Colleges Where You Can Learn American Sign Language

Interested in ASL as a major? You’re not alone. Read to learn more about ASL at colleges and universities in the U.S.
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Published on June 27, 2023
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  • American Sign Language is a socially and culturally important language.
  • Depending on the institution, it's available to study at both the undergraduate and graduate levels.
  • Students should prepare themselves for what to expect as an ASL major.

American Sign Language (ASL) is important to millions of Americans who are deaf, hard of hearing, or who interact with deaf people. The language is a mode of communication that provides accessibility for its users, and it is a crucial component of Deaf culture.

ASL is also available as a major at some colleges and universities. Though the major may go by a few different names, like Deaf studies or ASL studies, it is critical to spreading awareness for the experiences of deaf and hard-of-hearing people.

5 Colleges that Teach American Sign Language

Interest in ASL, especially at top-tier colleges, is growing rapidly at U.S. colleges and universities. The following institutions are trailblazers in providing ASL education to their students.

Rochester Institute of Technology

RIT hosts the National Technical Institute for the Deaf (NTID). Founded in 1968, the institute is dedicated to leveling the playing field for hard-of-hearing and deaf students. NTID helps these students access the rest of the majors at RIT.

It also offers a BS in ASL English interpretation, which is meant to help students in their careers as interpreters. Students can study at both the undergraduate and graduate levels.

California State University, Northridge

CSUN has a Deaf Studies Department within the Eisner College of Education. The department offers courses to undergraduate students and offers six topic concentrations, from ASL interpretation to deaf literature. The Deaf Studies Department aims for students to understand the complexities of the deaf/hard-of-hearing identity.

There, unfortunately, is no graduate program in Deaf studies. However, CSUN has the largest number of deaf and hard-of-hearing students at a mainstream institution in the nation.

Boston University

Boston University offers both a Deaf studies major and ASL as a foreign language elective. The former is available as a minor for undergraduates and a major for graduate students, while the latter is only available for undergraduate study.

The university also offers a minor and a master's degree in Deaf education. Additionally, a certificate in Education of the Deaf is available for students at the graduate level.

University of Arizona

The University of Arizona has many options for students to study the language and culture of deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals. Students can earn a bachelor of science in education in Deaf studies or get a minor in ASL.

Graduate students wanting to train in special education for deaf students can also seek a degree at this institution. The ASL program aims to share the validity and nuances of Deaf culture and experiences.

Columbia College Chicago

Offering both a major and minor in ASL-related degrees, Columbia College's deaf and hard-of-hearing-related programs cater to undergraduate students. The BA in ASL English interpretation prepares students for a career in interpreting with a practicum and preparation for licensure. The minor focuses more on allowing students to learn ASL.

Columbia College also boasts a strong community focus that encourages students to engage with the deaf and hard-of-hearing community of Chicago.

What to Expect as an ASL Major

How Long to Complete an ASL Degree

How long an ASL program takes to complete depends on the school a student attends. Some institutions have accelerated programs that require fewer credit hours, while others last just as long as other majors.

On average, a four-year major requires 30-36 credit hours, and a minor requires 18 credit hours. Students should check the number of credit hours required for an ASL major on the institution's website.

Courses for an ASL Major or Minor

Courses for ASL programs vary but tend to include similar topics. Many programs have a course that discusses Deaf and hard-of-hearing culture. Other common courses involved the study of literature or community-based coursework meant to expose hearing students to Deaf culture outside of the classroom.

Generally, ASL programs also include a social justice course that discusses the rights and realities of those with disabilities. Sociology and other interdisciplinary studies may be a part of the curriculum. Students may also take courses that require them to learn Deaf history. Finally, programs also include the ASL language component where students learn ASL.

Job Opportunities With a Degree in Deaf Studies

As detailed above, many programs focus on interpretation as a primary career for students. However, many professions are available to students interested in Deaf studies and ASL.

Education is a route that graduates often take. Those that are interested in teaching deaf and hard-of-hearing students will benefit from ASL coursework. Additionally, students who graduate with Deaf studies degrees can go on to work for social services and community organizations that cater to deaf and hard-of-hearing people.

However, students can go on to pursue any relevant or adjacent career path with a degree in ASL or Deaf studies.

Frequently Asked Questions About American Sign Language

Is sign language the same in other languages?

No. American Sign Language is different from other sign languages in the same way that spoken English is different from other languages. There may be similarities, but each language has a different vocabulary, grammar, and context.

Can I teach myself American Sign Language?

Yes. It's possible for a person to learn any language on their own, including ASL. There are several online and in-person programs that can teach individuals how to sign.

Should I minor in American Sign Language?

Students minor in American Sign Language because they have an interest in learning a different language, want to know more about deaf and hard-of-hearing experiences, or just have a general interest in ASL. If you align with any of these reasons, you can earn a minor in ASL.

How can I become a sign language interpreter for concerts?

As of late, ASL interpreters at concerts have come into the limelight because of viral videos on social media that portray energetic interpreters. The first step to becoming a professional interpreter is getting a National Interpreter Certification (NIC). Afterward, you can find employment with artists or venues.

Do colleges accept ASL as a foreign language?

Some colleges recognize ASL as a foreign language, but others do not. Students should be sure to check with their institution to make sure that they are able to enroll or take ASL credits to count for any foreign language requirements.