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Online Master’s Programs in TESOL & ESL

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Updated on: 01/31/2019

The number of English learners entering the education system in the United States has grown by nearly 60 percent in the last decade, and with it comes a growing need for well-qualified English language teachers. Colleges and universities have begun offering master’s degree programs in TESOL and ESL specializations in flexible, online formats, and the TESOL International Association considers a master’s in TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) to be the top degree in this field of language instruction, both in terms of academic achievement and desirability as an employee. Find out if earning a master’s in TESOL or ESL is right for you, and learn which colleges and universities offer the best online master’s degree programs in TESOL and ESL, what courses you can expect to take, and career and salary potential in the field below.

What Can I Learn in an Online Master's in TESOL & ESL Program?

Students taking master’s courses in TESOL and ESL online will encounter differences in material and curriculum execution based on the school they choose to attend, however, there are some core courses that overlap in every top-quality TESOL and ESL master’s program. Most importantly, you’ll want to understand the difference between the three educational tracks that you could encounter as you explore online master’s degree programs for TESOL and ESL:

  • The Master of Arts degree in TESOL and ESL (MA) – This is an academic-focused degree, appealing for research-track students in advanced English for those who primarily speak other languages.
  • An Master’s Degree in Education (MEd) – This confers a higher degree of knowledge on the administration strategy behind TESOL and ESL as well as the ability to teach it to others, and is often the chosen path for students interested in educational leadership positions.
  • A Master of Arts in Teaching – Similar to the MEd, this master’s track provides academic evidence the graduate has the skills and knowledge to teach TESOL and ESL at a high level, or pursue advanced education or research opportunities.

No matter which online master’s degree program in TESOL or ESL you choose, skills taught will include:

  • Learning theory and the latest research in teaching methods
  • Specific tools to help children and adults master new languages
  • Insight into how different cultures around the world view language and how that effects a student’s ability to learn English
  • How to adapt existing curriculum for ESL students

What common courses are offered in a master’s in TESOL & ESL program?

Here are some common classes you may find within an online master’s program in TESOL and ESL:

Methods and learning theory

An overview of learning theories and instruction techniques. Graduate students will be able to give a critical review of the pros and cons of each theory. Learning theories may focus on behaviorism and cognitive learning. Behaviorism is the process of developing specific actions in response to specific stimuli. Through repetition, habits were developed. Cognitive learning theory focuses on how individuals store and use knowledge.

Second language acquisition

This course concentrates on how people learn a language, the phases in acquiring language, and teaching strategies to help students learning a second language.

Structure of English and English grammar

Because English language students usually ask grammar-related questions, this course provides the foundation for graduate students to explain English grammar rules to pupils who have never encountered English or have only limited familiarity with the language.

Assessment

A look at various ways of testing students in TESOL/ESL, while ensuring the tests are valid, practical and reliable. Emphasis on preparing testing materials that accurately reflect what is taught, testing environments, and test formats.

Language and culture

Students learn how to address a class containing cultures from around the world. There is emphasis on how students are taught in their native countries and how this may differ from their current environment.

Curriculum and materials design

This course helps graduate students prepare for the age and fluency levels of the pupils they eventually want to teach. Students learn how to develop their own curriculum, educational objectives, goals and benchmarks, as well as preparing quizzes and tests to determine mastery of the goals.

What exams or projects should I expect?

Courses may include tests and a final exam or research paper. In addition, online graduate students pursuing a master’s degree in TESOL & ESL may be expected to complete a teaching internship in which they instruct students in ESL. Students will also be required to research and write a thesis related to the field of ESL or TESOL.

What specializations are available in a master’s in TESOL & ESL program?

There are two common areas of specialization in the field of TESOL and ESL:

TESOL Pedagogy

This involves the teaching of English as a second language to students. Preparation in an online master’s program covers not only TESOL but other accepted methods of instructing and evaluating student performance.

Applied Linguistics

This specialization focuses on language theory and research. The research focus might be on sounds (phonetics), words (morphology), sentences (syntax) and meaning (semantics).

What Can I do with a Master’s in TESOL & ESL Degree?

While earning an online master’s degree in TESOL and ESL is already a fairly narrow specialization, students will want to decide if they prefer a career in the classroom, academia, administration. Here are some of the career possibilities for online TESOL and ESL students after grad school.

ESL Instructor

Teach English to non-native speakers. Instructors may work at the high school or collegiate level, since the master’s is the terminal degree in TESOL/ESL.

Translator

This career path is enabled by a master’s degree in the field, although fluency in another language is also required. Some master’s degree programs in TESOL/ESL allow students also to study a second language in preparation for work as a translator.

English Instructor Overseas

Many schools overseas hire English-speaking teachers to act as English teachers for students in that country. A teacher in this role will have similar responsibilities to a traditional ESL teacher but will teach students right in their home country.

