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Best 10 Master’s in ESL in 2021

March 28, 2021 | Staff Writers

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With the ever-expanding globalization of education, the importance of teaching English has become increasingly apparent – both domestically and abroad. Earning a Master’s in ESL degree is often a great path that allows those interested in focusing on a teaching career – new or renewed – or perhaps even teaching internationally.

Masters in TESOL, which is an acronym for Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages, programs generally fall into one of these fundamental academic categories –

  • An ESL (English as Second Language) degree program – which is designed to focus on teaching the language in English-speaking communities. Note, TESL generally references teaching at the K-12 levels, while ESOL typically references teaching adults.
  • A Master’s in TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) degree program – which is designed to focus on teaching English where the English language is not the primary language.

While both of these graduate degree programs focus on educating non-English speakers, they differ significantly in terms of the setting in which professionals work.

Schools, colleges, and universities typically offer several types of Master’s in ESL degree programs –

  • A Master of Arts (MA) or Master of Science (MS) in Education – these programs tend to appeal to educators with a career goal of leadership or administration.
  • Master of Education (M.Ed.) – these programs are designed for those teachers who are currently licensed or certified and want to facilitate their career by adding an ESL endorsement as a way to further their career as a program director.
  • Master of Arts in Teaching (MAT) with an academic emphasis in ESL – This degree is designed for the career changer who has a bachelor’s degree in another field and wants to make the switch to a teaching career. These programs generally include field experiences and internships and lead to initial teacher licensure/certification.

Because many students of Master’s in ESL degree programs are working learners, many colleges and universities provide hybrid or online formatted programs.

Students interested in earning a degree generally have an innate interest and even a passion for languages and helping other individuals negotiate new, unfamiliar cultures.

Best 10 Master’s in ESL Programs

1. The University of North Carolina (UNC Wilmington)

The University of North Carolina’s (UNC) Watson Education College offers two of the state’s best ESL degree programs with its Master of Arts (MAT) degree program in English as a Second Language academic concentration or its Master of Education (M.Ed.) in Teaching English as a Second language (TESL).

  • Tuition fees – $ 294.94 per credit (North Carolina residents), $ 1,159.25 per credit (nonresidents).
  • Total Credit Units Require to Graduate – 33 graduate credit units for each best degree program.
  • Accreditation – SACSCOC

2. Lesley University (LU- Massachusetts)

Lesley University (LU) offers one of New England’s finest Master’s degree programs that requires the completion of 33 credit units, of which six credits are earned through a professional practicum. Full-time students typically complete Lesley University’s Master’s degree in TESOL, ESL & Bilingual Education in about 18 months, or four semesters, while part-time students complete the program in about seven semesters.

  • Tuition fees – $ 390.00 per credit (New Bedford residents), $ 650.00 per credit for online students and nonresidents.
  • Total Credit Units Require to Graduate – 33 graduate credit units.
  • Accreditation – NECHE

3. The University of Southern Maine (USM Online)

The University of Southern Maine (USM Online) offers a  ten-month Master of Science in Education (MSEd) in TESOL that has been ranked among the best northern regional universities by US News. USM is a member school of the state’s university system with robust distance learning options in graduate education, including this Master’s ESL degree program. Students are permitted to transfer up to twelve graduate credit units within the state’s university system or six credit units.

  • Tuition fees – $ 430.00 per credit.
  • Total Credit Units Require to Graduate – 30 graduate credit units.
  • Accreditation –  NECHE & CAEP

4. Sam Houston State University (SHSU – Online)

Sam Houston State University (SHSU Online) offers a Master of Education (MEd) degree in TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other languages) that can be completed entirely online. SHSU’s Master’s ESL degree program prepares degree candidates to work as professional educators at various levels, from a young child to an adult student.

  • Tuition fees – $ 434.92 per credit (Texas residents), $ 849.92 per credit (nonresidents).
  • Total Credit Units Require to Graduate – 30 graduate credit units.
  • Accreditation – SACSCOC

5. Trevecca Nazarene University (TNU)

Trevecca Nazarene University (TNU) offers a Master’s ESL (English to Speakers of Other Languages) that can be completed entirely online in only sixteen months. Degree candidates enrolled in TNU’s online graduate ESL degree program will complete core classes in teaching the exceptional learner, methods of assessment for ESL, linguistics for ESL teachers, plus an ESL field experience, to name a few.

