2019 Best Online Colleges for ESL Teaching Degrees

Quick Facts
Accreditation: CEA
Degree Levels: Associate, Bachelor's, Master's, Doctoral, and Certificate
Avg Tuition: $24,348
Avg Salary: $58,657

There are 133 online colleges and universities offering English as a Second Language (ESL) degrees at the associate, bachelor's, master's, doctoral, and certificate levels. Many of these degrees will lead to an ESL teaching certification. In addition to a comprehensive list of all accredited online schools offering ESL degrees, we highlight the best schools for ESL degrees. These schools were ranked based on their tuition costs and the salaries of alumni, provided by PayScale. Individuals who have a teaching degree in ESL and who are licensed may find work in public schools teaching students from Pre-K to the twelfth grade. There are also opportunities to teach in private schools and businesses in the United States and abroad.

When choosing an ESL degree program, prospective students should check to make sure it is accredited. The Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP) is the primary accrediting agency for teaching degrees. Students should look to make sure that their school has both regional and programmatic accredition so they can ensure they are receiving an education that will prepare them for their future careers.

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Comprehensive List of Accredited Online Schools - ESL Degrees (133)

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2019 Best Online Colleges Offering a Master's in ESL

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Combining high alumni salaries and affordability, these 15 schools offer the best online master's degree programs in English as a second language. Of these schools, 4 have annual tuition rates under $10,000. The #1 school on the list is The George Washington University, boasting a reported alumni salary of $91,400 and a low annual tuition of $14,620. At #14, Stephen F. Austin State University is the most affordable option, with an annual tuition of $7,056.

Alumni salaries were provided by PayScale. View our methodology for more details or learn more about SR Education Group.

Rank School Annual Tuition Median Salary
#1 #1 Annual Tuition $14,620 Median Salary $91,400
#2 #2 Annual Tuition $13,000 Median Salary $89,200
#3 #3 Annual Tuition $14,824 Median Salary $89,000
#4 #4 Annual Tuition $9,086 Median Salary $68,600
#5 #5 Annual Tuition $15,864 Median Salary $67,300
#6 #6 Annual Tuition $22,518 Median Salary $66,600
#7 #7 Annual Tuition $10,251 Median Salary $64,700
#8 #8 Annual Tuition $9,240 Median Salary $63,900
#9 #9 Annual Tuition $8,925 Median Salary $63,100
#10 #10 Annual Tuition $10,725 Median Salary $62,800
#11 #11 Annual Tuition $20,422 Median Salary $61,200
#12 #12 Annual Tuition $13,560 Median Salary $59,800
#13 #13 Annual Tuition $15,808 Median Salary $59,100
#14 #14 Annual Tuition $7,056 Median Salary $57,000
#15 #15 Annual Tuition $12,036 Median Salary $54,900
Salary data provided by Payscale Logo. Updated 2018.

Online ESL Degree Overview & Career Information

The training involved in becoming an ESL instructor depends on the academic level that the individual wishes to teach. To teach English as a second language at the elementary and secondary level requires the same certification that is required for any teacher- a minimum of a bachelor’s degree as well as state certification. To teach adult literacy and GED classes, one needs a bachelor's or master's degree, but not necessarily a certification. A master's degree can be appropriate for aspiring teachers that have a non-education related undergraduate degree, or teachers who wish to gain more education in order to better serve their students. Doctoral degrees in ESL are also available, though this level is only required for those who want to teach at the university level or go into research.

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Online Associate's Degrees in ESL

An online associate degree in ESL can help offer students many opportunities for the future, but students will often transfer to a four-year college to gain bachelor's degrees upon finishing their associate degree. Requiring 60 credits, it usually takes two years of full-time study to complete an associate degree in the ESL program. A personal essay, ACT (American College Test) or SAT (Scholastic Aptitude Test) scores, as well as other documents, might also be required. In order to be eligible for admission to an associate in ESL program, applicants must present a high school transcript showing graduation details, and their admission may be affected by their high school GPA scores. The curriculum often consists of classes focused on linguistics, grammar, pedagogy and language patterns analyzation.

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Online Bachelor's Degrees in ESL

A bachelor's degree is the minimum amount of education needed in order to become a certified ESL teacher. Those interested in this career can attend a bachelor's program that is specifically aimed at training students to become ESL teachers, or they can earn a bachelor's in Education or a subject area such as English and then pursue an ESL certificate once they have graduated. Students in an education-focused bachelor's degree will usually have to complete supervised student teaching. A bachelor's degree will take around four years to complete around 120 credit hours of study. Classes that a student might take during this program of study include Structure of the English Language, Intercultural Communication, Introduction to Linguistics, and Modern Grammar. In order to be admitted to a bachelor's program an applicant will need to have at least a high school diploma or GED.

