Teaching English to people who didn't grow up speaking it is an important part of the adult education system, and it has a set of challenges that many other subjects may not present to their teachers. Earning a degree in English as a second language (ESL), also called teaching English to speakers of other languages (TESOL), can give you the skills you need to tackle the difficulties of this important profession.
In the process of earning a degree in ESL, you'll be introduced to the experience of language acquisition and study the nature of social, regional and functional language varieties. Most programs also teach contemporary techniques for language instruction and assessing student progress.
An online ESL degree can be a good choice for students whose responsibilities to work and family make it difficult to pursue a traditional campus-based degree. Don't overlook the selection of online degrees for ESL students if you could use a little extra flexibility, particularly at the master's level.
Best Colleges for ESL Degree Programs
In order to sort out which colleges and universities were the top ESL schools in the U.S., we collected data from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) and analyzed it with a proprietary multi-point system. Click the button to see just how we came up with the rankings, and read on for our list of the ten best colleges for ESL degree programs.
Our top ESL school overall also took the top ranking in an important category of our analysis. Not only did the Hawaii campus of Brigham Young University report the most affordable average cost of tuition and fees among the schools that made our list, but only three of the dozens of schools we surveyed nationwide showed lower average attendance expense figures than the $5,100 posted by BYUH.
The Laie, Hawaii, campus is a multinational environment, which can help ESL students become accustomed to to the diversity they're likely to see in the classes they teach. Programs available at BYUH include two Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) degrees, one tailored for the private sector and one for the public, as well as a certificate program and a minor.
Seattle University posted a 2015 graduation rate that took the top spot among our ten best schools for ESL and came in at No. 2 among all 50+ schools we surveyed nationwide. A student-faculty ratio of 11:1 -- around one-third more favorable than the national average of 16:1 calculated by U.S. News and World Report -- may have had something to do with the school's top-tier graduation numbers.
ESL degree programs at SU can only be found at the master's level, as Master of Arts in Education (MAEd) and Master of Education (MEd) degrees. The difference between the two degree programs lies primarily in the requirement for MAEd students to use three of their 48 credit hours to complete a graduate project.
The University of Northern Iowa charged its students less on average for tuition and fees than all other schools on our list but three. Students can choose from a list of several distinct degree plans that includes both undergraduate and graduate options.
Some undergraduate study plans at UNI focus exclusively on the teaching of English to non-English speakers, while others combine the ESL curriculum with intensive modern language study to help students better understand the language acquisition process. The graduate degree can be earned as either a thesis or non-thesis option, with the former requiring six more semester hours to complete than the latter.
This small school near Yakima, Washington, ranked No. 1 in the country for the prominence of its ESL programs in relation to its degree catalog at large. More than 11 percent of Heritage University graduates in 2015 earned ESL or bilingual education (BLE) degrees -- nearly twice as large a proportion as the second-place school in this category.
Heritage University offers a master's degree program that requires 34 credits to complete, as well as an endorsement option that takes just 16 credits and doesn't lead to a degree. The program includes an intensive practicum that helps students get hands-on classroom teaching experience before striking out into the workforce.
The Nebraska outpost of Concordia University, a private, faith-based institution with multiple locations around the U.S., makes an intriguing claim on the department page for its ESL/TESOL degrees. It lists the student-faculty ratio of departmental classes at just 6:1, which means that professors would likely be available for ample individualized time if students find it helpful.
Concordia's catalog includes several online degree programs for ESL students at the graduate level. An MEd degree in curriculum and instruction with an ESL emphasis can be earned fully or partially online, as well as a literacy and reading specialist degree that pays special attention to English language learners. A non-degree ESL endorsement is available online at Concordia as well.
Average tuition and fees costs at the City University of New York's Queens College were the second-lowest among our top colleges for ESL degree programs, costing students less than $7,000 on average. The B.A. in applied linguistics and TESOL at CUNY Queens College requires 120 credit hours of coursework to complete and teaches linguistic theory and cultural context alongside ESL pedagogy.
There's also a feature on the QC campus that might provide a rare opportunity for aspiring ESL teachers. The English Language Institute (ELI) provides daytime and evening English instruction to speakers of other languages. TESOL students may be able to visit and observe their future profession in a real-world setting.
The M.A. ESL program at the University of Hawaii at Manoa dates back to 1961 and stands as one of the most prestigious of its kind. ESL undergraduates at UH Manoa are prepared for a range of multilingual careers that includes publishing, language test development and language training for international businesses as well as teaching English to non-speakers in a classroom setting.
Graduate students can choose among an M.A., a Ph.D. and an advanced graduate certificate in second language studies, with the master's degree program placing the most emphasis on the educational profession as a destination for your knowledge and skill. Prospective Ph.D. candidates must have already earned a master's in second language studies before applying to the doctoral program.
