By and large, schools design their online master's in English language learning programs for teachers and administrative leaders interested in obtaining or strengthening their teaching skills. Learners discover how to instruct and create a curriculum for English as a second language (ESL) or English language learning (ELL) programs.

As the nation becomes more multicultural, the need for ESL teachers continues to increase. Schools must also learn to create programs and initiatives that engage students who are not native English speakers. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that demand for teachers is growing by 8%. In addition to a career in education, graduates from master's in English teaching programs may find work in a variety of industries, such as tutoring or translating.

What are the best english language learning programs of 2020? Here are our top 10:

Rank School Location
1 University of Southern California Los Angeles, CA
2 Carlos Albizu University - Miami Miami, FL
3 University of Maryland - Baltimore County Baltimore, MD
4 University of Northern Iowa Cedar Falls, IA
5 Webster University Saint Louis, MO
6 Azusa Pacific University Azusa, CA
7 Harding University Searcy, AR
8 Concordia University - Nebraska Seward, NE
9 Newman University Wichita, KS
10 Biola University La Mirada, CA

Choosing a Program


The best online master's degree in English language learning programs are designed for teachers interested in expanding their ESL skills. Currently licensed teachers learn new techniques that they can incorporate into their daily interactions with students. Administrators learn the art of creating an effective ESL curriculum. Both teachers and administrators develop a unique perspective that helps them connect to ESL students. They also learn the differences between teaching English in foreign countries and teaching in countries where English is the native language.


Most online master's in English language learning programs require applicants to hold a bachelor's degree and a valid teaching license. Applicants should have some teaching experience and/or a valid administrator's license. State law requires teachers to have work experience prior to applying for a teaching license. Typically, prerequisites vary according to the school and online program. Some programs offer certification and degrees simultaneously.


An online degree program provides the flexibility and convenience ESL teachers need. Learners can work individually at their own pace or within a group. Learners can also work full or part time while completing a program. Most programs require students to dedicate a certain number of hours per week to coursework. Instructors work with students to provide direction and help when necessary. Academic advisers guide students and ensure they stay on track to graduate.

What Are The Best Online Master's in English Language Learning Programs?

Rank School Location Cost Graduation Rate Description Toggle

University of Southern California

Los Angeles, CA Cost: $$$$$ Graduation Rate: 92%

The University of Southern California serves more than 47,000 students each year on campus and online. Distance learners may pursue an online master of arts in teaching - teaching English to speakers of other languages. Through a curriculum that emphasizes culturally responsive instructional strategies, candidates are prepared to work as TESOL teachers in the U.S. and abroad.

Coursework covers topics in applied linguistics for English language educators and social foundations of language education. Candidates also explore assessment and instruction for diverse language learners. This online master's in English language learning program allows students to augment their training by earning an English language development credential or a gifted education certificate.

Applicants must possess a regionally accredited bachelor's degree and a minimum 3.0 GPA. Additional materials include a 250-word personal statement, a resume or CV, and 2-3 recommendation letters. They also need to pass a timed writing assessment.


Carlos Albizu University - Miami

Miami, FL Cost: $$$$$ Graduation Rate: 100%

Carlos Albizu University - Miami delivers an online master of science in TESOL with an exceptional student education concentration. By completing this 30-credit program, candidates learn to use interventions and methodologies that enhance language acquisition among students with limited to no English proficiency. Coursework is delivered through the Blackboard platform.

The degree plan includes courses like cross-cultural communication and understanding, instructional strategies for learning disabilities, and applied linguistics. Candidates also examine best practices in ESOL testing and evaluation. To earn their online master's degree in English language learning, students must complete one full year of residency.

Application requirements consist of a minimum 3.0 GPA and two recommendation letters. CAU grants up to six transfer credits for prior college coursework completed with a "B" grade or higher.


University of Maryland - Baltimore County

Baltimore, MD Cost: $$$$$ Graduation Rate: 68%

The University of Maryland - Baltimore County is a renowned public research institution that enrolls about 13,600 students each year. Graduate candidates may enroll in an online master of arts in TESOL program. Distance learners can complete a fully remote curriculum or create a hybrid learning experience by taking some classes on campus.

In lieu of the general track, master's in English language learning candidates can pursue thesis and P-12 certification options. Courses include instructional systems development, linguistics for ESOL/bilingual educators, and research designs in education. Students also examine the grammar of American English.

UMBC offers fall, spring, and summer entry dates, and accepts applications on a rolling basis. Applicants need a minimum 3.0 GPA and must submit a statement of purpose and three recommendation letters.


University of Northern Iowa

Cedar Falls, IA Cost: $$$$$ Graduation Rate: 65%

Based in Cedar Falls, the University of Northern Iowa delivers more than 50 career-focused graduate programs. The catalog includes an online master of arts in TESOL/Spanish that totals 33 credits. This non-thesis program prepares graduates to teach English and Spanish to speakers of other languages in academic and professional settings.