ESL/TESOL Program Director

Individuals with an ESL TESOL master’s degree may move into more of an administrative role versus a direct teaching role. As a program director, responsibilities include overseeing an entire TESOL department- with tasks that include choosing curriculum, planning program events and ensuring the department runs smoothly.

Professional Organizations

Joining a professional group is a great way to stay current in the TESOL field while enjoying networking opportunities with other professionals who may share job leads, current best practices and other information to help enrich and advance your career before, during and after grad school. Here are some of the best known organizations.

TESOL International Association

The association’s stated mission is to advance excellence in English language teaching.

National Association for Bilingual Education

A non-profit organization that “works to advocate for educational equity and excellence for bilingual/multilingual students in a global society.”

American Association for Applied Linguistics

AAAL is a professional society of scholars from over 50 countries worldwide. Their stated mission is to facilitate “the advancement and dissemination of knowledge and understanding regarding language-related issues in order to improve the lives of individuals and conditions in society.”

How Much Can I Make with a Career in TESOL & ESL?

Here are some of the potential career paths the graduate can pursue with an online master’s in TESOL & ESL, along with the pay ranges for different levels of work experience. Remember, salary estimates can vary by location, and some of the careers listed below may require additional training or certifications in addition to a TESOL and ESL degree.

Career Lowest 10% Earned Annually Median Annual Salary Highest 10% Earned Annually Job Growth 2016-2026
ESL Instructor Elementary and Secondary Less than $31,310 $62,630 More than $87,160 7% (for all literacy teachers)
ESL College Instructor Less than $31,310 $53,890 More than $87,160 7% (for all literacy teachers)
Translator Less than $25,620 $47,190 More than $82,290 18%
Instructional Coordinator Less than $35,550 $63,750 More than $101,500 +11%

Job growth in each of these career paths is expected to be at or above the national average for all occupations through 2026. Even though some of these jobs can be obtained with just a bachelor’s degree, research suggests that obtaining an online master’s degree in TESOL & ESL will give degree-holders an advantage over their peers- both in financial gains and in job opportunity. For ESL and TEOSL instructors with a bachelor’s degree, the average annual salary is $45,000. With a master’s degree in the field the average jumps almost 50 percent to $61,000 a year.

Accreditation for Online Master’s in TESOL & ESL Program Accreditation

There are two recognized organizations that accredit TESOL & ESL programs. These organizations include the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation and the ACCET (Accrediting Council for Continuing Education and Training). The International TEFL Academy warns students that some TESOL programs without a recognized accreditation have set up their own “accrediting body” to create the appearance of accreditation. Any accrediting body with 30 or fewer organizations that began operating only within the last few years “is likely not going to be respected in the field and/or considered legitimate by potential employers,” the Academy cautions.

Accreditation by a recognized and respected organization confers legitimacy on the degree program and signals to potential employers that graduates of that program have indeed acquired the necessary knowledge for a master’s degree in TESOL & ESL.

How to Pay for a Master’s in TESOL & ESL Degree

There is a tremendous variation in tuition costs associated with online master’s degree programs in TESOL & ESL. Students who are interested in earning their master’s in TESOL and ESL may find out-of-state tuition rates are lower for online students as opposed to on-campus students paying an out-of-state tuition rate, but costs can still be reduced with a little time and effort spent on scholarship and financial aid applications. Here are some ways to fund your online TESOL or ESL master’s degree.

  • Federal Financial Aid

    All prospective students should start their scholarship search by filling out a FAFSA form online to determine eligibility for federal aid. Many scholarships, fellowships and sponsorships require a FAFSA form as part of the application process.

  • Degree-Specific Scholarships

    Students may also be eligible for some national scholarship awards. A few options to consider are listed below.

  • The International Association of Applied Linguistics (AILA) Solidarity Awards

    Available to graduate students based on academic merit or promise, who are financially and who can receive a full award to the AILA World Congress upon acceptance of an abstract for presentation.

  • The Educational Testing Service (ETS) TOEFL Grants and Awards

    ETS along with the TOEFL board fund 11 TOEFL grants and awards each year in the areas of international higher education and foreign or second language research, as well as teaching or assessment.

  • International Reading Association: Jeanne S. Chall Grant

    This grant funds reading research for graduate students studying beginning reading theory and practice, methods of readability, diagnosis and treatment of reading difficulty, stages of reading development and teaching adult literacy.

  • The International Research Foundation for English Language Education (TIRF) Research Grants

    TIRF offers grants, fellowships and research funding. These awards go to graduate students focused on improving English language teaching and learning, applying research to language problems, and the teaching and learning of language.

  • The International English Testing System (IELTS) Grants and Awards

    Awards grants to graduate students pursuing IELTS-related research. It also funds The Caroline Clapham IELTS Masters Award, an award for a Master of Arts thesis or dissertation on language testing.