English Language Learning Graduate Certificate Program Information

20 min read

Share this Article

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, more than 4 million learners in public schools were English language learners, or nonnative speakers, for the 2014-2015 school year. This number indicates a strong need for English as a second language (ESL) educators. Earning a graduate certificate in English language learning (ELL) prepares students for related occupations by allowing them to explore graduate-level concepts without committing to a master's program.

According to the NCES, more than 4 million learners in public schools were English language learners, or nonnative speakers, for the 2014-2015 school year.

BestColleges.com is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

Ready to Start Your Journey?

Quotation mark

Many teaching careers require a master's degree, and a certificate acts as a stepping stone toward a higher degree. Furthermore, some graduate certificates in ELL programs insist that candidates enroll in a master's or doctorate program. Graduates can work in school systems or ESL organizations as consultants, designers, or teachers.

How to Choose the Right Graduate Certificate in English Language Learning Program

Students should consider program length when researching schools. An ESL graduate certificate typically requires one or two years, but factors such as credit requirements and full-time/part-time status impact the timeline. Candidates should consider their scheduling commitments to determine how much time they can designate to each semester. For example, a student who needs to graduate within a year and a half but can only study part time should choose a program with fewer credit requirements.

Students paying out-of-pocket may need a school with lower tuition rates and fees, particularly if a learner's cost of living proves high. Choosing less expensive institutions can also lead to less student loan debt. A student's enrollment status affects cost because colleges and universities may charge part-time learners higher tuition rates than full-time students.

Candidates should also consider school location. Practicums and field experiences, as well as on-campus events and workshops, provide networking opportunities at potential job locations. To maximize these connections, students can study near the area they intend to live, perhaps in teacher shortage areas to heighten employment chances.

Learners must also decide between on-campus and online ESL programs, and should select programs that offer curricula related to intended careers. For instance, learners studying in K-12 ESL programs pursue coursework related to children and adolescents to prepare for careers as elementary, middle, or high school teachers.

Employment and Salary Outlook for ESL Teachers

ESL educators earn a median salary of $40,740, though several variables impact this amount, such as a candidate's experience. For instance, an ESL teacher's salary increases an average of 26% after 20 years of employment. Furthermore, public school teachers often earn higher wages than private school educators, and candidates in large cities may experience higher salaries than teachers in rural areas.

Various ELL-related occupations hold positive growth projections. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects a 7% increase in elementary school teaching jobs by 2026 and an 8% increase in high school teaching positions in the same period. ESL careers also extend beyond classrooms to include administrative and curriculum development positions.

Median Salary For English Language Learning Graduate Certificate Holders by Experience
Job Title Entry Level (0-5 Years) Mid-Career (5-10 Years) Experienced (10-20 Years) Late Career (20+ Years)
ESL Teacher $39,000* $40,000* $45,000* $52,000*
Elementary School Teacher $39,000* $44,000* $50,000* $56,000*
High School Teacher $41,000* $47,000* $54,000* $61,000*
Curriculum Developer $52,000* $61,000* $69,000* $86,000*

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

Career Opportunities

Since language acquisition requires significant time and effort, ideal ESL graduate certificate candidates are patient and passionate about helping others succeed. The certificate can lead to jobs as elementary school teachers or assistants for adults learning English. ESL professionals can also pursue careers in curriculum development for educators and school districts.

ESL Teacher

Chevron Down

These educators help nonnative speakers learn English, and may teach subjects such as science and history to ESL students. ESL teachers also guide learners concerning culture and perform typical educator responsibilities, including grading assignments and creating lesson plans. An ESL graduate certificate indicates that candidates understand second language concepts enough to assist students learning English.

Elementary School Teacher

Chevron Down

Elementary educators teach subjects such as math, English, and social studies to students in kindergarten through sixth grade. These educators create lesson plans and discuss student progress with parents. An ESL graduate certificate indicates that candidates can teach in bilingual settings, which is beneficial for diverse classrooms.

High School Teacher

Chevron Down

These teachers may focus on one topic but teach more than one course. For instance, a math teacher may teach calculus and geometry classes. Other responsibilities include assisting with school activities and helping students prepare for college. An ESL graduate certificate program trains candidates to fulfill these tasks with nonnative English speakers.

Curriculum Developer

Chevron Down

Curriculum developers guide schools or companies by developing materials and finding strategies to reach goals. In education, this responsibility can mean deciphering what coursework and materials best educate students in a subject. An ESL graduate certificate indicates candidates understand language acquisition to assist in TESOL classrooms.

Accreditation for English Language Learning Graduate Certificate Programs

Accreditation means that an agency with the authority to review academic credentials determined a school or program meets quality academic standards. Students should always consider a school's accreditation status since many forms of financial aid are only available to learners at accredited institutions. Furthermore, future schools and employers may not accept coursework, degrees, or certificates from unaccredited colleges.

Accreditation types include national, regional, and programmatic, and each category holds merit. For instance, regional accreditation heightens the chances of credit transfers, and programmatic accreditation indicates that a specific program within a school earned agency approval. Accrediting agencies for an ESL graduate certificate include the Commission on English Language Program Accreditation and the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation.

