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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 and Statistics, the median pay for ESL teachers in 2021 was $59,720, while instructional coordinators made an average of $63,740. The average annual salary for interpreters and translators was $49,110. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the average tuition for a master’s degree in the 2020-21 academic year was $12,394 at public universities and $26,621 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 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. Much of this can be done online by going to each school’s website and navigating to the page dedicated to the program. While some universities include many details about the program and admissions requirements, others do not. If you still have questions, you can call or write for more information.

Search for programs that offer concentrations and internships that align with your career goals. Also, check to see if internships or field experiences are a required or optional part of the curriculum. With this degree, overseas experiences may be available as well.

Along with academic information, consider the following important factors:

  • Is the school accredited? This is one of the first things to check. Apply only to schools that are accredited by agencies recognized by the U.S. Department of Education. Not only does this ensure you are involved in a quality program, but accreditation status also affects what financial aid you’re eligible for, what postsecondary programs you can apply to, and what job opportunities are available after graduation.
  • What is the cost of the program? You should have a general idea of how much you can pay for your degree, so check the cost of each program before reading and researching it. Don’t waste time researching programs that exceed the amount you are willing to pay.
  • What is the learning format? If you need control over your schedule or plan to study evenings and weekends because of work, family, or other responsibilities, an asynchronous format may be the best fit. If you’d like to interact more closely with fellow students and professors, then synchronous learning may be better for you. Check each program to see what is offered. Some programs offer a combination of both.
  • Where is the school located? 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.

Prepare for tests and applications

Admissions requirements vary depending on the university, 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.

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. When you receive your acceptance letters, choose the school that ranks highest on your list.

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).

Financing may be available through the university itself, and some schools offer an option to pay for each course as you work through the program. 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.

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

Discover More Options

How We Rank Schools

There are different types of degrees in English language learning, including Master of Arts in Teaching (MAT), Master of Education (MEd), Master of Science (MS), and Master of Arts (MA). Although they have different pedagogical approaches, all will prepare you for a career in teaching English as a second language.

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 online, on-campus, and in hybrid or blended formats.

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. Graduates who hold this degree are qualified to teach in U.S. public schools. Those who already have a teacher’s license can simply obtain ESL certification without having to complete a graduate degree.

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. Scholars learn 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

The career outlook for English as a Second Language (ESL) teachers isn’t great, with a projected decline of 13% through 2032. However, graduates with an online master’s in English language learning degree aren’t limited to this career. They may choose to work as a private tutor (3% growth), instructional coordinator (2% growth), or translator (4% growth).

The average salary for an ESL teacher is $58,590 per year, but other positions see higher wages. For example, teachers at the undergraduate level — including English language learning instructors — earn an average of $80,840 per year.

Career paths

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:

  • ESL teacher — teach students English as a second language, including grammar, vocabulary, and pronunciation
  • Tutor — work one-on-one with English language learners who may be working on academic assignments or furthering conversational skills
  • Instructional coordinator — design, develop, and implement curricula and support instructors
  • Interpreter/translator — translate speech or written text from another language to English or vice versa
  • School administrator — oversee daily school operations, staffing needs, and student concerns

ESL Teacher

Earning Potential: $36,970-$97,010 annually
Education Required: Master’s degree in English Language Learning, Education, Linguistics, English, or related fields

ESL teachers help students learn English as a second language. They cover basic vocabulary, phrases, and grammar for introductory-level students and provide instruction on slang, workplace communication, and other complex topics in advanced classes. ESL teachers develop lesson plans, create assessment tools, and collaborate with other instructors. They deliver instruction, provide an engaging learning environment, and grade assignments. ESL teachers at the elementary through high school level may also communicate with parents and ensure students are meeting academic standards.


Earning Potential: $26,040-$73,400 annually
Education Required: Master’s degree in English Language Learning, Education, Linguistics, or related fields

Tutors work with students to help them with specific areas they are struggling with. For English language learning tutors, this could be anything from particular grammar issues to building vocabulary. Tutors may also have conversations with students to help them with fluency and pronunciation. English language learning tutors may work individually with students or provide help to small groups. Tutors often need to collaborate with parents and teachers to ensure students are on track. They can help students set and meet academic goals and review their progress over the course of several sessions.

Instructional Coordinator

Earning Potential: $42,000-$105,210 annually
Education Required: Master’s degree in English Language Learning, Curriculum and Instruction, Education, or related fields

Instructional coordinators are tasked with curriculum development and implementation. They serve as a support system for instructors by providing workshops and training programs on English language learning instructional methods and classroom technology. Instructional coordinators need an in-depth knowledge of state and federal regulations for classroom learning and academic standards. They may also analyze test data and feedback to make programs more effective for teachers and students.

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, often accompanied by additional fees involving the technology and software used for online delivery. Services and books are generally not included in the tuition. Out-of-state students may pay higher tuition than in-state residents, but this is not always the case for online 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.

The salary range for an ESL teacher with a master’s degree is $63,983-$73,552 per year, but those at the college level average $80,840 annually.

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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