Flexibility was a big part Hawaii Pacific University's inclusion among the best colleges for ESL degree programs. The Honolulu school posted the highest percentage of distance education enrollment of any school that made our list, and it makes courses available in evenings, on weekends and at distance education centers for students who are members of the military or have otherwise challenging schedules.
HPU offers degree programs at the bachelor's, master's and graduate certificate levels. Your classes in HPU's ESL department are likely to be populated by both domestic and international students, as well as both native and non-native speakers of English, which can give you a taste of the multilingual, multicultural ESL classroom experience.
In a similar way to most institutions with a strict grounding in faith, the Moody Bible Institute intends for its ESL program to be used in the pursuit of missionary evangelism. Christian theology is included as a part of the curriculum for the TESOL major, and it's understood that alumni are expected to go into ecclesiastical work after graduation.
Two types of bachelor's program exist for ESL students at Moody -- the standard B.A. and the interdisciplinary B.A. for students who entered the program sometime after their first collegiate semester. The graduation rate at Moody ranked No. two among schools that made our top ten, and schedule flexibility should be available both online and on campus for students who need it.
Our No. 10 school had a better graduation rate than all but three of the other schools that made our list, and its scores on our flexibility metrics may point to why. Niagara University had distance education enrollment numbers above the midline of top ten ESL schools and offers alternative tuition payment plans, placement services for graduates and classes that meet in evenings and on weekends.
The undergraduate TESOL program at this Vincentian Catholic institution in western New York includes an academic concentration requirement along with the ESL teaching coursework. Students may choose to specialize in biology, math, social studies, liberal arts, English, French or Spanish for ESL students. A master's degree and certificate of advanced study are also available.
ESL Degree Programs and Related Career Paths
The challenges of teaching to an assorted group of non-English speakers can change from classroom to classroom. Earning the right degree in ESL instruction can prepare you to face a wide range of pedagogical circumstances with ease and confidence.
Even if you didn't start your degree program with the goal becoming an ESL teacher, degree requirements may be somewhat flexible. Your school may offer related degree programs that can tie the credits you already have into an education that gets you ready for an ESL teaching career.
Career Outlook for ESL Majors
Finding work after you finish your degree has not historically been considered an easy task, but you can take some of the trouble out of it if you're aware of how the career market is expected to look when you graduate. Check out these employment projections for ESL careers.
PROJECTED JOB GROWTH(%)
|English Language and Literature Teachers, Postsecondary||$80,180||67,930||4.1%|
Financial aid and scholarships in ESL
Numerous scholarships for aspiring ESL teachers can be found at the state or institution level, offered by organizations and foundations dedicated to improving ESL instruction in their field or region. Some professional development aid programs, like the Atlas Corps English Teaching Fellowship, require that you work in a specific global region. Here are a few ESL scholarship programs to check out.
Membership in a professional organization can have a wide range of benefits for your career, whether you're looking to sharpen your skills or lay the groundwork for advancement. Many of the organizations and associations available to ESL teachers provide professional development opportunities like virtual seminars and continuing education through online courses, and most can help you be a part of regional and national events like conferences and expositions. Take a look at this quick list of professional organizations for teachers of ESL.
To be included in these rankings, all schools must meet the following initial criteria for the specific subject being ranked.
- Offer an undergraduate degree (either associate or bachelor’s) in that subject.
- Have awarded at least one degree or certificate in that subject in the most recent year of IPEDS data available.
Based on those criteria, we ranked all 2-year and 4-year schools in IPEDS that reported data for all of the following points. Ratings are calculated on a 10-point scale, using the weights specified.
- In-state undergraduate tuition & fees, National Center for Education Statistics, 2015
- Graduation rate, National Center for Education Statistics, 2015
- Accessibility, based on admissions rate, National Center for Education Statistics, 2015
- Institutional spending, based on two equally weighted factors, National Center for Education Statistics, 2015
- Instructional and academic support expenses per full-time enrolled student
- Instructional and academic support spending as a percentage of all expenses
- Student-to-faculty ratio, National Center for Education Statistics, 2015
- Flexibility, based on the following factors, National Center for Education Statistics, 2015
- Percent of students enrolled fully or partly in distance education
- Whether the school offers programs that can be completed entirely in the evenings and on weekends
- Whether the school offers academic and career counseling
- Whether the school offers job placement services for students who complete their programs
- Whether the school offers any alternative tuition plans, such as a payment plan or guaranteed rate
- Size of program, based on how many of the degrees and certificates awarded in 2014-15 were in this particular subject, National Center for Education Statistics, 2015
- Related subjects, based on the number of similar topics for programs in relevant CIP codes that are offered at any level, National Center for Education Statistics, 2015