Online ESL Degree Programs Resource

An ESL degree can be put to use in many roles. After completing a bachelor’s degree and a teacher preparation program, graduates of ESL degree programs will be prepared to pursue a wide range of careers in ESL education, such as teaching in elementary to high schools, in colleges and universities, in schools at all levels overseas, and tutoring students one-on-one. Qualified K-12 teachers of English as a second language are in high demand, as the field is a designated shortage area in many regions in the US; in the 2016-2017 school year, 30 states and Washington DC reported statewide shortages of ESL teachers (also known as TESOL, ELL, and bilingual teachers). An additional 13 states that did not report shortages of ESL teachers reported shortages of teachers of world and foreign languages. Many ESL programs are available to choose from, including online ESL degree programs.

ESL Degrees and Certifications

Whether they graduate from traditional universities or online schools, ESL degree holders can qualify for many types of jobs. Because there has been an influx of foreign students as well as growing numbers of US-born students who speak a language other than English at home, there is a significant need for ESL teachers in the US. In addition to placements in the US, there are ESL jobs in a variety of countries that range from full-time, permanent positions to temporary opportunities that can keep the instructor constantly on the move.

Best Value ESL Schools with On-Campus Programs

The table below represents the best value non-profit colleges and universities offering ESL programs. To help you find the best ESL school for you, we have researched US schools with the highest graduation rates (80% or above) and the lowest net price (under $20,000 per year). We also included information such as retention rate, transfer out rate, loan default rate, percentage of faculty with tenure, and US News & World Report rankings. To sort the table by any value, click on the corresponding column header.

SchoolGrad Rate1Retention Rate*1Transfer Out Rate**1Student Loan Default Rate1% Tenured Faculty2US News National Rank3US News Undergrad Teaching Rank4Net Price1
University of Washington-Seattle Campus84%94%N.Av.2.5%51%#59 tieN/A$9,443
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill91%96%3%1.5%43%#30 tie#34 tie$11,100
Brigham Young University-Provo83%90%N.Av.1.3%46%#66 tieN/A$12,979
University of California-Los Angeles91%97%4%1.8%48%#19 tieN/A$14,760
University of Georgia85%95%6%2.4%54%#46 tie#34 tie$15,934
University of Delaware82%91%N.Av.2.8%57%#89 tieN/A$16,286
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign85%92%N.Av.2.2%51%#46 tie#43 tie$16,638
Binghamton University82%91%14%1.8%39%#80 tieN/A$16,775
University of Minnesota-Twin Cities80%93%12%2.0%59%#76 tieN/A$16,808
Ohio State University-Main Campus83%94%10%5.0%45%#56 tieN/A$18,042

*See Table Notes and References at bottom of page.

Profiles of Traditional English as a Second Language Programs

University of Iowa

The University of Iowa College of Education, Department of Foreign Language and ESL Education offers several teacher preparation programs that lead to certification in English as a Second Language. First-time bachelor’s degree students may be interested in the school’s English as a Second Language Added Endorsement Program, which is open to those who are pursuing an elementary or secondary level teacher education program for initial certification. The University of Iowa is a leader in ESL education and is home to the EL Bridge Project, an initiative designed to help prepare teachers in STEM fields to work with English language learners. The University of Iowa also offers a Master of Arts in Foreign Language and ESL Education as well as a graduate certificate in Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL).

Texas A&M University

Texas A&M University’s graduate program in English as a Second Language (ESL) provides students with the opportunity to earn a Master of Science (MS) or a Master of Education (MEd), the latter of which prepares students to move on to doctoral study. Graduates of the program gain the credentials to teach ESL in a number of settings, including kindergarten through 12th grade, in community programs, at community colleges, and in school settings abroad. 32 credits are necessary to earn the MS, while the MEd program requires 36 credits. All ESL graduate students must complete the same three core classes: Analysis of Teaching Behavior, Cultural Foundations of Education, and Curriculum Development. The program takes place in a traditional classroom setting on campus. GRE scores are not required.

Illinois State University

Illinois State University offers a Bachelor of Science in Elementary Education: Bilingual/Bicultural Sequence that prepares graduates to teach ESL learners in the elementary grades. Students may apply for admission to the program as early as the freshman year of study after completing at least 12 credit hours of college coursework with a minimum GPA of 2.8. Courses in the major include Cross Cultural Teaching & Learning; Biliteracy Development in K-12 Classrooms; and Assessment of Bilingual Learners & Bilingual Program Design. Students also complete clinical student teaching placements totaling over 300 clock hours in elementary classrooms as well as a year-long internship in a professional development school. Spanish fluency is a requirement for completing the major, which is demonstrated by achieving an acceptable score on the ILTS Target Language Proficiency Test. The program boasts a 100% hiring record for past program graduates as of 2017.

