ESL Teaching Degrees: Masters, PhD & Online Course Info

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What kind of job can you get with a master's degree or PhD in ESL teaching? Find out requirements, online options and info on courses and ESL teaching degree programs.
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Master's and PhD in ESL Teaching: Degrees at a Glance

Enrolling in a master's degree program in ESL teaching can prepare you for a career as an ESL teacher of children at the elementary or secondary level, as well as adults in community programs. It can also prepare you to teach English abroad. In this role, you'll teach English to individuals who are native speakers of other languages. Some positions require only a bachelor's degree, but having a master's degree can give you an advantage over other applicants. PhD degree programs are an option for those seeking tenure at a university or looking to manage ESL educational programs. Depending on the program, the field of study may be in ESL (English as a Second Language), Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL), or English Language Learners (ELL).

Here's a side-by-side comparison of these degrees:

Master's Doctorate
Who is this degree for? Individuals who hold a bachelor's degree or are currently teaching ESL and want to enhance their education Master's degree holders who wish to become educational program managers and advance their education
Common Career Paths (with approximate mean annual salary) - ESL teacher ($24,000-$52,000 in 10th-90th percentile range)** - English abroad teacher (Salary unavailable)* - Postsecondary education teachers, including ESL ($65,000)*
- Postsecondary education administrator ($97,000)*
Time to Completion 2 to 2 ½ years part-time 3 years full-time, up to 8 years part-time
Common Graduation Requirements - Roughly 30 units of instruction
- Culminating Experience with capstone project (paper and presentation)
- Foreign language requirement (minimal proficiency)
- Master's Thesis
- 50-80 credit hours
- Qualifying portfolio
- Culminating evaluation
- Dissertation
Prerequisites - Bachelor's degree
- Some programs may require a minimum number of credits in a foreign language and a current teaching license
Master's degree
Online Availability Yes Not commonly available

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2011 figures). **Payscale (April 2012 figures).

Master's in ESL Teaching

Graduates in this program typically earn a Master of Education; a Master of Art is also an option. Prospective ESL teachers looking to take the classes needed for licensure as part of their coursework will need to pass the Praxis 1 exam before gaining acceptance into a master's degree program. An internship, field experience and additional credits focused on teaching ESL are part of the program as well.

Most teachers in the public school system work with small groups of students providing instruction to strengthen students' skills in the English language. Graduates interested in teaching adults can seek employment through community colleges, community centers and the public school system.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Individuals who hold a master's degree will have more opportunities to teach ESL courses at the community college level than those that only possess a bachelor's degree
  • Prospective teachers with a master's degree typically start at a higher salary than those with a bachelor's degree
  • Master's degree graduates have the opportunity to travel and teach English in a foreign country

Cons

  • Teaching adults will often require working in the evening or on weekends to accommodate job schedules
  • One class may consist of students from various countries, each speaking a different language
  • Compensation for teaching abroad may fluctuate more based on the organization you work for and country you teach in

Common Courses and Requirements

Before entering a master's degree program, students will need to satisfy a foreign language requirement. Meeting this requirement allows future teachers to better understand the challenges their own prospective students face in learning a completely different language. Common coursework includes listening and speaking, reading and writing, and linguistics. Seminars also make up a good part of a master's education.

Courses and seminars you might expect to take at the master's level include:

  • Pedagogical grammar
  • Language assessment
  • English structure
  • Second language teaching
  • Research and teaching methods

Online Degree Options

Candidates seeking a master's degree in ESL teaching can find accredited online courses and programs. Most programs can be completed remotely, without setting foot in a classroom. Hybrid programs are rare, but may exist in certain areas. Courses may be completed online and the credits can often be transferred to a university if desired at a later date. Some schools vary with this, however, so it is important to check ahead of time.

Online programs give students the same credentials as on-campus classes and may be less costly. Returning students, parents and those working full-time may benefit from the flexibility of taking online courses.

Stand Out with this Degree

With the influx of immigrants looking to learn English, there will continue to be job opportunities in larger cities. Students enrolled in a master's degree program can enhance their resumes and their chances of gaining employment by volunteering in community ESL programs. New graduates will find themselves needing to use technology to communicate with and teach their students in some cases. Taking extra courses that allow one to stay abreast of the latest technology can give applicants a competitive edge.

PhD in ESL Teaching

A PhD program in ESL teaching prepares graduates to instruct students at the university level who wish to become ESL teachers. PhD programs are heavily based on acquiring independent research skills. These courses also prepare graduates for positions planning ESL programs or overseeing teachers. Graduates who hold a PhD may be in charge of conducting research for publications or developing educational curriculum to be used in pubic schools. Possible employers include universities, government agencies and public schools.

