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Students who graduate with a master’s degree in English language learning are qualified to teach English to speakers of other languages. They can pursue careers as ESL teachers, instructional coordinators, interpreters, translators, and school counselors.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median pay for ESL teachers is $60,560, while instructional coordinators make an average of $74,620. The average annual salary for interpreters and translators is $57,090. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the average annual tuition for a graduate degree is $12,596 at public universities and $28,017 at private universities. Completing this degree takes two to three years of full-time study.

How to Choose an Online Master’s in English Language Learning Program

Choose your area of study

Since graduates of this degree program can pursue careers in different areas of English language learning, it is important to know what you’re planning to do after graduation. Programs may offer concentrations focusing on subjects such as literature, rhetoric and writing, and TESOL. Keep in mind that not all universities provide the same concentrations. Also, it’s important to look at what internship options and field experiences are offered as part of the program and if any are available in your area. These are usually required for this degree.

You also need to decide if you want a Master of Science (MS), Master of Arts (MA), or Master of Education (MEd). All will prepare you for a career in English learning, but they have different pedagogical approaches.

Research schools and programs

Once you’ve determined your area of study and which type of degree you want, start researching different schools and their programs.

You should only apply to institutions that have been approved by a DOE-recognized regional accrediting organization, such as the New England Commission of Higher Education or Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities. These organizations evaluate schools to ensure they provide students with a high-quality education. Those who attend a school that isn’t regionally accredited may be unable to access financial aid or transfer credits to another institution if needed.

Ideally, your master’s in English language learning program will also be accredited by a respected industry group like the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP). This accrediting organization has particularly high standards for education-related programs.

You should also have a general idea of how much you can pay for your degree, so check the cost of each program before researching further. Don’t waste time looking into programs that exceed the amount you are willing to pay.

Although you’ll be doing the coursework online, the school’s location is still worth considering. If it’s not too far away, you can participate directly in on-campus orientations, student organizations and clubs, career fairs, and other on-campus events. Also, online programs are often offered with a hybrid option, so students can attend some classes in person if they like. If you’d like to take advantage of this, proximity to the school may be a factor in your decision.

To learn more about any schools that you’re interested in, you can visit the school’s website, contact an admissions counselor, follow the school on social media, or attend an in-person or virtual open house.

Prepare for tests and applications

Admissions requirements vary depending on the university and program, so check each school’s website. While some schools require that applications and related documents be submitted by a specific date, others offer rolling admissions. Depending on the university, online programs may or may not start at the same time as on-campus courses. Additionally, while entrance exams aren’t generally a requirement for graduate programs, some universities ask for GRE scores.

You may need to also submit additional materials, such as undergraduate transcripts, letters of recommendation, and a personal statement. Before submitting an application, always contact an admissions counselor to ensure you have the most accurate information regarding requirements and deadlines.

Select your program

Once you’ve done your research and have all the relevant information, it’s time to select your program. Look at the pros and cons of each one, and decide which factors are most important to you. Then, make a list, in order of preference, of all the programs that fit what you’re looking for. Apply to them all, as you don’t know what the responses will be.

Before making your final decision, review your needs and goals again. Do you plan to attend school full-time or part-time? Do you want your program to be as online as possible, or are you fine with a hybrid program that has a fair amount of in-person requirements? Some programs offer asynchronous courses, which can be completed at your own pace, while others only offer synchronous courses, which involve remotely attending lectures and completing assignments at the same time as other students — which of these two online learning formats do you prefer? Your school should accommodate your scheduling needs and learning preferences.

Determine how you’ll pay for your degree

Financial aid in the form of loans, grants, and work-study programs is offered by the U.S. government. To be eligible, you must submit the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).

You may be able to skip some courses if you have previously earned college credits that can be transferred. Military members, past or present, often receive discounted tuition. Beyond that, if you have time in your schedule, a part-time job can help pay for the program. Those who already work in the field should see if their employer offers tuition assistance benefits as well.

Be sure to speak to financial aid counselors at the schools you’re interested in for the most accurate and specific information about program cost.

Best 50 Accredited Online Master’s in English Language Learning Programs

Best Online Master's in English Language Learning Degree Programs

USC Rossier School of Education

Webster University

University of Northern Iowa

Azusa Pacific University

Albizu University

University of Maryland at Baltimore County

Concordia University, Nebraska

Newman University

American University

Wilkes University

Hamline University

Canisius College

Mercy College

Eastern University

Sam Houston State University

Arizona State University

Biola University

Liberty University

Spring Arbor University

Penn State World Campus

McDaniel College

Trevecca Nazarene University

SUNY Brockport

Multnomah University

The New School

University of North Carolina at Charlotte

St. John's University

Kennesaw State University

Asbury University

Southeast Missouri State University

University of North Carolina Wilmington

Cornerstone University

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How We Rank Schools

As part of our quality standards, we only review programs offered by schools with regional accreditation. Many of the programs on our list are also accredited through the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP). We included programs that are delivered in a 100% online or hybrid learning format.

