Online Degrees In ESL

Living in a country where you don’t understand or speak the language can be difficult. Teachers of ESL or English as a Second Language combine their love of language with a desire to help people. They instruct students how to read, write, and speak the English language. As classrooms can be diverse, often including people who come from many different countries and socioeconomic backgrounds, ESL teachers must find creative ways of effectively communicating so that all students are able to learn the new language.

The College Board recommends having an interest in learning about other people and cultures as well as in languages and how people communicate. Online ESL degree programs are typically 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. 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.

ESL teachers typically work with immigrants and non-native English speakers who live in the United States helping them gain a working knowledge of the English language that they can use in their daily lives. Their responsibilities can go beyond those of other teachers as they may need to help their students perform their daily tasks, overcome culture shock, make friends, and feel good about themselves. Some of their duties include:

  • Assessing the English skills of each student in their class
  • Planning lessons and teaching students according to their proficiency in English
  • Monitoring their progress in speaking, reading and writing
  • Helping students actively engage in activities outside the classroom or perform simple tasks that develop their language acquisition

ESL teachers may also teach non-native English speaking children in schools helping them learn the language and cope with their regular studies or teach English as a foreign language abroad.

Tip: It can help to be bilingual or learn another language as it 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.

California has the highest number and share of English language learners.

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 of online ESL degree programs, complete with relevant wage and employment data as cited by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS):

Median Salary
Projected Job Growth
Preschool Teachers, Except Special Education540,400$31,9302%
Educational Instruction and Library Workers, All Other142,550$ 47,2105%
English Language and Literature Teachers, Postsecondary69,140$77,6604%
Kindergarten Teachers, Except Special Education120,080$ 61,1704%
Elementary School Teachers, Except Special Education1,410,970$62,2004%
Adult Basic Education, Adult Secondary Education, and English as a Second Language Instructors42,910$ 59,810-10%

Source: 2020 Occupational Employment Statistics and 2019-29 Employment Projections, Bureau of Labor Statistics,

Spanish is the most common language spoken at home for ELL students, but not in all states.

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. For most positions in the ESL field, a bachelor’s degree is the minimum requirement for employment. Although certain requirements may vary by state, many positions may require either a master’s degree in ESL or a professional certification for teaching English as a second language.

What can I expect to learn in an online bachelor’s degree program?

Online ESL bachelor’s degree programs can help 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.

Typical duration: Up to four years of full-time study

General prerequisites: High school diploma or equivalent

Typical coursework: 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:

  • Introduction to linguistics
  • Language and society
  • Methods of structured English immersion for elementary education
  • Methods, materials, and technology for learning a second language
  • Modern grammar

Online ESL degree programs may also require students to complete a practicum assignment in which they will be expected to apply their classroom knowledge to real world situations.

What kind of jobs can I get after earning a bachelor’s in ESL?

Graduates of online ESL bachelor’s degree programs may well make a big difference in the lives of diverse students by helping them improve their fluency in the English language. Depending on the licensing requirements in their states, they may work in environments ranging from corporate settings to elementary schools and kindergartens. Some career titles include:

  • International English teacher
  • Corporate trainer
  • Adult language instructor
  • Elementary or middle school ESL teacher
  • Resource and community education instructor
  • ESL tutor
Cities are more likely than rural areas to have students who are English language learners.

What can I expect to learn in an online master’s degree program?

Online ESL master’s degree programs can help current educators as well as individuals involved in non-teaching roles such as administrators, policy makers as well as community workers build their skills to help ESL learners in various environments. They may learn to conduct research, build curricula, and assess learning.

Typical duration: Up to two years of full-time study

General prerequisites: Bachelor’s degree

Typical coursework: Curricula can vary depending on the program but students may study pedagogy, teaching strategies and linguistics along with how technology can be used to help students learn English. Some courses you may take include:

  • Language production, theory and acquisition
  • Literacy/biliteracy development
  • Professional role of the ell teacher
  • Research foundations
  • Sociolinguistic issues in bilingual education

Students may also have to complete a practicum to satisfy the requirements of their online ESL degree program. Students may 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.

What kind of jobs can I get after earning a master’s in ESL?

An online ESL master’s degree may help individuals work in both teaching and non-teaching roles. Apart from schools, where they may earn higher salaries than those with a bachelor’s degree, they may work with community organizations, individual or family services organizations, and governmental bodies among others. Some job titles include:

  • Adult literacy or high school equivalency diploma teacher
  • Instructional coordinator
  • Interpreter
  • Translator
  • ESL administrator
Most English language learners are in elementary school grades.

What can I expect to learn in an online master’s degree program?

Online ESL graduate certificates can help educators further their knowledge of teaching ESL and help them advance their careers and boost their wages. They may suit those individuals who want a graduate education but have time or financial constraints preventing them from enrolling in a full-fledged online ESL master’s degree program. They may also suit individuals who do not have a teaching license but teach English in community outreach programs or overseas. Individuals may also be able to transfer their credits toward a master’s degree at a later date. Students may gain foundational knowledge in ESL teaching strategies, material development and student learning assessment methods.