PhD programs generally require applicants who have a 3.0 GPA or above.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • The research one does as part of a PhD program can make the graduate an expert in the field
  • Graduates teaching ESL help individuals become eligible for jobs and generally improve their lives
  • Completing a PhD is a large accomplishment and a major milestone in life

Cons

  • Getting a full-time job at the university level can be highly competitive
  • Instructors at the community college level may not have an opportunity to do research or develop curricula
  • Earning a PhD requires a significant time commitment of up to 10 years

Courses and Requirements

Students working towards a PhD in ESL Teaching can expect to take courses in linguistics, teaching writing, rhetorical traditions and composition. Students will also receive instruction in assessment, teacher education and reading development. A large portion of the PhD program consists of acquiring research skills and strategies.

In order to graduate, students must complete a dissertation, which will be presented at a dissertation defense. Schools may require that students finish the degree within a certain time frame.

Online Degree Options

Online PhD programs in ESL teaching are very rare. It is important to always check the credentials of any school offering an online PhD. Certain courses may be available online but may not be transferable into a university program. Attending classes on campus and having personal contact with teachers is probably the best route to getting your PhD.

Stand Out with this Degree

Graduates with a PhD in ESL teaching will often go on to teach bachelor's or master's degree courses. Recent graduates should explore publication options, as schools may be more likely to hire professors who have a record of published work.

Keeping up with the latest technology and software often offers an advantage over other job candidates. This includes having up-to-date knowledge working with Smart Boards, projectors and computer applications.

Popular Schools

  • Online Programs Available
    1. Southern New Hampshire University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • MEd in Curriculum and Instruction - Dyslexia Studies & LBLD
      • M.Ed. Curriculum Instr- Special Ed
      • MEd in Curriculum & Instruction
      • MS in Higher Education Administration
      • MEd in Early Childhood Education
      • MEd in Educational Leadership
  • Online Programs Available
    2. Colorado State University Global

    Program Options

    Master's
      • MS - Teaching and Learning
  • Online Programs Available
    3. Ashford University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • M.A. - Education: English Language Learner
  • Online Programs Available
    4. Grand Canyon University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • MA in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages
      • MA in Curriculum and Instruction
      • M.Ed. in Special Education: Cross-Categorical
      • M.Ed. in Early Childhood
  • Online Programs Available
    5. Indiana Wesleyan University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Master of Education - Special Education
  • Online Programs Available
    6. Northcentral University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • M.Ed. - English Second Other Language/ESOL
      • M.Ed. - Curriculum and Teaching
      • M.Ed. - International Education
      • MEd - General Education
      • MEd - Special Education
      • MEd - Corporate Wellness
  • Online Programs Available
    7. Kaplan University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Master: Teaching (for Aspiring Teachers: Grades 5-12)
      • Master: Higher Education - Online College Teaching
      • Master: Education (for Practicing Teachers: K-12)
      • Master: Higher Education - College Teaching/Learning
  • Online Programs Available
    8. Strayer University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • M.Ed.: Adult Education and Development Concentration
      • M.Ed.: Curriculum, Instruction and Assessment
      • M.Ed.: Teacher Leadership
  • Online Programs Available
    9. Saint Joseph's University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • MS - Special Education
      • MS - Special Education with Autism Specialization
      • MS - Special Education with Wilson Reading Certificate
  • Online Programs Available
    10. Regent University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Master of Arts in Practical Theology - Intercultural Studies
      • Master of Arts in Practical Theology - Interdisciplinary Studies
      • Master of Divinity - Intercultural Studies
      • Master of Divinity - Interdisciplinary Studies
      • Master of Theological Studies - Interdisciplinary Studies

Featured Schools

Southern New Hampshire University

  • MEd in Curriculum and Instruction - Dyslexia Studies & LBLD
  • M.Ed. Curriculum Instr- Special Ed
  • MEd in Curriculum & Instruction

What is your highest level of education?

Colorado State University Global

  • MS - Teaching and Learning

What is your highest level of education?

Ashford University

  • M.A. - Education: English Language Learner

What is your highest level of education?

Grand Canyon University

  • MA in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages
  • MA in Curriculum and Instruction
  • M.Ed. in Special Education: Cross-Categorical

What is your highest level of education?

Indiana Wesleyan University

  • Master of Education - Special Education

What is your highest level of education?

Northcentral University

  • M.Ed. - English Second Other Language/ESOL
  • M.Ed. - Curriculum and Teaching
  • M.Ed. - International Education

What is your highest level of education?

Kaplan University

  • Master: Teaching (for Aspiring Teachers: Grades 5-12)
  • Master: Higher Education - Online College Teaching
  • Master: Education (for Practicing Teachers: K-12)

Which subject are you interested in?

Strayer University

  • M.Ed.: Adult Education and Development Concentration
  • M.Ed.: Curriculum, Instruction and Assessment
  • M.Ed.: Teacher Leadership

What is your highest level of education completed?