English Language Learning Graduate Certificate Program Admissions

On-campus programs require applications for admission that may include personal statements, recommendation letters, and writing samples. Colleges and universities receive thousands of applications per year, which limits the time invested on a single application. Students should note this detail and organize applications so that their strongest qualifications stand out. Online admissions involve a similar process, but more interaction may occur between admissions teams and candidates.

Learners should apply to at least two or three schools from three categories. The first category includes colleges and universities with programs and admission requirements that reflect an applicant's accomplishments. The other categories involve schools with relevant programs but higher admission standards, as well as institutions that are less selective. This strategy increases a student's chances of acceptance.

Admission Requirements

  • Check

    Bachelor's degree=

    Bachelor's degrees indicate candidates can succeed in academic environments. Many ESL graduate certificate programs require a bachelor's without specifying a degree field. Schools may also require candidates to hold a graduate degree and a minimum GPA for admission.
  • Check

    Teaching Experience:

    This requirement verifies an applicant's classroom abilities and provides evidence of foundational ESL knowledge. While some departments may not require teaching experience, candidates should confirm experience hour requirements with institutions.

Admission Materials

  • Check


    Students submit an application detailing their professional and academic background to prospective programs. Many programs require personal statements, essays, and recommendation letters with the application.
  • Check

    Exam Scores:

    Since ESL graduate certificates can require teaching experience, applicants may need to take assessments related to licensure, such as Praxis exams. These standardized tests allow institutions to determine students' qualifications. Nonnative English speakers may also need to take the Test of English as a Foreign Language exam.
  • Check

    Background Check:

    This admissions step allows schools to examine an applicant's history based on factors such as credit score, criminal record, and employment achievements. Schools can also verify some application information through background searches. Not all institutions require these checks.
  • Check


    Students should send transcripts from all previous schools when applying for certificate programs. Although some institutions release transcripts for free, many require a fee. Typically, colleges and universities charge less than $50.
  • Check

    Application Fee:

    Most applications have a processing fee, which is typically less than $100. Schools may waive this fee for students with demonstrable financial need.

What Else Can I Expect From a Certificate in English Language Learning Program?

Core Courses in an English Language Learning Graduate Certificate Program

Students should research curricula when pursuing an ESL graduate certificate. For example, a K-12 ESL program examines second language concepts as they impact those grade levels, whereas a curriculum development program may address more general learning concepts. Despite these differences, most ESL graduate certificate programs include a version of the core classes found below.

Methods of Teaching

Chevron Down

In these courses, students explore ESL curricula and educational strategies to discover the best classroom practices. Students may study how to tailor material for ESL learners, second language acquisition elements, guidance on determining student needs, and insights on modern educational tactics. Candidates prepare for careers as educators and curriculum designers through these classes.

Second Language Acquisition)

Chevron Down

This course examines SLA, including factors that can affect the process. Students may use social and theoretical contexts to explore how SLA occurs and how this process compares to children learning their first language. Course materials train candidates to work as ESL teachers in schools or at organizations that help nonnative speaking adults learn English.

Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessment

Chevron Down

Students in these courses examine theories and practices for delivering ESL information. Candidates learn to assess student issues to determine effective methods for guiding learners toward English proficiency. Other topics may include technology and modern trends in instruction.

How Long Does It Take to Get a Certificate in English Language Learning?

Earning an ESL certificate typically takes less than two years, but various factors impact this time frame, such as credit requirements. Some programs may require 10 credits, while others require 20. Students can attain a 10-credit certificate in less than a year, while learners in a 20-credit option may finish in a year and a half.

The delivery method also affects program length. Certificates with accelerated pace options take less time, while cohort programs typically take longer.

Candidates needing schedule flexibility may study part time, though this choice may lead to higher per-credit tuition and lengthen the time to graduation. Students can graduate faster by enrolling in credit loads beyond full-time expectations. Departments; however, may consider this approach as course overload and charge students higher tuition.

How Much Is a Certificate in English Language Learning?

The cost of an English language learning certificate varies by program and school. In-state students at a public school pay less tuition than out-of-state students, and private school students typically pay the most.

Schools may charge between $500-$600 per credit for an ESL graduate certificate program. Departments may also charge tuition by year, with possible resident rates between $8,000-$10,000.

Additional financial considerations for ESL graduate certificate programs include expenses such as technology, registration, and graduation fees. Students should also consider commuting, housing, and book costs. Candidates can pursue financial aid to help with expenses.

Professional Organizations in English Language Learning

Professional organizations provide members with several benefits, including access to job boards and career services. These groups also deliver conferences and seminars where members can learn new ESL concepts and network with field professionals. Additionally, candidates can explore courses and events provided by organizations to fulfill continuing education requirements for license renewal.

BestColleges.com is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

Compare Your School Options

View the most relevant schools for your interests and compare them by tuition, programs, acceptance rate, and other factors important to finding your college home.