Typical duration: Up to one year of part-time study

General prerequisites: Bachelor’s degree

Typical coursework: Topics can vary depending on the focus of the online ESL certificate program as well as their target audience but they usually cover educational theory, grammar, and linguistics. Some courses you may take include:

  • Introduction to theory of language learning
  • Methods for teaching English language learners
  • Materials development for teaching English language learners
  • English linguistics for educators
Most U.S. public school students with limited English proficiency are U.S. citizens

What can I expect to learn in an online doctoral degree program?

There are two main types of doctoral degrees:

  • Doctorate of Philosophy (Ph.D.) — this program typically leans toward a research-based focus
  • Doctorate in Education (Ed.D.) — this program tends to emphasize leadership roles in the education industry

However, there may be a considerable overlap between the curricula for both online ESL degrees

Online doctoral ESL degree programs can help students develop leadership and research skills. They may learn how to use existing research or conduct their own to develop policies, curricula as well find solutions to various educational, organizational, and societal issues.

Typical duration: Five to seven years of full-time study

General prerequisites: Master’s degree in education or a related field

Typical coursework: Topics can explore how to supervise education in an ESL setting, methods for improving ESL programs and practices as well as research methodologies and theoretical applications in real-world settings. Courses you may take include:

  • Developing curriculum for ESL students
  • Evaluation of diverse students
  • Issues in literacy, culture, and language education
  • Second language foundations
  • Theoretical issues in the study of language and literacies

Dissertation: A large part of the time spent during an online ESL doctoral degree program is on the doctoral dissertation which may be largely based on original research or on the application of theory to find practical solutions in real-world settings. Students then have to successfully defend their dissertations before a committee of experts in order to receive their degree.

What kind of jobs can I get after earning a doctorate in ESL?

A doctoral degree can prepare graduates for diverse leadership roles in the field of ESL from recommending policy changes to researching new methodologies for improving how English is taught. They may also be able to work in universities or colleges as professors teaching a new cohort of future ESL educators. Some associated job titles include:

  • Instructional materials editor
  • Instructional materials writer
  • Language education specialist
  • Literacy program director
  • Reading specialist


Accreditation can be an important factor to consider for students of online ESL degree programs. Attending an accredited school can be a prerequisite for receiving federal financial aid, scholarships or for transferring educational credits. It can also be necessary for receiving professional certifications and licensures. The Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP) is the main accrediting body for programs offering teacher licensure tracks for ESL. Other programs may be regionally or nationally accredited. A full list of recognized accrediting bodies can be found on the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) website.

Specializations in ESL

Specializations within ESL may help you narrow down the focus of your career and so allow you to work in an area that interests you. For example, you may prefer working with children or may want to teach English in a foreign country which need completely different skillsets. Some online ESL degree programs may allow you to choose a specialization right from the start. Some specializations you may be able to choose from include:

  • Adult Education
  • Bilingual Education
  • Elementary Education
  • English as a Foreign Language
  • English for Specific Purposes
  • Intercultural Communication

Licensures and Certifications in ESL

Licensures and certification requirements vary from state-to-state as well as the field of ESL education you work in. For example, teachers in public schools typically require teaching licensures or certifications. You can learn more about teacher licenses here.

Those involved in teaching English as a foreign language may be interested in obtaining the Teaching English as a Foreign Language Certification offered by the Boston Language Institute to boost their credentials.

Note: Not all online ESL degree programs satisfy the requirements for teacher licenses in every state. It can be a good idea to check with the program as well as your state regulations before enrolling.

The Teacher Loan Forgiveness Program and the Perkins Loan Cancellation and Discharge are two examples of loan forgiveness programs for teachers. However, scholarships may also be offered by State Education Boards, educational foundations and colleges themselves. Here are a few scholarships to help you get started in your search:

Other resources


  • 6 facts about English language learners in U.S. public schools, Pew Research Center, 2018,
  • 6 Qualities of Successful ESL Teachers, Teach Thought, 2018,
  • Adult Literacy and High School Equivalency Diploma Teachers, Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook,, accessed September 2019
  • B.A. in Teaching English as a Second Language (TESL), Liberty University,, accessed September 2019
  • Bachelor of Arts in English Language Learner Studies, Ashford University,, accessed September 2019
  • Bachelor Of Science In Elementary Education With An Emphasis In English As A Second Language, Grand Canyon University,, accessed September 2019
  • Certificate of Graduate Studies in TESOL – K-12, Regent University,, accessed September 2019
  • Course Catalog, Northcentral University,, accessed September 2019
  • English Language Learning, PHD-ED, Northcentral University,, accessed September 2019
  • Graduate Certificate in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL), Ball State Online,, accessed September 2019
  • Literacy, Culture, and Language Education, EdD, Doctor of Education, Indiana University,, accessed September 2019
  • Major: Teaching English as a Second Language (ESL), Big Future, The College Board,, accessed September 2019
  • Master Of Arts English Language Learning (PreK-12), Western Governors University,, accessed September 2019
  • Online Master of Arts in Curriculum and Instruction: English as a Second Language (ESL), Arizona State University,, accessed September 2019
  • PH.D. In Curriculum & Instruction with an Emphasis in English as a Second Language, Texas A&M University, — curriculum, accessed September 2019
  • Teaching English as a Second/Foreign Language Graduate Certificate, Arizona State University Online,, accessed September 2019
  • Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages, Northeastern University,, accessed September 2019
  • TESOL and ESL Specializations, Certification Map,, accessed September 2019

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