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As of 2017, approximately five million students in the United States were English language learners, speaking to the significant demand for skilled educators. Earning a master’s in English language learning is rewarding, supplying graduates with advanced linguistic knowledge, innovative teaching methods, and cultural understanding. This degree provides opportunities for many graduates with careers as ESL teachers, where a graduate degree often leads to higher salaries — potentially making $97,980 or higher.

Usually completed in two years with full-time study, this degree yields the specialized skills for success in the field and, with an average tuition of $19,749 for the 2020-2021 academic year, offers a worthwhile investment in an essential profession.

How to Choose an English Language Learning Program

Choose your area of study

While this degree is already relatively niche, you can further tailor your education to your career goals by choosing an area of study. Options may vary, but they can include linguistics, curriculum design, and educational technology.

For example, linguistics is ideal for those intrigued by language structure and theory, while curriculum design suits educators keen on creating impactful teaching programs. Furthermore, educational technology appeals to those looking to integrate innovative tools into language education.

Research schools and programs

When exploring schools and programs for your master’s in English language learning, conducting thorough research is essential to finding the best fit for your academic needs and career goals. Consider using the following questions to guide your research:

  • What are the faculty’s credentials and areas of expertise?
  • How does the curriculum align with your career objectives?
  • What practical experiences or internships does the program offer?
  • Are there opportunities for networking and professional development?
  • What are the program’s graduation and job placement rates?

You can find this information on school websites, through contacting admissions officials, and by attending open houses or information sessions.

Prepare for tests and applications

Once you have a shortlist of schools you’d like to apply to, start gathering your transcripts and letters of recommendation. When it comes to these elements, the sooner you can collect them, the better — as they’re fundamental to your application. Begin drafting your personal statement well in advance, as this document may require multiple revisions to reflect your goals and impress the admissions committee.

For programs requiring GRE scores, consider enrolling in a test prep program. These programs can significantly boost your scores, making you a more competitive applicant.

Select your program

The arrival of acceptance letters is often an exciting time, but it can quickly become overwhelming if you receive more than one. Review your initial research criteria, focusing on how each school stands out in the areas most crucial to you. Now is also the time to reassess each school’s overall cost of attendance and available financial aid opportunities — ensuring your decision is financially feasible.

Determine how you’ll pay for your degree

To finance your graduate degree without accumulating significant debt, look for financial aid opportunities to help you pay for your education while reducing costs. This might include seeking out scholarships and grants, which don’t require repayment and are usually awarded based on need or merit. If you’re seeking part-time employment, explore assistantships. These often provide a stipend and may cover tuition in exchange for teaching or research work.

If you’re currently employed, check if your company offers tuition assistance programs, which can be a substantial financial benefit if you plan to stay post-graduation. Lastly, consider federal loans to cover any remaining costs, but only borrow what’s necessary to keep your future debt manageable.

Best 50 Accredited English Language Learning Programs

Best Master’s in English Language Learning Degree Programs_2024 badge

Webster University

University of Maryland, Baltimore County

University of San Francisco

Azusa Pacific University

Mercy College

Lipscomb University

Discover More Options

How we rank schools

We reviewed many master’s in English language learning degree programs, including Master of Arts (MA), Master of Science (MS), and Master of Education (MEd) programs. While these have different foci, they can all lead to a career teaching English to non-native speakers. The list also includes online, on-campus, and hybrid options.

To ensure the quality of every program, we only considered regionally accredited schools. Many of these options also have programmatic accreditation through the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP).We evaluated each program on the basis of flexibility, faculty, course strength, cost, and reputation. Then, we calculated the Intelligent Score for each program on a scale from 0 to 100. For a more extensive explanation, check out our ranking methodology.

What Can You Expect From a Master’s in English Language Learning Program?

Designed for educators seeking the skills to teach English as a second or foreign language, a master’s in English language learning covers several essential topics needed to thrive in this field. Typically spanning two years, curriculums include detailed studies in linguistic theories, pedagogical strategies, curriculum development, and cultural sensitivities essential for diverse classrooms. As a student, you’ll gain hands-on experience through practical teaching assignments, improving your ability to address varied learning needs. Programs also delve into the use of technology in language education and the latest research methods.

A significant component is completing a thesis, which requires students to conduct original research, offering insights into effective language teaching practices. Upon graduation, you’ll be ready to significantly contribute to English language education in academic and practical settings.

Potential courses you’ll take in a master’s in English language learning program

  • Linguistics for Educators: Often considered a core course, this class delves into the structure and function of language, including syntax, phonetics, and semantics. Students learn how to apply linguistic principles to teaching English, improving their ability to explain language patterns and usage to their students.
  • Curriculum Development in Language Education: Another essential component in many curriculums, this course focuses on designing and implementing effective English language curricula. Participants learn to assess learners’ needs, set achievable outcomes, and evaluate the success of language programs, ensuring they are prepared to manage and improve language learning environments.
  • Second Language Acquisition: In this essential class, students explore the cognitive processes behind learning a second language. They examine several theories and acquisition models, which will help them tailor their teaching strategies to support language learning effectively.
  • Cultural Perspectives in Language Learning: Typically deemed an elective, this course prepares students to navigate and respect the diverse cultural dynamics of their students. It covers practical strategies for inclusive teaching and fostering a culturally sensitive classroom environment.

Master’s in English Language Learning Degree Frequently Asked Questions

How do I apply to a master's in English language learning degree program?

To apply for these degree programs, you’ll need to meet several key admissions criteria — typically including:

  • A bachelor’s degree from an accredited institution
  • Official transcripts from all previously attended institutions
  • Two to three letters of recommendation
  • Statement of purpose outlining your educational goals
  • GRE scores, if required

For non-native speakers, many schools will require you to demonstrate English proficiency with test scores from the TOEFL or IELTS.

It is crucial to connect with an admissions counselor before applying. They can explain specific requirements and ensure that your application is as strong as possible.

How much does a master's in English language learning degree cost?

The cost of your master’s in English language learning will depend on the school you attend, as this figure can vary significantly by institution. On average, the annual cost for graduate degree programs was $19,749 for the 2020-2021 academic year.

However, you should also budget for additional expenses like books, course materials, commuting, and housing. Some programs may also include fees for technology, student services, or internship placements. It’s recommended that you contact the financial aid office of the universities you’re considering to get an exact estimate of the total costs.

How long does it take to earn a master's in English language learning degree?

Achieving this degree takes about two years for full-time students, while part-time students may take three to four years, depending on their course load. The total number of required credits can significantly impact the program length, with most programs requiring between 30 and 40 credits. Knowing the total credits needed is essential for planning your timeline to graduation — especially if you’re balancing personal and professional obligations.

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