Masters in ESL & TESOL Graduate Programs

What is a Masters in ESL

Masters in ESL or TESOL programs prepare graduates to work with adults and children who do not speak English as their primary langauge. Students have the opportunity to gain a greater understanding of how people learn languages, and study advanced teaching methods and assessment strategies to help others develop English proficiency.

Most ESL Masters programs combine classroom instruction with practicum components to provide students with hands on experience. Programs may also be designed to help graduates pursue additional ESL certifications and endorsements. Certification requirements vary by state, so talk to programs directly or state boards if this interests you.

 ESL/TESOL Masters Degrees

Masters in ESL vs TEFL Programs

Masters in TESOL programs, which stands for Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages, primarily fall into one of two categories: ESL and TEFL. These two types of programs both focus on teaching non-English speakers and as such share many similarities. However they differ significantly in terms of the teaching setting.

ESL Masters programs (English as a Second Language) focus on teaching within English speaking communities. This could be in the K-12 classroom or adult education courses. Sometimes these programs are also referred to TESL or ESOL Masters programs. Typically TESL refers to teaching at the K-12 level, while ESOL refers to teaching adults. However this is not always the case and they may be used interchangeably.

TEFL Masters programs (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) are for those hoping to teach in countries where English is not the primary language.Graduates might teach at an international school, a foreign company or private language institutions, for example.

While many TESOL masters programs may choose to focus on one of these areas, others may cover topics in TEFL and ESL alike. ESL Masters programs may also be designed around teaching specific age groups or populations. It is important to follow up with your preferred programs to be sure of all the relevant details.

Popular Masters in ESL/TESOL Programs

ProgramInstitutionDegree Awarded
Professional Development in Bilingual Education/ESLHeritage UniversityMS
TESOLBrigham Young UniversityMA
English Language Learner (ELL) Education (Master's Degree)University of North DakotaMEd
Educational Specialist with specialization in TESOLNova Southeastern UniversityMS
English: Teaching English to Speakers of Other LanguagesIndiana University Of PennsylvaniaMAdEd
Foreign Language Education State University Of New York, College At OneontaMEd
Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL)St. John's UniversityMA
English as a Second LanguageDuquesne UniversityMS
Teaching English to Speakers of Other LanguagesUniversity At Albany (S.U.N.Y.)MA
Applied Linguistics and English as a Second LanguageGeorgia State UniversityMS
M.A. English Language Learning (PreK-12)Western Governors UniversityMSEd
M.A. in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL)Grand Canyon UniversityMA
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What is an ESL Masters Degree?

Masters in ESL or TESOL programs are typically two year programs which require a bachelors degree. Many ESL Masters programs are for current teachers and may therefore also require applicants to hold a license and have some classroom experience. These programs are often designed to help current teachers pursue ESL certifications and develop a speciality. For this reason, they may concentrate more on ESL topics and less on general classroom instruction.

However, Masters in ESL programs may be available for those with limited to no teaching experience. Some of these programs may accept students with a bachelors in another area and help them prepare to pursue an initial teaching license. Others may suit those interested in work outside the K-12 classroom, such as in adult education or teaching abroad. These paths typically have differenct license and certification requirements, which may be reflected in the program curriculum.

TESOL Masters Program Structure

While the number of classes varies, you can generally expect to take between 30 and 41 credits to earn your master’s in ESL degree. Masters in ESL programs typically require a combination of core and elective courses, as well as a practicum or internship and final project. In internships, students may teach an ESL class, where they are responsible for writing and delivering lessons, grading assignments and conferencing with a mentor teacher. Student teaching may be especially important for those seeking licensure or certifications.

Masters in ESL programs may conclude with a capstone project or a thesis. A capstone project could require students to design lesson plans, a teaching philosophy, assessments and more. A thesis, on the other hand, is an extended research study project on a topic in TESOL. This could be preferable for those looking to continue on to a PhD in TESOL program.