Required courses include phonetics, phonology, and language teaching; second language acquisition; and forms and functions of English grammar. Candidates round out degree work with a teaching portfolio presentation and a comprehensive exam. This online master's in English language learning program boasts a high success rate, with 90% of students finding employment after graduation.

Applicants must submit a personal statement, a writing sample, and three recommendation letters. UNI does not require GRE scores. The university offers a variety of financial aid, including graduate assistantships and scholarships.


Webster University

Saint Louis, MO Cost: $$$$$ Graduation Rate: 59%

Webster University maintains its flagship campus in Saint Louis, Missouri, and enrolls over 11,400 students annually. Graduate candidates may enroll in an online master of arts in TESOL program to develop the theoretical knowledge and instructional skills needed to teach non-native speakers. The 33-credit curriculum covers core topics like language and culture, principles and practices of language testing, and material development in language classrooms.

Students take advanced classes in either an ESL/EFL or a K-12 English language learner emphasis. The former track allows candidates to earn a Missouri ELL certification by taking an additional 21 credits of coursework. All master's in English language learning candidates engage in practicum training.

Webster offers full admission to applicants with at least a 2.5 GPA. Candidates with a GPA of 2.0-2.49 may enroll on a provisional basis.


Azusa Pacific University

Azusa, CA Cost: $$$$$ Graduation Rate: 63%

Azusa Pacific University offers more than 150 undergraduate and graduate degrees, many of which students can earn remotely. Program options include an online master of arts in TESOL designed for aspiring and experienced educators. Through an innovative curriculum, candidates develop crucial theoretical foundations and prepare for diverse teaching environments and scenarios.

Coursework includes second language acquisition, intercultural communications, and language program design. Candidates also learn to teach English grammar and pronunciation to students of all ages and backgrounds. Similar to other master's in English language learning programs, the APU track culminates with a comprehensive portfolio presentation.

Distance learners can enroll in the fall or spring. Applicants need a regionally accredited bachelor's degree and a minimum 3.0 GPA. They must also submit a statement of purpose, a resume or statement of experience, and two recommendation letters.


Harding University

Searcy, AR Cost: $$$$$ Graduation Rate: 67%

Located in Searcy, Arkansas, Harding University offers an online master of education in elementary education with a TESL specialization. This 35-credit program prepares candidates with advanced knowledge of subject matter and pedagogy, and allows them to work for schools, government agencies, and private companies. Distance education is delivered through the Canvas platform.

The curriculum includes classes like human growth/development, education in an urban setting, and school law and policy. Students also explore the instructional applications of technology. They complete the program by taking a comprehensive exam.

This online master's in English language learning program requires applicants to have a valid teaching license. They also need a minimum 2.75 GPA and adequate GRE/MAT/PLT scores. Additional admission materials include three recommendation letters.


Concordia University - Nebraska

Seward, NE Cost: $$$$$ Graduation Rate: 63%

Concordia University - Nebraska delivers 17 fully remote academic programs through Blackboard. Graduate offerings include an online master of education in TESOL accredited by the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education. Through accelerated eight-week courses, candidates may earn their degree in as few as 18 months.

The curriculum covers topics in research-based educational practices; curriculum, instruction, and assessment; and theories and second language acquisition. Students also examine English linguistics, with focus on the elements applicable to language teaching and learning. They gain hands-on experience by completing a 45-hour practicum.

This online master's in English language learning program does not require standardized test scores. Applicants must submit a 500-750 word personal statement that details their professional background and career objectives. Concordia allows graduate students to fulfill 25% of their degree requirements with transfer credits.


Newman University

Wichita, KS Cost: $$$$$ Graduation Rate: 54%

Newman University enrolls 3,400 students across 50 academic programs, including an online master of science in education with a concentration in ESOL curriculum and instruction. Distance learners can graduate in under two years by taking accelerated eight-week courses through Canvas.

The master's in English language learning curriculum totals 33 credits and includes coursework like cultural diversity, advanced instructional methods, and applied linguistics. Students also explore leadership theories and coaching techniques. They develop hands-on skills by completing an intensive practicum experience.

Applicants need an active Kansas teaching license. They must also have a regionally accredited bachelor's degree earned with a minimum 3.0 GPA. Admission materials consist of two professional recommendations and a 300-word writing sample explaining their personal education philosophy.


Biola University

La Mirada, CA Cost: $$$$$ Graduation Rate: 73%

Based in La Mirada, California, Biola University serves more than 6,000 students annually. Through the Cook School of Intercultural Studies, graduate candidates can earn an online master of arts in TESOL in four semesters if enrolled full-time, and 6-8 semesters if pursuing their credentials part-time. The school also delivers an accelerated 12-month track for learners with a relevant bachelor's degree.

