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Top 25 Online Master’s in English Language Learning Programs for 2017

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, English Language Learners (ELL) made up 9.4% of the United States’ K-12 population in 2014-15 (an estimated 4.6 million students). By 2020, researchers estimate that the number of children entering preschool who have been exposed to or speak a language other than English will exceed the number who have been exposed to or speak English.

ELL students remain underserved. They perform significantly worse on reading assessments than their non-ELL peers, and many teachers do not have the skills or resources to help close this gap. ESL master’s programs online will improve your career prospects; and prepare you to help ensure that all children have access to a good education.


How to Choose an Online Master’s in English Language Learning Program

There are a number of quality ESL master’s programs online, so prospective students should make sure the program they select meets their individual needs. Students who are working or balancing other responsibilities should make careful note of any on-campus requirements. Part-time, asynchronous TESOL master’s programs offer the most flexibility for working professionals.

There are also questions you should ask that are specific to this field. Do you want to teach English to children or adults? Curricula for working with different age groups may vary by program. Where do you want to work? Be sure to confirm that the program’s accreditation is recognized in your area and by your organization. TESOL master’s programs can open many doors, but you’ll need to do your research before choosing a program.

Careers for Graduates of Master’s in English Language Learning Programs

Graduates of ESL master’s programs online are in demand. While they should not set their earning expectations too high (particularly if you hope to work in a public school setting), the impact you will have on the lives of learners of all ages is truly immeasurable. Here are just a handful of opportunities you will have to make a difference after earning your degree.

Job Outlook and Salary for English Language Learning Master’s Degree Graduates

The Bureau of Labor Statistics categorizes ESL teachers under the umbrella of “adult literacy and high school equivalency diploma teachers,” though not all ESL teachers will work with adults, and not all will prepare students for equivalency tests. BLS data provides graduates of TESOL master’s programs with a good point of reference for projected employment growth in the field. Employment opportunities will vary depending on location, type of employer (e.g. school district or private company), and the exact nature of the position (e.g. special education or general classroom teaching).

Employment Growth for Adult Literacy and GED Teachers
Employment, 2014 Projected Employment, 2024
77,500 83,000

Source: BLS


Years of experience and additional training directly correlate with increases in salary. The longer you stay in a particular career, the more you can expect to earn in that position. Here are the salary trajectories for three careers that you might pursue after completing an ESL master’s program online.


Professional groups offer more than just job postings; they offer resources, help members communicate about best practices and curricula, and provide continuing educational opportunities. Here are some of the most active professional organizations and resource aggregators in the ESL field.

TESOL International Association

With more than 12,000 members in 160 countries, TESOL International Association is one of the largest professional communities working to advance the field of English language learning. Their site features a number of career development resources.


EverythingESL.net offers many resources for ESL teachers, including how to deal with behavioral problems arising from language issues and how to design science curricula specifically for ELL students.

ELS Resource Center

The ELS Resource Center is an excellent source of curricula, project ideas, homework assignments, and classroom activities. It also hosts ESL job opportunities and discussion forums.

To determine the best online master’s in English language learning programs, we looked at the most important factors prospective students, mainly common predictors of future success and a school’s commitment to online programs. This boils down to admissions rate, student loan default rate, retention rate, graduation rate, and the percent of students enrolled in online classes. All data points are taken from information provided by colleges and universities to the National Center for Education Statistics.

Each factor is weighted evenly in order to give an objective view and determine the best online English language learning programs. To calculate our rankings, we looked at a school’s ranking when organized by a single factor, and then averaged each category’s ranking to find an overall score: Admissions Rate (20%) + Default Rate (20%) + Retention Rate (20%) + Graduation Rate (20%) + Percent of Students Enrolled in Online Classes (20%) = Final score.