How to Choose the Right TESOL Master’s Program for Your Career Goals

If you fell in love with teaching English abroad, a TESOL degree should really be your next step.
December 19, 2018
7 mins read

So, you graduated from college ready for an adventure — you wanted to see the world! And you got your wish, as an English teacher working with students at a language school abroad. But, while many of your friends and colleagues seem to view teaching English abroad as a fun thing to do for a few years to earn money and travel before returning home to more staid lifestyles, you’ve found that you’re really good at it, and you love it so much you never want to quit.

Well, you don’t have to. Teaching English abroad can be a viable long-term career option, and the right Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) master’s degree can help you do it. If you choose an online program, you don’t even have to stop teaching while you earn your credential. Here’s what you need to know about choosing a TESOL master’s program.

Understand the Types of Master’s Degrees Out There

Once you start looking into TESOL master’s programs, you’ll quickly discover that there are a few different types of TESOL master’s degrees out there. The most common types are:

— Master of Arts (MA) in TESOL;

— Master of Arts (MA) in Applied Linguistics;

— Master of Arts in Teaching (MAT); and

— Master of Education (MEd) in TESOL.

If you want to spend your career teaching children or adolescents in a classroom setting, or even giving private lessons to young people, an MA in TESOL, MAT with a specialization in TESOL or TEFL or an MEd in TESOL could all be good choices.

To get into an MA program, you may need a related bachelor’s degree as a prerequisite, although some programs may not be too picky about which bachelor’s degree you have. MAT and MEd degrees are similar, but while an MA indicates you’re highly educated in a field, an MAT or MEd indicates you’ve also received pedagogical training and are qualified to teach in it.

If you want to make your career teaching adults at the university level, an MA in Applied Linguistics might be a good start. You’ll need to earn a doctorate, and an MA in Applied Linguistics will help you start to build the foundation in research methodology you’ll need to do doctoral work. However, this degree is best for those who want to pursue a research-focused career in linguistics specialties, like language acquisition or discourse analysis.

Look at Course Curricula

If you want to be a teacher, you’ll need training in learning theory, instruction methods, second language acquisition and structure of English grammar, curriculum design and more. When looking at programs, look at course catalogs for courses on the following:

— Intro to ESL;

— Structure of English or structure of English grammar;

— Instructional methods and learning theory;

— Curriculum design and assessment;

— Language and culture for ESL teachers; and

— Research methods

In addition to courses on those topics, a reputable master’s in a TESOL program will allow you to get hands-on experience in a teaching practicum or internship, where you’ll be mentored by an experienced professor.

You should also be required to complete a capstone project, put together a final portfolio or even write and defend a master’s thesis — although programs requiring a thesis are best for students who intend to go on to doctoral work.

Speak to Faculty and Current Students

There’s no better way to find out if a program is right for you and your career goals than to speak to faculty and current students.

Most professors are happy to speak with prospective students about their academic programs, and they should be able to put you in touch with one or two current students and alumni who can share their experiences and opinions.

Consider the Format

Do you want the traditional grad school experience, complete with study groups, late nights in the library or computer lab, a teaching assistantship and face-to-face classes? Then a brick-and-mortar program might be right for you.

However, if you’re looking to keep working while you earn your degree, you may want to earn your master’s in TESOL online. These days, many schools offer online TESOL master’s programs that are just as rigorous as any administered face to face. Many classes in these programs are asynchronous, meaning you can do the coursework at any time that suits you, as long as you meet your assignment deadline. For a more traditional experience, some online programs offer synchronous classes in which students are required to sign in at the same time.

An online program could be a great option if you want to earn your degree without leaving your teaching post abroad. However, if you want the flexibility of an online program and the face-to-face networking opportunities of a traditional program, a hybrid program could meet your needs. These programs combine online classes with occasional residencies in which students have the chance to take classes in-person on campus, meet professors and fellow students face-to-face and have some of the traditional grad school experience.

Are you ready to make teaching English abroad your full-time career? An MA in TESOL can turn you into the best teacher you can be — and can open doors that will lead to better positions, higher pay and more respect in the world of teaching English as a foreign language.

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