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Reviewed by Mary McLaughlin, Ma-TESOL; M.S. SpEd
Weighing Your Options
Getting your master’s degree in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) or Teaching English as a Second Language (TESL) can open up many career opportunities, both in the classroom and beyond. Finding the best master’s program in the field should begin with narrowing your focus and researching your prospective university to ensure that it offers the areas of specialization or certification you seek.
An ideal resource for exploring educational and professional opportunities is the website of the organization Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages, or TESOL. TESOL’s article, “Tips for Choosing a TESOL Master’s Program,” emphasizes that the most significant criteria in selecting your TESL or TESOL master’s program are that it works for you and that it is aligned with your educational and career goals. The article focuses on two main degree areas:
MA in TESOL
Curriculum in these types of programs centers on pedagogy. The degree can gain you entry into either teaching ESL in the United States or teaching EFL abroad. Students typically participate in an internship, practicum, or student teaching as part of their requirements.
If you select this educational pathway, take note of any extra requirements that certain states or countries may have regarding teaching in public or private school K-12 classrooms. In many cases, you must have a teaching certificate to procure a job as a classroom teacher. Prerequisites vary by state, but almost always include a semester of student teaching. In high-need or urban areas, you may be able to secure a paid student-teaching internship or an emergency ESL credential as you complete any curricular and testing requirements.
MA in Applied Linguistics
Students wanting to pursue research and theory in the field of linguistics tend to select this option. Depending upon the university, you may study language acquisition, language education, and intercultural communication. The Linguistics at Wake Forest webpage outlines some possible careers for graduates in this area of concentration, among them speech pathology, social work, translation, teaching, research, and computer language processing.
The Teachers College at Columbia University
Columbia is a high-profile school, and its Applied Linguistics & Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages program is offered through its Education Department, which is ranked among the top six by U.S. News & World Report, as of 2012. The school has noteworthy projects for students to conduct research and gain practical experience, including the Community Language Program, a lab school, and Working Papers in TESOL and Applied Linguistics, a research journal that is published online.
Students can opt for a master’s or doctoral program in TESOL. They can add coursework and student teaching so they concurrently earn a K-12 teaching certificate to work in New York public schools.
Going to one of the country’s most famous and highly regarded education schools is expensive. In 2013, the tuition cost was over $1,200 per credit for full-time and part-time students. According to U.S. Department of Education’s rankings of student debt published in the Wall Street Journal in 2013, the median sum of money borrowed by students is $12,500.
You do not need to take the GRE to be admitted to the program, but non-native speakers of English must submit TOEFL or IELTS scores.
Monterey Institute of International Studies (MIIS)
If you are interested in a global education with faculty who are recognized experts on international issues, the MIIS master’s degree in TESOL or its popular Peace Corps Master’s International program both provide a solid foundation in language teaching and linguistics. Among the areas of specialization open to students are:
- Language Program Administration
- Computer-Assisted Language Learning
- Teaching Foreign Language
- International Education Management
GRE scores are not required for any of MIIS’s International Policy, TESOL, or Translation and Interpretation programs. About 80 percent of students enrolled receive some form of financial aid at MIIS, according to statistics published by the Princeton Review website, which also reports a previous job placement rate of 85 percent.
University of Pennsylvania
At this university’s Graduate School of Education, which was ranked in the top 10 by U.S. News & World Report in 2010, students can opt to earn a master’s degree in Educational Linguistics specializing in TESOL. A significant proportion of the students enrolled are international.
The program balances the practical experience of working in language institutes and literacy centers with interdisciplinary coursework. For people wanting to pursue local jobs, the faculty and students have close relationships with urban schools in West Philadelphia. The education department operates the National Center on Families and Fathers, as well as the Penn Center for Educational Leadership.
The U.S. Department of Education statistics, summarized by the Wall Street Journal in 2013, indicate that median student debt at the University of Pennsylvania is slightly over $19,000.
Also as of 2013, average GRE scores of entering master’s program students are 157 for Verbal, 155 for Quantitative, and 4 for writing. International students must submit TOEFL or IELTS scores.
Other Programs to Consider
The above programs provide a cross-section of schools and different areas of focus. There are several other schools offering noteworthy master’s programs in TESOL, often through education or applied linguistics departments. The University of California at Los Angeles has several certification, master’s degree, and doctoral degree options in its Applied Linguistics Department. One of the more affordable graduate programs is in the U.S. News & World Report top 20 rankings of 2013: the master’s degree in TESOL/Applied Linguistics that is offered at Indiana University-Bloomington.