Required coursework comprises structure of English, materials preparation and evaluation, and language testing and assessment. Students develop hands-on skill through practicum training and personalize the degree plan by choosing three electives. This online master's in English language learning program culminates with a professional portfolio presentation.

Biola offers fall, spring, and summer entry dates. Admission requirements include a profession of Chrisian faith. The university accepts up to nine transfer credits.

What Else Can I Expect From an Online Master's in English Language Learning Program?

The following section considers course offerings and graduation timeline. A master's in ESL online degree plan consists of foundational classes, advanced topics in a concentration, and practicum experiences. Within these three categories, substantial variation exists, so students should consult their prospective schools' advisers about specific competencies. The list below contains five common classes for graduate students in this field.

Curriculum for an Online Master's Degree in English Language Learning

  • Second Language Theories: The course focuses on understanding and describing language, including its development and contemporary uses. Students delve into grammar, applied phonetics, and acquisition theories. They also explore the role of dialect in the classroom and the relationships between first languages, second languages, and a student's cultural upbringing.
  • Language Learning and Teaching: In this class, students learn the foundations of curriculum and instruction, including planning models, data-supported teaching, and resources for decision-making. By analyzing various methods of ESL instruction, students develop a substantive understanding of communicative techniques for teaching grammar and language functions. Advanced topics include classroom management and methods of assessing learner response for curricular improvements.
  • Assessment Theory and Practice: This course covers the central issues in ESL assessment, including standardized and high-stakes testing. Students also analyze the roles of exams in relation to course placement, exit standards, and summative and formative assessments. Finally, the class trains students to make adaptations in their assessments to meet differing learner needs.
  • Technology Enhanced Instruction: Building on basic computer skills, this class trains students to implement technology for different instructional settings, from kindergarten classrooms to adult continuing education. Topics include wikis, digital stories, and online course management platforms like Moodle and Blackboard. Students also learn to adapt new media technologies for high- and low-tech teaching environments.
  • Cultural Issues in the ESL Classroom: In this advanced class, students explore the ways educators can enhance the cultural dimensions of ESL instruction through research-supported training techniques. The course emphasizes the importance of cultural identities and the social foundations of language education, particularly among ethnic minority groups. Students also learn how to apply discourse-oriented models to analyze cross-cultural interactions.

How Long Does It Take to Get an Online Master's in English Language Learning?

The best online ESL master's programs generally take two years to complete, requiring students to accumulate at least 30 semester credits. Degree candidates may expedite graduation by enrolling in accelerated pathways, obtaining their credentials in as little as 12 months. These intensive programs necessitate full-time commitment and, often, on-campus residencies. They also require applicants to possess prior college work and relevant career experience.

Classroom practicum represents a cornerstone of education and teacher preparation programs. By teaching students, degree candidates cultivate invaluable skills in classroom management, lesson planning, and, perhaps most importantly, effective self-evaluation. Colleges and universities usually allow online students to fulfill practicum requirements in their communities through approved institutions and/or current employers.

Program structure also dictates timeline. Most online programs enable students to pace their degree plans individually, taking as few or as many classes as they need each term. This freedom allows working professionals to cater their academic schedules to busy work and family lives. However, certain schools operate cohort learning, in which learners take one course or two courses at a time and advance through the program at the same rate as their peers.

Certifications and Licenses a Master's in English Language Learning Prepares For

Certification represents an important component of a degree. With rigorous standards, certification programs ensure teachers can handle leading a classroom, creating a curriculum, or working with foreign language speakers. Each state has its own set of requirements for ESL teachers. Applicants must apply for a teaching certificate and subsequent certification through the state's board of education. ESL Teacher certification requires a set amount of teaching hours.

Teaching English As a Foreign Language (TEFL)

TEFL certification is designed for ESL instructors working in non-English speaking countries. It prepares teachers to instruct non-English speaking students and teach English as a foreign language.

Teaching English As A Second Language (TESOL)

Instructors teaching English in a native-English speaking country should apply for this certification. TESOL certification provides them with the knowledge they'll need to lead non-English speaking students and help them improve their conversational skills.

Accreditation for Online Master's in English Language Learning Degrees

To earn valid ESL master's degrees, online students need to attend postsecondary schools that hold national or regional accreditation. Colleges and universities become nationally accredited through the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) and the U.S. Department of Education (ED). They obtain regional accreditation from one of seven authoritative bodies, depending on location. For example, schools in Michigan become regionally accredited through the Higher Learning Commission, while New York institutions apply for this designation from the Middle States Commission on Higher Education.

In addition to national and regional stamps of approval, online master's in English language learning programs can pursue the support of the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP). Formed in 2013 through the consolidation of the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education and the Teacher Education Accreditation Council, CAEP operates five standards of academic excellence: content and pedagogical knowledge; clinical partnerships and practice; candidate quality, recruitment, and selectivity; program impact; and provider quality, continuous improvement, and capacity.

