Best Online Master’s in TESOL Programs

ASO Staff Writers
Updated April 4, 2024
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As of 2016, speakers of other languages constitute nearly 10% of the U.S. public school population, which is projected to increase along with the continued effects of globalization. Struggling to catch up with the resulting need for high-quality instructors of English language learners (ELL) or English as a second language (ESL), many schools are eager to hire teachers who possess the knowledge and skills required to serve growing populations of multilingual students.

Earning an online master’s degree for teachers of English to speakers of other languages (TESOL) can render you a competitive candidate for jobs teaching and empowering diverse students. The following page surveys information about program length, format, curriculum tracks, common coursework, and skills provided by the best online master’s degrees in TESOL. You will also learn how to identify high-quality, accredited programs to utilize professional organizations and resources for TESOL educators, along with funding avenues for your degree.

What to Know About Online Master’s in TESOL Coursework

Usually designed for current educators or education administrators seeking to cultivate or expand their ESL skill sets, online master’s programs in TESOL teach skills and strategies for curriculum design, lesson planning, classroom management, and self-evaluation. Students can also learn the difference between teaching English as a second language (in an English-speaking country) and teaching English as a foreign language (TEFL) in another country.

Many online TESOL master’s programs require about 30-36 credits, which each learner can complete with a cohort of peers in about two years. However, some accelerated program formats allow students to complete their 30-36 credits in only 12 months, provided that the enrollee boasts prior college credits, career experience, and a schedule that permits a full-time course load. As you research prospective programs, keep in mind that although many programs are 100% online, they typically include a teaching practicum at an approved education site (often the students’ workplace). Some programs require brief residencies on-campus.

What Common Courses are Offered in a Master’s in TESOL Program?

Although TESOL master’s coursework varies based on school and program, most programs include a practicum experience, advanced courses in a specialized area, and core courses such as the five described in the sample curriculum below.

What Specializations are Available in a Master’s in TESOL Program?

Most TESOL online master’s degree programs allow enrollees to choose from two or more specialized education areas. Smaller programs may only offer a choice between TESOL and TEFL concentrations, but other programs include options based on the ELL age group or setting, such as early childhood education, elementary education, secondary education, adult education, urban/rural education, and others.

What Exams or Projects Should I Expect?

Although program requirements vary, most TESOL master’s students must complete one or more of the following to graduate: a scholarly thesis, which entails written synthesis of a substantial body of research on a specific TESOL topic; a capstone project or portfolio, which may include the learner’s teaching philosophy, lesson plans, assessments, and research project; or an internship involving ESL teaching, self-reflection, and supervision by a mentor. The internship serves as often serves as a foundation or complement to the capstone project or thesis.

How Can I Choose a Quality Online Master’s in TESOL Program?

Online degree programs vary in quality, so look for programs accredited by one or more of the following agencies specializing in TESOL programs: The Commission on English Language Program Accreditation, the TESOL International Association, and the World TEFL Accrediting Commission. You should also consider programs accredited by the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP), which only vouches for programs that meet high academic standards in several fundamental areas.

Accreditation is not the only marker of a program’s value. The best TESOL programs tend to boast high graduation rates, accomplished faculty, rigorous capstone projects, and more course offerings. Meanwhile, weaker TESOL programs are typically offered by for-profit institutions that hold national rather than regional accreditation.

Career Opportunities With a Master’s in TESOL Degree

While you may also need relevant work experience and additional certification to obtain the position you desire, earning a master’s in TESOL from an accredited institution gives you the academic credential you need to qualify for a job as an education administrator, instructional coordinator, educational consultant, translator, or ESL or TEFL teacher.

What’s the Expected Job Growth for TESOL Careers?

TESOL job growth for the coming years appears quite promising. With the number of multilingual students on the rise, the Bureau of Labor Statistics projects a 4% growth rate for postsecondary English language and literature teaching jobs. Meanwhile, many K-12 schools also need instructional coordinators, curriculum developers, and other highly skilled education professionals who know how to design new programs, courses, and lessons for ELL students.

Professional Organizations for Careers in TESOL

TESOL-related professional organizations help ELL educators to find jobs, obtain and maintain certifications, network with other professionals, receive relevant news and research updates, and participate in learning groups and other educational opportunities. Some organizations also take part in political and social advocacy work for ELL educators and their students.

  • American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages

    ACTFL members can benefit from career resources, virtual learning, workshops, conferences, mentorship opportunities, and certification programs. This professional organization also facilitates networking through its topic-based community discussion groups.
  • National Association for Bilingual Education

    Devoted to encouraging top quality bilingual education, NABE provides research journals, online learning and discussion opportunities, a career center, and symposiums on topics related to bilingual and multilingual education. NABE also runs an Equity Institute, which facilitates the dissemination and discussion of current research on this topic.
  • World TEFL Accrediting Commission

    As a major accrediting body for TEFL and TESOL courses and programs, WTEFLAC establishes and upholds high standards for English language education. The organization also provides useful information and opportunities for educators interested in teaching overseas.
  • TESOL International Association

    This association connects English language teachers by running 21 professional learning groups. Members can also participate in online classes and seminars and utilize TESOLs career center.
  • The American Association for Applied Linguistics

    An interdisciplinary organization composed of national and international scholars, the AAAL seeks to improve society through increasing understanding of language, including its diverse users, uses, and usage contexts and conditions. Scholarly discourse on applied linguistics draws from anthropology, sociology, communications, education, psychology, neuroscience, history, and other disciplines.

How to Pay for a Master’s in TESOL Degree

Many students rely on student loans to pay for their master’s programs. Qualified applicants should also explore grants, scholarships, fellowships, and other opportunities for funding that do not require repayment. Offered by federal or state governments, colleges or universities, professional organizations, nonprofits, churches, and more, these opportunities allow current or aspiring educators to advance their careers without incurring great debt.

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