Once we narrowed our list of programs, we evaluated them on the basis of cost, course strength, reputation, faculty, and flexibility. Each program received an Intelligent Score on a scale of 0 to 100. For a more extensive explanation, check out Our Ranking Methodology.

What Can You Expect from an Online Master’s in English Language Learning Program?

This program focuses on how to teach English as a second language, including theory, methods, lesson planning, and how to work with and within different cultures.

In an online degree program, students receive their coursework via an online learning platform such as Canvas, Moodle, or Blackboard. Some schools have their own exclusive platform. Each student has an account and can access everything they need for the program online, including the syllabus, reading and audio-video material, recorded lectures, assignments, announcements, grades, and more. The platform includes online chats and message boards so students can communicate with one another as well as with instructors and professors.

Potential courses you’ll take in an online master’s in English language learning degree program 

  • Theories of second language acquisition. This course covers material in applied linguistics, such as grammar, syntax, morphology, and semantics. Students learn about dialect, how language is related to culture, and principles of first and second language acquisition.
  • Structures of modern English. Students examine the structures of the English language, both written and spoken, and how to teach these effectively. Attention is given to grammar, syntax, and how written language differs from spoken language.
  • Field experience. Most programs require field experience where students must spend a certain number of hours in a real-world teaching environment. This course covers how to assess students’ language levels, locate effective resources for teaching, and plan methods and lessons accordingly.
  • Pronunciation. Pronunciation is often one of the major challenges for learners, and this course covers how to use phonology and phonetics to teach proper pronunciation. Students also learn how accents are viewed both in a societal and cultural context.

What Can You Do With an Online Master’s in English Language Learning Degree?

Career outlook

Students with an educational background in English language learning have the necessary skills to work in the education sector, whether as an instructor, in curriculum development, or as an administrator. Those with proficiencies in other languages can work as interpreters or translators in various industries, including healthcare, business, social services, and travel and tourism.

Here are some examples of potential career paths for English language learning degrees:

  • Adult education or ESL teacher — Teach adult learners fundamental skills, such as how to read, write, and speak English.
    • Median annual salary: $60,560
    • Projected employment growth (through 2032): -13%
    • New job openings projected: 4,200 annually
  • Interpreter or translator — Convert information from one language to another. Interpreters convert spoken language, while translators convert written language.
    • Median annual salary: $57,090
    • Projected employment growth (through 2032): 4%
    • New job openings projected: 7,200 annually
  • Instructional coordinator — Develop, implement, and assess the effectiveness of educational materials.
    • Median annual salary: $74,620
    • Projected employment growth (through 2032): 2%
    • New job openings projected: 19,200 annually

Online Master’s Degree in English Language Learning Frequently Asked Questions

How do I apply to an online master’s in English language learning degree program?

Applications can be filled out and submitted on the university’s website or mailed in. Most universities require a bachelor’s degree from an accredited institution. It may or may not have to be in a related field, and some schools require applicants to have a teacher’s license or prior teaching experience in ESL. Transcripts should be submitted, and there is usually a minimum GPA requirement, but this varies by school.

Along with the application, schools typically ask for a resume, one or more letters of recommendation, and a personal statement or essay. Many universities require proof of U.S. citizenship or residency, and if English is not an applicant’s first language, you should submit test scores proving English proficiency. For this degree, proficiency in a language other than English may be an additional requirement. Applicants should always speak with an admissions counselor before applying.

How much does an online master’s in English language learning degree cost?

A master’s in English language learning usually costs between $10,000 and $20,000 in total tuition, often accompanied by additional fees involving the technology and software used for online delivery. Services and books are generally not included in the tuition. Private schools are usually more expensive than public schools, though public schools tend to charge out-of-state students a higher tuition rate than in-state students.

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

Depending on the school, this program requires 30-39 credits and can be completed in two or three years with full-time study. Part-time options are available at some institutions, but there is almost always a limit — four or five years — to the time allowed to complete the program.

Is an online master’s in English language learning degree worth it?

Pursuing higher education is an investment, but earning a master’s degree is almost always worth it. Graduates with an online master’s in English language learning have the skills and training for a variety of positions, whether that’s working one-on-one with English language learners, providing interpreting services to organizations, or mentoring the next generation of ESL teachers.

One of the main benefits of an online master’s in English language learning degree is that it gives you direct experience with the remote learning environment. This gives you an advantage in working with international students via Zoom and other platforms and prepares you for a career in online learning.

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