CHEA was formed in 1996 as a nongovernmental organization that provides institutional members with developmental services and financial resources. While CHEA works closely with the ED, the council maintains its own accreditation standards. CHEA also backs 60 partner organizations to facilitate regional and specialized accreditation.

Established in 1980, the ED is a cabinet-level department of the national government. Because of the decentralized structure of U.S. education, the ED does not create colleges and universities directly. Rather, the department conducts research and ensures higher education institutions abide by federal regulations. Furthermore, schools cannot access government funding, including student loans and grants, without the ED's support. Students can find more information about accredited schools on the CHEA and ED's websites.

Employment Outlook for Master's in English Language Learning Graduates

The table below displays median salaries for five ESL careers. These numbers represent calculations made from available samples and do not necessary factor in deviations caused by location, employer, and an individual teacher's qualifications. Prospective students should use this information as a starting point for their own career research.

Based on the following positions, ESL professionals earn an average of $46,816 per year. Guidance counselors earn the highest entry-level salaries at $44,126, while adult education teachers receive the lowest starting pay at $38,000. However, as they develop skills, adult

Master's in English Language Learning Salary
Job Title Overall Median Salary Median Salary for Entry-Level Median Salary for Mid-Career Median Salary for Late-Career
Instructional Coordinator $57,678 $42,000 $54,000 $66,000
English As a Second Language Teacher $41,112 $39,331 $40,477 $50,892
Guidance Counselor $49,247 $44,126 $47,000 $63,000
Translator $45,744 $40,080 $49,000 $56,000
Adult Education Teacher $40,299 $38,000 $38,000 $70,000

Source: PayScale

Master's in English Language Learning Careers

By earning an accredited online master's degree in ESL with certification, students can pursue careers in teaching and educational administration. Teachers can work for K-12 and postsecondary institutions or for companies as employee trainers. Administrative roles also exist with these employers. With additional training and certification, ESL educators may occupy positions as curriculum developers, program evaluators, and freelance consultants. Unsurprisingly, ESL professionals often work abroad as translators and foreign teachers. While these diverse careers require differing skills and experience levels, ESL educators should possess the patience and empathy necessary for student-centered instruction and support.

Instructional Coordinator

Working for schools, businesses, and government agencies, instructional coordinators develop, implement, and evaluate curricula. These educational administrators also support teachers by scheduling training and professional development programs. They may take on human resources roles, managing budgets, maintaining employee benefits, and evaluating performance. Instructional coordinators often act as liaisons between teachers, students, and management.

Median Annual Salary: $57,000

English As a Second Language Teacher

ESL teachers teach language skills to nonnative speakers in a traditional classroom or corporate training setting. In addition to teaching students how to read, write, speak comprehensive English, these educators act as cultural ambassadors, ensuring learners understand common customs and expectations. Many ESL teachers also work as curriculum developers.

Median Annual Salary: $41,108

Guidance Counselor

Typically employed by K-12 schools, guidance counselors assist students in achieving their educational and career goals. Because they help students schedule classes and prepare for college, these professionals possess extensive knowledge of academic programming and career pathways. Guidance counselors also assist with behavioral or social problems, conducting assessments and connecting students with resources and services.

Median Annual Salary: $49,121


These professional communicators work for various employers, from schools and business, to nonprofit organizations and government bodies. Translators act as the link between people who speak different languages, facilitating communication in written and oral forms. On top of language understanding, translators provide insight into a culture's history and customs so clients can better form connections with each other.

Median Annual Salary: $45,700

Adult Education Teacher

These professionals provide general education or skill-specific instruction to adult learners, with careful regard to their students' busy schedules and career development. They may work in community centers and colleges, preparing students for the GED or teaching personal enrichment courses. Adult education teachers can also occupy roles as corporate trainers in areas like emotional intelligence, business writing, and workplace efficiency.

Median Annual Salary: $40,299

Professional Organizations

Professional organizations provide unmatched resources and support to ESL educators. Several organizations focus on bilingual and multilingual education and issues, and they advocate for the rights of multilingual students. Members benefit from the opportunity to network with ESL educators in the United States and beyond. They also have access to online courses, career centers, and teaching materials. The membership process for each organization varies (see their websites for more information).


Financing Your Online Master's in English Language Learning Program

To earn a master's in ESL, online students invest substantial amounts of money and time. Fortunately, diverse financial aid exists for all distance learners, from recent high school graduates to returning students. The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) enables U.S. citizens and eligible non-citizens to obtain need-based grants, low-interest loans, and work-study positions. Due to the national teaching shortage, educators benefit from TEACH Grants and loan forgiveness programs through the government. Ample private scholarship opportunities also exist from private companies, nonprofit organizations, and religious institutions.


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