Profiles of Hybrid and Online English as a Second Language Programs

Western Governors University

Western Governors University’s ELL (English Language Learners) Endorsement Preparation Program allows already-certified elementary and secondary teachers to qualify for an additional endorsement to teach English as a Second Language (ESL) in grades kindergarten through 12. The program, which students complete entirely online with the exception of a three-credit practicum, generally requires 12 to 18 months to complete. Each semester runs for six months. All ELL/ESL students will be matched with a mentor, with whom they will work throughout the program. The curriculum covers such topics as culture, the professional role of the ELL teacher, and subject-specific pedagogy. All students will complete a mandatory orientation to acclimate them to online learning. WGU recommends that students investigate their state’s ELL/ESL certification requirements, which may require additional examinations or coursework that is specific to the individual state.

Arizona State University

Arizona State University features a 30-credit graduate program leading to a Master of Arts (MA) in English as a Second Language (ESL). Students will complete a comprehensive curriculum that includes an introduction to research, ESL for children, assessment and evaluation of English Language Learner (ELL) students, and bilingualism and second language acquisition. The program culminates with a practicum in which students gain hands-on teaching experience in an ESL classroom. The mandatory practicum ensures graduate students meet all of the educational requirements for earning an endorsement in ESL in Arizona.

California University of Pennsylvania

California University of Pennsylvania (CALU) offers an online English as a Second Language Master’s Plus program for current teachers that leads to an add-on endorsement in ESL in the state of Pennsylvania. This 33 credit hour degree program can be completed entirely online. Courses in the curriculum include Developing Cultural Awareness and Sensitivity; Language Acquisition and Development; and Content Instruction and Assessment Pre-K to Grade 12. The program is designed to be completed in five consecutive semesters, with students progressing through the curriculum as part of a cohort group. Admission is open to those who already hold a bachelor’s degree and teacher certification. Credits earned towards the master’s program may be applied towards continuing education and development requirements. CALU also offers a stand-alone graduate ESL certificate for teachers looking to add the ESL endorsement to their existing teaching credential without completing a master’s degree.

ESL Degree Requirements and Coursework

Personal characteristics that fit well with the role of an ESL teacher include patience, good communication skills, a strong desire to teach speakers of another language, and a strong work ethic. Bilingualism is helpful. Requirements for entrance into an ESL program vary depending on the school but commonly include a minimum GPA, completion of specific courses, qualifying exam scores, letters of recommendation, and a personal essay.

Some examples of courses that can be found in a ESL program curriculum include:

  • ESL Curriculum and Instruction
  • Grammatical Structure of American English
  • The English Language
  • Teaching English as a Foreign Language
  • Cross Cultural Issues in ESL
  • Principles of Language Testing
  • Special Topics in ESL
  • Teaching Practicum

ESL and Foreign Language Teacher Career Interviews

Teaching and Education Programs

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Frequently Asked Questions About Becoming an ESL Teacher

Question: What’s the difference between “ESL” and “TESOL”?

Answer: ESL stands for English as a Second Language while TESOL stands for Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages. The terms are sometimes used interchangeably, though in some cases, TESOL is used to refer to teaching English language learners who are less fluent.

Question: What certification do I need to teach English abroad?

Answer: Requirements for teaching English abroad depend on the school hiring. Generally, they look for someone with a four-year degree. Some employers like to see that you have state-level ESL, TEFL, or TESOL certification. You should also have previous teaching experience and some knowledge of the language spoken in the country in which you hope to work.

ESL Degree Program Student Reviews

Student Review: “The MATESOL graduate program at the University of Central Florida proved to be a wonderful experience. Initially, you are given the option of a thesis or a four-hour comprehensive written exam. The thesis or exam material had to relate to the five core courses of the teaching program, which was Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages. I opted for the comprehensive exam and passed with flying colors. I found the teachers were friendly and always available in/after class for questions. I still speak and correspond with a couple of my teachers, who have now become mentors. The classes, themselves, were challenging but also enlightening. Because of my experience at UCF, I have now moved on to become a university teacher myself.” -Catherine M., student at University of Central Florida

Table Notes and References:
All data is based on undergraduate statistics.
*The retention rate is the percentage of first-time, full-time students who continued to a second year of study at the same institution.
**The transfer out rate is the percentage of first-time, full-time students who transferred their credits to another institution within 150% of the normal time to complete their degree.

1. National Center for Education Statistics: https://nces.ed.gov/collegenavigator/
2. College Factual: https://www.collegefactual.com/
3. US News & World Report National University Rankings: https://www.usnews.com/best-colleges/rankings/national-universities
4. US News & World Report Best Undergraduate Teaching National University Rankings: https://www.usnews.com/best-colleges/rankings/national-universities/undergraduate-teaching