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Online Master's in ESL

Online master's degree programs in ESL are available to those who already have a teaching license and who want to add to their knowledge and skill set, as well as individuals who don't have a teaching background and who want to begin a career as an ESL teacher. This type of program will generally take two years to complete and will consist of around 30 credit hours of study. In order to be admitted to one of these programs an applicant will need to have earned a bachelor's degree, and depending on the program, this degree may or may not need to be in a related field. Depending on the nature of the program, the applicant may also need to have a teaching license and work experience in the field. Other typical admission requirements include letters of recommendation, an essay outlining the individual's career and educational goals, and a resume.

Classes that students may take include Language Structure and Acquisition, Linguistics, Language and Culture in the Classroom, and ESL for Children. Student teaching will also usually be required. After earning a master's degree, graduates will be qualified to work as an ESL teacher to students from Pre-K to the twelfth grade. Those who are looking to earn a master's as a way to become a licensed teacher will need to check with their state for any additional requirements.

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Online Doctoral Degrees in ESL

Depending on an individual's goals, an online doctoral degree in teaching ESL may be an appropriate option. A doctorate prepares students to work in leadership roles within the field of education, as well as careers teaching the next generation of educators at the university level, or conducting their own research. The length of time it takes to earn a doctorate will vary, but students should expect to spend at least three to four years on their studies. In order to be admitted to a doctoral program a student will need to have completed a master's degree in a similar field. Other typical requirements include letters of recommendation, work experience in the field, and a written statement going over the applicant's research goals.

This level of program will be made up of traditional coursework as well as performing research and writing a dissertation. Classes that a doctoral student might take include Interlanguage Pragmatics, Sociolinguistics and Language Teaching, Language Teacher Education, and Curriculum Design.

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Online Certificates in ESL

There are many online options available to those looking to earn a certificate in teaching English as a second language. An online ESL teaching certificate program can be found at various universities, and most are available at the graduate-level. A certificate program will typically take a year or two to complete. Some schools allow students to complete this type of certificate while also working on a graduate degree in education.

A certificate by itself is not enough to qualify a graduate to gain teaching licensure but those with just a certificate may be able to find work teaching in private settings, like private language schools or businesses. Teachers who already have licensure may wish to earn this type of certificate in order to teach a wider variety of classes and students. Students will learn how to create lessons and develop the skills they need to effectively teach ESL learners of various ages how to speak, read, and write English.

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Requirements for becoming an ESL teacher

As with any teaching profession, those who work as ESL teachers in the Pre-K through 12th grade setting will need to be licensed. Licensing varies from state to state, but usually an aspiring ESL teacher will need at least a bachelor's degree. They will also have to go through teacher training, either as part of their undergraduate program or during a master's or certification course, and student teaching will be required. A certification test will also likely be required.

ESL is also widely known as ELL (English Language Learners), so a student who is interested in teaching ESL will also find value in ELL programs. However, it should be noted that earning a degree in ESL and becoming a licensed ESL teacher is different from earning a Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) or similar certificate on its own. This type of certificate will qualify an individual to teach English overseas in private language institutes, but not in public schools in the United States. Program descriptions should be read carefully.

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The Importance of Accreditation for ESL Programs

One thing to keep in mind when choosing a degree program is accreditation. One important type of accreditation is regional accreditation, which is the most highly regarded and most widely accepted accreditation for higher education institutions. Regional accreditation means that the school has been evaluated by an outside organization which has determined that the school meets certain educational standards. This type of accreditation is important for a variety of reasons, including that credits earned through that school will transfer to other schools and also that students will have access to federal financial aid.

Another important type of accreditation is programmatic accreditation. This is when an organization specializing in a particular subject accredits programs that teach that subject. For many years, NCATE, or the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education, was the main professional accreditation agency for education programs, along with The Teacher Education Accreditation Council (TEAC). As of July 1, 2013, NCATE and TEAC merged to form The Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP). CAEP uses a set of five Standards to evaluate programs, with criteria including the quality of the professors and the kinds of practical experiences, such as student teaching, that a student has access to. Those who wish to become an ESL teacher should find a program that has received programmatic accreditation from CAEP or NCATE, because this will give them assurance that they are receiving a quality education that will prepare them for their future careers.


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