Bachelor’s in English as a second language (ESL) program guide

HomeTeaching and educationBachelor’s degree in English as a second language (ESL)

Why ESL?

Learning a new language can be difficult, and English is one of the hardest languages for people to learn. It’s full of contradictions, idioms, homophones, and rules with exceptions. This can make learning English a struggle for people who speak another language at home, but need to learn English for work, school, or a better quality of life.

Most people who move to the United States discover that learning English is essential because most Americans speak English. Learning English including the development of skills in communication, writing, reading, and fluency may require the support of a qualified ESL teacher. Earning a bachelor’s in ESL can lead to career opportunities in teaching, tutoring, and training – locally and abroad.

What do I need to apply?

To be considered for acceptance to a 4-year bachelor’s program, you need transcripts from either your high school, or 2-year community college program. If you are applying from high school you also need letters of recommendation, a personal statement, and assessment exam scores like the SAT or ACT. If you are a transfer student from a community college who has already completed a 2-year program, your application will need to include academic transcripts with at least a 2.0 GPA.

Online/hybrid vs. offline

With the pandemic well under way, people are looking for different ways to earn a degree. Not only are people looking for a career change, but also to advance their academic credentials to expand their employment opportunities. Regardless of why you’d like to go to school, there are various education options. Many universities offer online programs as an alternative for traditional on-campus programs. This gives students more freedom and flexibility to fit school around their daily lives.

Some programs or courses may also be offered as a hybrid option. This means the class or program combines traditional learning with online components. For example, courses may have scheduled class times, but the lectures will be held online. If you’d like to still have an interactive academic experience, but learn from home, this option may suit you best.

Does my university need to be accredited?

Accreditation is vital for students who want to get the most out of their education. An accredited university is vetted by an accreditation agency signifying the program, faculty, and institution have met a standard of excellence. Applications for licensure, credential programs, master’s degree programs, and employment, generally entail showing proof that your degree was granted by an accredited university. This demonstrates that you have the knowledge and skills needed for your next endeavor.

What will I learn?

In addition to learning the skills to teach ESL students, a 4-year bachelor’s program will teach you about the relevant theories, assessment procedures, and linguistics. Many undergraduate ESL programs offer a track for licensure if you’d like to become a public school educator. This will include coursework required for the credential program which usually involves student teaching.

Intro to linguistics
This course will introduce you to the features of English such as chronological, morphological, synaptic, phonetic, and semantic language structures. You will also learn how English relates to other world languages.

Multicultural learners
A course in cross-cultural studies will teach students about the importance of recognizing and supporting diverse learners. You will learn about issues that people of different races, nationalities, religions, cultures, abilities, and gender identities face. Students will also learn about privilege and oppression in education.

Teaching methods in ESL
This course will focus on methodologies and current approaches to teaching ESL. Students will learn the techniques and strategies needed to teach writing, reading, speaking, and listening.

Second language acquisition
This course aims to teach students about the historical and contemporary theoretical perspectives on ESL. You will consider the research-based evidence that underlies the constructs and assumptions that impact ESL.

Practicum in ESL
This is an off-campus practical learning course which applies your coursework to real life. You will work alongside a licensed ESL teacher to gain additional knowledge and hands-on experience. The hours and locations needed to fulfil this requirement are decided by faculty at your university.

Certificates opportunities

Certificates can open up your employment opportunities in the field of ESL. With additional knowledge, you can develop the skills needed to advance your career options which may support your teaching domestically or internationally.


This is the preferred certification for teaching ESL in public schools. In completing this certificate, students can gain an understanding of people from non-English speaking backgrounds who have needed to relocate and learn to speak English. You will also gain the skills needed to teach conversational English and literacy to integrate these students into public schools.


Worldwide, there are many employment opportunities to teach English. Many employers will ask for a TEFL certificate and a bachelor’s degree. You will learn about creating lesson plans, cultural and linguistic diversity, and how to prepare for a teaching position abroad.

Teaching license

If you’d like to teach in the public school sector, then licensure is required. This typically involves a teacher preparation program, bachelor’s degree, and assessment examinations. The requirements will vary by state, but all states require some form for licensure.

Financial aid

The burden of high tuition rates can deter students from academic advancement, but there are financial aid opportunities available. An abundance of loans, grants, and scholarships are designed to ease the financial strain university education can put on an individual or family. One of the most popular forms of financial aid is Federal Student Aid. This federal grant is a financial aid opportunity gifted to students who qualify. An online application, FASFA, is filled out and submitted with your information online. Once sent in, you should hear back within a few weeks.

Career options

Whether you’d like to work in public or private schools, abroad, tutoring, or writing content for ESL programs, there are many career options in ESL. If you’re not interested in education, you may also find employment in corporate or government offices.

These educators assist students at different age levels whose first language isn’t English. They help students with reading, writing, and conversational English to aid their academic success.

According to Glassdoor, the average salary for an ESL teacher is $50,103.

An international corporate trainer is someone who is employed by international corporations to help workers become more proficient in American English skills. As more U.S. companies seek cheaper facilities abroad, they are employing support staff to help their international employees.

PayScale reported the average salary for an international corporate trainer is $63,100.

If you want to immerse yourself in another culture and country, then teaching abroad may interest you. Countries all over the world need qualified native English speakers to teach their citizens English.

The salary for teaching English in different countries will vary depending on the country. For example, Japan pays English teachers between $2,200 – $5,000 a month, as reported by Go Overseas whereas Mexico pays between $500-$1,000 a month. This depends on the cost of living and the demand for teachers.

Continuing education

Once you’ve completed a bachelor’s program you may yearn for advanced knowledge only offered at the graduate level. A master’s program can open additional career opportunities only offered at the graduate level, or make you a more competitive candidate for teaching positions.

Master’s in ESL

A master’s program in ESL will focus on improving and building on the skills learned in the undergraduate program. You will learn about the relationship between society and language, the foundations for ESL, and contemporary theories that examine how people develop language.

Master’s in reading and liteacy

A master’s degree in reading and literacy will propel you into graduate coursework that can be used for your career. Whether you are already a licensed teacher and want to further your knowledge, or a continuing student with dreams of becoming a reading specialist this program will focus on foundational research, the principles of reading and writing, and cultural influences on literacy.

Master’s in curriculum and instruction

A master’s in curriculum and instruction provides students with the knowledge and skills in the areas of curriculum development by examining trends, research, and theory pertaining to curriculum development in education.

International Board of Certified Trainers (IBCT)
This is a professional organization founded in the United States which aims to continuously improve training and talent development. They provide information to individuals who want to be trainers by providing them resources, guidance, and certification opportunities.

TESOL International Association
This global association provides users with access to research, advocacy resources, career development, journals, newsletters, and a resource center to support and advance excellence in English language teaching.

National Education Association
This established association has over 3 million members. They aim to support justice and excellence in public education. They provide information about rights, professional excellence, governance and policies to ensure teachers and students are supported.