergraduate Students:

Many non-native English-speaking undergraduate students will begin their academic careers at Nebraska by taking one or more of the following required Credit ESL courses along with courses in their regular programs of study. 

ENGL 186 Academic Reading
ENGL 187 Academic Writing
ENGL 188 Academic Listening & Speaking

These are official University courses and are accepted by many colleges for elective credit towards degrees (check with your program to determine how many credits will count).

For most new students, placement into CESL courses is based on section scores of proficiency tests results (TOEFL, IELTS, Duolingo English Test) submitted when they applied to the University. Students who were admitted based on ACT, SAT scores or graduation from a high school in the United States are not automatically exempt from CESL courses. These students will enroll for one CESL course during their first semester advising session. They will then have the option of taking the the Michigan State University English Language Test (a proficiency test used in-house at Nebraska simply known as the "ELT") during the on-campus orientation. CESL requirements will be updated based on the ELT section scores achieved and courses will be adjusted if needed prior to or during the first week of classes.     

For students who have completed the Intensive English Program (IEP) or Credit English for Academic Purposes Program (CEAP), placement into CESL courses is based on their end-of-semester English Language Test (ELT) section scores or most recent TOEFL or IELTS scores.

Students with English proficiency scores in the following ranges should plan on taking at least one of these courses during their first year of full-time study.


Credit ESL Course   


Full Admission:

Composite ≥ 74


Full Admission:

Composite ≥ 70 with Writing section ≥ 20


Full Admission:

Composite ≥ 6.0 with Writing section ≥ 5.5

Duolingo (DET)

Full Admission:

Composite 100


ENGL 188




Listening section    < 80

 (Note: ELT does not have a speaking section)


Listening section    < 23 OR

Speaking section < 23


Listening section    < 6.5 OR

Speaking section < 6.5

AND any of the following section scores <100:

comprehension, conversation, or production

ENGL 187




Writing section <80


Writing section 20-22


Writing section 5.5-6.0

AND any of the following section scores <100:

literacy or production

ENGL 186




Reading section < 80


Reading section < 23


Reading section < 6.5


AND any of the following section scores <100:

literacy or comprehension

Note that students will be allowed to retake the sections of the ELT at the end of each semester for those skill areas in which they did not originally meet the requirements. If the required score is then achieved, the course will be waived for that skill area. Students will only be required to take the courses that they need based on proficiency test scores.  Note that when writing is one of the skill areas required, ENGL 187 must be taken in the first semester of study. This allows students to take regular freshman writing courses like ENGL 150 or 151 (ACE 1) in their second semester.   Students who took the AP English Language & Composition Exam and received credit for ENGL 150 at Nebraska will be exempt from ENGL 187 (Academic Writing). These students may still be required to take other CESL courses.  

Click below for a flowchart the explains how CESL courses are selected.

CESL Course Selection Flowchart

Graduate Students

International graduate students at Nebraska whose first language is not English often need more support in writing to be successful in their studies.  For this reason, many students are required to take one CESL course during their first semester at UNL. Students with English proficiency writing sub-scores below 25 for the TOEFL and below 7.0 for the IELTS exams must take writing section of the English Language Test (ELT) just prior to their first semester. Those who receive an ELT writing test score below 85 must take ENGL 887. 

ENGL 887 Academic Writing for Graduate Students