Online Degrees in ESL

Those who teach ESL, or English as a second language, instruct students how to read, write, and speak the English language. Combining their love of language with a desire to help people, ESL teachers typically work with immigrants and non-native English speakers who live in the United States. Instruction usually focuses on helping students gain a working knowledge of the English language that they can use in their daily lives. Most of their students are adult learners, and many may be studying to become American citizens. Classrooms are diverse, often including people who come from many different countries and socioeconomic backgrounds. Because of the wide range of cultures and languages within any given class, ESL teachers must find creative ways of effectively communicating so that all students are able to learn the new language.

Most positions in the ESL field are found at schools. A bachelor's degree is typically required by most states to teach ESL. Although certain requirements may vary by state, most positions will require either a master's degree in ESL or a professional certification for teaching English as a second language. Additionally, many employers seek applicants with at least some teaching experience prior to earning their ESL degree.

Online degrees in ESL are designed to provide teachers, administrators, and other educators with the tools necessary to instruct and assess students who are learning English as a second language. ESL degree students should possess the necessary teaching skills as well as a sincere desire to help adults learn English.

For most positions in the ESL field, a bachelor's degree is the minimum requirement for employment. Additionally, either an ESL degree or professional certification is required to teach English as a second language. Potential employers may also seek candidates with prior teaching experience. Requirements vary by state and employer, so students are advised to know their state's requirements before pursuing a degree in the field. Knowledge of a second language may help ESL teachers communicate with their students and better understand the process of learning a language, although it is not typically necessary to obtain employment. The chart below includes the various types of ESL degrees available and which sort of positions those degrees can lead to:


Length of Completion

Potential Careers

Certificate in ESL

Certificate programs typically take about 1 year of part-time study after completion of a bachelor's degree. These programs are often geared to professionals already working in the education industry.

Adult Literacy or High School Equivalency Diploma Teacher

Master's Degree in ESL

These programs often take 2-3 years of moderate study while working professionally.

Adult Literacy or High School Equivalency Diploma Teacher, Kindergarten Teacher, Elementary School Teacher, High School Teacher, Middle School Teacher, Instructional Coordinator

As you can see, online degrees in ESL can lead to either a new career as an educator or further the career path of those already working in the educational field. The type of ESL degree that a student pursues should correspond to the educational background requirements dictated by their state to teach English as a second language.

Average Salary
Projected Job Growth
(2016 - 26)
Preschool Teachers, Except Special Education424,520$34,41010.5%
Education, Training, and Library Workers, All Other106,590$46,68010.5%
English Language and Literature Teachers, Postsecondary68,360$78,1509.8%
Kindergarten Teachers, Except Special Education131,160$58,3707.9%
Elementary School Teachers, Except Special Education1,410,970$62,2007.4%
Source: 2018 Occupational Employment Statistics and 2016-26 Employment Projections, Bureau of Labor Statistics, BLS.gov.

Online degrees in ESL attempt to prepare professional educators with the knowledge and skills needed to blend their love of teaching with the specific and unique skillset required to teach English to non-native speakers. ESL degree students learn how to effectively instruct and assess English learners, as well as the theories behind acquiring a second language and how to deal with the cultural difficulties in doing so.

As with all educational programs, the curriculum for an ESL degree varies from school to school. However, most programs typically cover the same basic core principles, such as cultural communication, language production, second language acquisition, ESL instruction methods, and student assessment theory. Specific courses may include:

  • Cross-Cultural Communication
  • Foundations of Language
  • Fundamentals of Linguistics
  • Principles of Acquiring a Second Language
  • ESL Instructional Methods
  • ESL Student Assessment Theory and Practice

Most ESL degree programs also require students to complete a practicum assignment in which they will be expected to apply their classroom knowledge to real world situations. Similar to student teaching requirements, these practicums are typically completed either at schools or in adult education settings under the guidance of a teaching mentor. Students will be expected to demonstrate their proficiency in teaching ESL by taking the concepts and techniques discussed in the classroom and employing them in a real-life ESL learning environment.

As a prerequisite to employment, the Bureau of Labor Statistics states that most employers seek candidates holding at least a bachelor's degree in addition to an ESL degree or certification. Many employers also prefer that candidates have prior teaching experience.

Certification and licensure to teach English as a second language is governed by each state, and it is important to know these rules and regulations prior to committing to an ESL program. Most ESL degree programs require a bachelor's degree (typically in education) as a prerequisite to enrollment. Master's degrees in ESL often take between two and three years to finish, and can be completed while working full-time as an educator. Certificates in ESL will generally take about a year to complete. In almost all cases, a teaching license will be required to become an ESL teacher.

For those looking to teach English as a second language, pursuing the proper training and education is critical. Online degrees in ESL are a great way to gain the knowledge and skills necessary to teach ESL while also completing the educational training required for licensure in most states.

Most of what is taught in an ESL degree program is theory-based. Thus, online degrees in ESL are a perfect fit for those hoping to teach English as a second language. Students are able to complete their required coursework online while communicating with their professors and peers via message boards, chat, and email.

Since many students seeking an ESL degree are already working as teachers, online degree programs make a lot of sense. Because online programs are generally more flexible than traditional on-campus courses, these working adults can create a study schedule that fits around both their work and personal lives. Most online degree programs offer 24-hour access to lectures and materials, so students can complete their required studies when it is most convenient for them.

Generally speaking, a career in ESL involves teaching English as a second language to adults in the United States. However, those holding an ESL degree may find work in a number of different fields, including:

  • Teaching English as a Second Language
  • Adult Basic Education
  • Instructional Coordination
  • Education Administration
  • Government Policy
  • Community and Social Work
  • Private Business Instruction

Here are a few career options for graduates, complete with relevant wage and employment data as cited by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics:


Projected Job Growth 2014-2024

Mean Annual Wage in 2014

Adult Literacy or High School Equivalency Diploma Teacher

7 percent


Kindergarten Teacher

6 percent


Elementary School Teacher

6 percent


High School Teacher

6 percent


Instructional Coordinators

7 percent


Online degrees in ESL allow graduates to pursue careers in a number of different fields, particularly in the education industry. Because requirements to teach English as a second language vary by state, students should carefully consider whether or not a degree program meets their state's requirements prior to enrolling.

To learn more about online degrees in ESL, request information from any of the schools listed below.

Adult Literacy and High School Equivalency Diploma Teachers, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-17 Edition, Bureau of Labor Statistics, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/education-training-and-library/adult-literacy-and-ged-teachers.htm
High School Teachers, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-17 Edition, Bureau of Labor Statistics, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/education-training-and-library/high-school-teachers.htm
Instructional Coordinators, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-17 Edition, Bureau of Labor Statistics, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/education-training-and-library/instructional-coordinators.htm
Kindergarten and Elementary School Teachers, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-17 Edition, Bureau of Labor Statistics, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/education-training-and-library/kindergarten-and-elementary-school-teachers.htm
May 2014 National Occupational Employment and Wage Estimates, Bureau of Labor Statistics, http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes_nat.htm
Middle School Teachers, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-17 Edition, Bureau of Labor Statistics, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/education-training-and-library/kindergarten-and-elementary-school-teachers.htm

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