Professional Communication Advancement

Professional Communication Advancement (PCA) is a program designed specifically for incoming international students at Illinois Tech’s Stuart School of Business. The program offers a customized and targeted approach to communications skill-building that will help you achieve greater success in both your studies and the United States job market. PCAgives you the support you need to:

  • Transition from classroom English to real-world English
  • Improve your academic performance at Illinois Tech’s Stuart School of Business
  • Gain the cross-cultural knowledge necessary to succeed in U.S. business
  • Make a great first impression as you begin networking and interviewing with potential employers

Learn more about our PCA courses in the Graduate Bulletin.

Language Assessment Requirements

All students—regardless of country of origin or citizenship—are required to participate in an English Language Assessment if both of the following criteria have not been achieved: 

  • A bachelor’s degree from a U.S. institution
  • Speaking English as their first/native language

Our in-person language assessment evaluates the student in each of the following areas: speaking, listening, pronunciation, academic writing, and business writing. If the assessment of a student’s English skills indicates a need for additional English instruction, then the recommended sequence of courses within the PCA program becomes a requirement that the student must fulfill in order to graduate. Historically, nearly all international students attending Stuart School are in need of one or more courses in the PCA program.

English Language Assessment

Program Calendar

Spring 2022  
PCA Course Registration for New Students Begins (Administrative) Jan. 5
PCA Courses Begin Jan. 10
PCA Results Letters Sent Jan. 18


If the in-person assessment of your English skills indicates that you need additional English instruction, then the recommended sequence of courses becomes a requirement that you must fulfill in order to graduate from your degree program. This requirement cannot be waived, and students cannot retake the TOEFL (or IELTS) in order to demonstrate their English skills. The program requirement is dictated by the results of the in-person assessment conducted with each student.

At Illinois Tech’s Stuart School of Business, our goal is to prepare students for success as they enter today’s increasingly competitive global business environment. Time and time again, we see bright, highly qualified students lose out on internships and jobs because they cannot communicate at the level employers require. We have designed the Professional Communication Advancement program to build the English language and cultural proficiencies students need both to succeed in their graduate studies and also to compete effectively on the job market.

We find that many of our new international students underestimate the English proficiency needed to succeed in their studies and on the job market. We want all Illinois Tech graduates to be successful in their careers and also to be credible representatives of Illinois Tech’s Stuart School of Business.

Students take anywhere from one to four courses in the Professional Communication Advancement program based on their English Language Assessment results. Each course lasts half of a semester, and students take up to two courses per semester.

Full-time international students will be registered by the Office of the Registrar for the placeholder course PCA 500 upon completion of the online academic advising orientation. After completing the in-person English assessments, PCA 500 will be converted to the actual PCA course(s) you need based upon your assessments. Students not needing any courses in the Professional Communication Program will have PCA 500 removed from their schedules prior to the drop/add date for the semester.

Students are responsible for checking their schedules daily in MyIIT prior to the beginning of the semester to find out which courses they must take. All students are required to attend the first day of class.

Please note: For any students who choose not to attend the assessments, PCA 500 will remain on their schedules, and those students will be responsible for paying tuition fees for the placeholder course.

In today’s increasingly competitive global business environment, it’s imperative that students be effective communicators. Historically, we’ve seen that a bachelor’s degree from a U.S. institution is not a guarantee that a student has the English skills and competencies necessary to succeed in graduate business school now, or later in the workforce. Therefore, we use the results of our comprehensive English-language assessment to determine whether students with U.S. bachelor’s degrees—but who are not native English speakers—are required to take Professional Communication Advancement courses. If the assessments determine that a student’s English skills are in need of improvement in any of the areas assessed, the student will be required to take one or more courses.

No. Your sequence of courses will be determined by the results of your individual assessment. We will assign you courses based on your highest priority English needs in the context of maximizing your graduate school performance and post-graduation success. 

At the end of each semester, students are re-assessed based on the courses taken to gauge their progress in building English skills. If changes to course sequencing are warranted, the program director will get in touch with you.

No. Students need to begin to build their English skills right away so that those are sufficiently improved by the time the student begins to look for an internship or job. This also ensures that you will gain maximum benefit in your program of study.

The course fee for PCA courses can be found on Illinois Tech’s Student Accounting Office website. Prices may change without notice as the university determines annual course fees.

Please note: The tuition charges for courses in the Professional Communication Advancement program are the same for all Stuart School of Business students regardless of major or program of study.

If you are required to take courses in the Professional Communication Advancement program, they will be considered a requirement for graduation and you will earn a grade for your performance. The grades will appear as satisfactory (S) or unsatisfactory (U) on your Illinois Tech transcript. However, PCA courses are not included in the calculation of your grade-point average.

Students from certain countries are deemed to have sufficient English skills to study in the U.S. However, the Professional Communication Advancement assessments are designed to evaluate the skills a student needs to meet the graduation standards of Illinois Tech’s Stuart School of Business, which go beyond course performance to include proficiency in a variety of business contexts. This includes such factors as the conversational and pronunciation skills needed for real-life conversations in the U.S., appropriate business writing technique, and the cross-cultural knowledge expected of anyone participating in U.S. business. If the assessments determine that a student’s English skills are not at the level that would make the student both competitive on the job market and a credible representative of Illinois Tech’s Stuart School of Business, the student will be required to take one or more courses.

The English proficiency requirement on your I-20 is based on whether you have the minimum English skills required for admission to Illinois Tech’s Stuart School of Business. Professional Communication Advancement requirements are determined by the English communication skills you need to fulfill the graduation standards of Stuart School of Business and to be successful post-graduation.

Often, international students coming to the U.S. assume that their English skills will improve simply by being here and by listening and speaking English in the classroom. While it is true that immersion in English-speaking culture and classes helps students feel more comfortable, it is not sufficient in providing students with the level of English they need to be competitive on the job market. We have designed Professional Communication Advancement specifically for business students so that you are comfortable and confident communicating in a variety of business contexts, using appropriate language.

Today’s business world is a global one. Illinois Tech’s Stuart School of Business expects that graduates will be capable, confident communicators in a variety of contexts. Therefore, we have established a set of communication competencies that must be met by our graduates. In addition, your plans for after graduation may change after you have completed one or more semesters in your academic program and become comfortable living in the U.S.

Students are expected to speak only in English while in their Stuart School of Business classes. Research has shown that students who seek out opportunities to speak English in and outside of their classes will have greater success at increasing their English proficiency. You are encouraged to make a commitment to practice English in a variety of situations so that your language skills and ability to deal with cultural cues is sufficiently improved before you begin interviewing for internships and jobs

Attending a different section is allowed only if your Professional Communication Advancement professor has given you permission in advance and only on a case-by-case basis. Professors plan activities and specific lessons based on the number of regularly scheduled students in each section. It’s not possible to plan accordingly if the class sizes change from week to week.

Students sometimes tell us that they think their Professional Communication Advancement courses are too easy because they recognize the vocabulary that is part of the material being covered. However, vocabulary recognition is different from mastering the use of the vocabulary in a particular context. The courses in the Professional Communication Advancement program require you to master—and demonstrate mastery of—specific language concepts and contexts before moving on to more difficult material. So, each class session builds on the material covered in the previous class. Remember that Professional Communication Advancement isn’t just about building your English skills—it’s about building culturally appropriate communication skills that are crucial for your success now and in the future.