It's important to remember that TESOL masters programs may vary on an individual basis, especially with respect to required elements. These could be largely influenced by the type of Masters in ESL degree awarded, as well as individual program objectives. If there is a particular experience you want to be sure to have, it's best to follow up with schools directly.

Types of Masters in ESL Degrees

TESOL master’s programs typically award one of three degree types. Each may fit different experience levels and goals.

  • MAT in TESOL (or Master of Arts in Teaching) degrees, sometimes referred to as an MST or Master of Science in Teaching, are practitioner oriented and often focus on subject specific topics. They are typically geared to active teachers or those interested in entering the classroom. Programs may emphasize instruction and often include a practicum or student teaching requirement. They are also the most likely Masters in ESL degree to be designed to help graduates pursue ESL certificates, endorsements or an initial teaching certification. However, state requirements and programs vary, so it's best to follow up directly.
  • Master of Education in TESOL Programs (MEd) may also cover teaching methods. However they typically incorporate additional topics in administration and research. These Masters in ESL programs are less subject specific, instead covering the practice of education at large. MEd degrees are considered professional degrees for teachers hoping to enhance their career or pursue administrative or specialist roles. For this reason, they may have a heavier research focus and include a thesis paper.
  • Master of Science in Education (MS.Ed) degrees or MA in Education TESOL degrees are similar to the M.Ed. They may be great for students looking to teach outside the K-12 classroom or those already holding a teaching license. Students may plan to pursue teaching careers in language centers, corporations abroad or continue on to a doctorate program. These TESOL Masters programs may also suit those interested in working in the educations system but outside the classroom.

The above descriptions are a general outline of Masters in ESL degrees. However there is often overlap and every school may define their program differently. For more information on the focus of a program, the requirements for completion, and other details, reach out to the school.

ESL Masters Program Courses

Masters in ESL / TESOL programs cover core topics in instruction, linguistics and cross-cultural communications. While course lists vary by school, area of emphasis and degree type, you might expect to explore some of the topics below.

  • Foundations in ESL
  • Instructional Methods &Learning Theory
  • Second Language Acquisition
  • Structure of English Language & Grammar
  • Assessment & Evaluation
  • Cultural Competence
  • Applied Linguistics
  • TESOL Research Methods
  • Instructional Technology

Contact individual programs for a full course list.

Choosing a Masters in ESL Program

Because of the wide variety of TESOL Masters degrees available, it's important to carefully compare programs while keeping in mind your experience and goals. Of perhaps equal importance is your preferred learning format. Masters in ESL programs may be available on campus or online.

Campus ESL Masters programs may be great for those looking for the traditional classroom experience. This may be especially beneficial to those new to teaching. Professors may be better able to demonstrate methods in person, as well as connect you with practicum or internship opportunities. Students may also easily be able to access facilities such as libraries, tech labs and student services to enhance their studies.

Online Master in ESL programs, however, could offer unparalleled flexibility and convenience. These could be great for current teachers and those looking to study around a busy schedule. Courses and assignments may be available online 24/7, allowing students to study at their own pace, from anywhere with an internet connection.

However, it is important to remember that online programs with practicums or internships still have in person requirements. These may be completed either through short campus visits or by arranging placements in nearby settings. Every online ESL masters program designs this part differently, so talk to admission advisors to learn more about what this might entail.

Top States for Employment: Special Education Teachers, All Other
StateEmploymentAnnual Mean Wage
New Jersey1,970$56,450

Bureau of Labor Statistics

Top Salary Metro Areas in the United States: Special Education Teachers, All Other
Metro AreaAnnual Mean SalaryEmployment
Portland-Vancouver-Hillsboro, OR-WA$86,430340
Salem, OR$83,850190
Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim, CA$81,910680
Fresno, CA$80,67080
Madison, WI$77,24050

Bureau of Labor Statistics

Top 37 Graduate Schools with Masters in ESL Programs

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