  • Tuition fees – $ 435.00 per credit. 
  • Total Credit Units Require to Graduate – 30 graduate credit units.
  • Accreditation – SACSCOC & NCATE

6. The University of Northern Iowa (UNI Online)

The University of Northern Iowa (UNI Online) offers an ESL Degree (English to Speakers of Other Languages) that prepares graduates to teach English across business, community, and classroom settings. Classes for UNI’s MA in ESL degree program include approaches to language learning, seminar in bilingual education, and cultural aspects of language and teaching, among others.

  • Tuition fees – $ 509.00 per credit.
  • Total Credit Units Require to Graduate – 36 graduate credit units, with an optional course in preparation for the required research paper.
  • Accreditation – HLC

7. The University of Kentucky (UK – Lexington)

The University of Kentucky’s (UK) Arts and Science College offers a Master of Arts degree (MA) in TESL – Teaching English as a 2nd Language that is organized around three fundamental themes – inquiry, reflective practice, and experiential learning. Students enrolled in UK’s degree program complete classes in culture and cognition, English grammar, and introduction to linguistics, to name a few.

  • Tuition fees – $ 770.00 per credit (Kentucky residents with one on-campus course), $ 1,870.00
  • Total Credit Units Require to Graduate – 36 graduate credit units.
  • Accreditation – SACSCOC

8. Canisius College (CC Online)

Canisius College‘s (CC) School of Education and Human Services offers an online Master’s in ESL (English to Speakers of Other Languages) degree program that has been ranked among the best graduate education programs by US News. CC’s Master of Science degree leads to state certification in New York and includes classes in linguistics and literacy, cultural perspectives in multilingual education, and evaluation assessment, to name a few.

  • Tuition fees – $ 840.00 per credit.
  • Total Credit Units Require to Graduate – 30 graduate credit units.
  • Accreditation – – MSCHE & CAEP

9. The University of San Francisco (USF)

The University of San Francisco’s School of Education (USF SOE) offers two of California’s best ESL degree programs with its Master of Arts degree (MA) in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) or the same degree with an educational technology concentration. Core coursework for this degree includes applied linguistics, the sociology of language, and assessment and testing in ESL, among others.

  • Tuition fees – $ 1,215.00 per credit.
  • Total Credit Units Require to Graduate – 30 graduate credit units for MAT, 33 credit units for education technology concentration.
  • Accreditation – WASCUC

10. St John’s University (SJU Online)

St John’s University’s School of Education (SJU SOE) offers an online Master of Science degree (MS) in TESOL that prepares graduates for work with culturally/linguistically diverse students. SJU’s Master’s in ESL degree program requires the completion of eleven classes that explore critical areas of literacy development, content area instruction, and methods of language and academic assessment for English language learners.

  • Tuition fees – $ 1,305.00 per credit.
  • Total Credit Units Require to Graduate – 33 graduate credit units.
  • Accreditation – MSCHE

Our Ranking Methodology

The Master’s in ESL degree programs ranked above offer potential students a cross-section of the available graduate degrees through distance learning platforms as well as more traditional programs. Each of the programs includes the ‘per credit’ cost to attend the program, based on the latest available tuition data for the school year of either 2020 to 2021 or 2019 to 2020.

The programs are listed according to their affordability factors, with the most cost-effective graduate ESL programs listed first, typically offered by state-funded schools requiring appropriate residency to qualify. The relevant tuition data – including each of the program/school’s data, has been obtained from one of the following sources –

  • The school or program’s dedicated website.
  • The United States’ Dept. Of Labor (DOL) and,
  • The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES).

In addition to the tuition costs, each of the Master’s programs noted above includes the following pertinent information relating to the school or program –  

  • The number of graduate credit units that are required to complete the ESL programs offered by each higher learning institution.
  • Each college or university’s regional accreditation status, including a link to the issuing agency.

Concerned about the Data Used to Compile the Above Master’s in ESL Programs?

Please contact BestValueSchools.org if you would like to edit or update the information used to create the above rankings for these selected Master’s in ESL programs.  We welcome and encourage a conversation with our readers.

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