Happy students gathered on school lawn after graduation ceremony

Whether you’ve been dreaming of teaching English your whole life or have only recently decided to pursue it, your research has likely uncovered plenty of training options. While most teachers earn TEFL certification (either online and in the classroom), others choose to take their training further, by earning a graduate certificate or master’s degree in TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages). If you imagine yourself making a career of teaching, you may wonder, “Is getting a Master’s in TESOL worth it?” In short, it depends on where you want to teach and what your professional goals are. Certain teaching and administrative positions require an MA in TESOL, as do certain countries. We’ll help you decide if a Master’s in TESOL could be right for you.

What is a Master’s in TESOL?

Many of you can probably already answer the question “What is TESOL?” but you may find describing a Master’s in TESOL a bit more difficult. Essentially, an MA in TESOL is an advanced degree in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages. This graduate degree program, taken after you’ve earned your undergraduate degree in a related subject, such as education or English, is usually two additional years of study. Typically, an MA TESOL program combines both research and experiential learning and encompasses a wide range of subjects.

What’s the difference between a TEFL/TESOL certificate and an MA in TESOL?


TEFL/TESOL certificate


Since so many acronyms are used in the English teaching world, it’s not always easy to make sense of terms for teaching abroad. As such, it’s first worth mentioning that both TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) and TESOL (Teaching English to Students of Other Languages) are used interchangeably when it comes to TEFL certificates to teach English.

Obtaining a TEFL/TESOL certificate is the route most people go when they plan to teach English as a foreign language, either abroad, in their own home country, or online. TEFL certification courses are typically much shorter than MA programs– most can be completed in one to three months– and are significantly less expensive (learn more about TEFL certification cost). Plus, there are usually no prerequisites to take a TEFL/TESOL course, so they are open to anyone with a good command of English and interest in teaching.

In terms of content, TEFL certification courses may provide some theoretical training but will focus more on practical application, such as eliciting participation in the classroom or designing lesson plans. When you finish a TEFL certification course, you are certified and will qualify for more jobs at language schools, but you have not earned a university degree.

MA in TESOL


The biggest differences between a TEFL certificate and an MA in TESOL are the level and duration of study. MA TESOL programs are graduate level, meaning you would first need to complete a bachelor’s degree as a prerequisite to these programs. Furthermore, MA TESOL programs are typically two years of study, in contrast to just several months for a TEFL certification course.

Also, an MA TESOL focuses on theory more than a TEFL/TESOL certificate does. In other words, MA programs dig deeper into areas of study such as language pedagogy, acquisition, and assessment. Depending on which program you choose, you might spend a large amount of time considering subjects like integrated technology in the classroom or the relationship between language and culture. If you decide to pursue an MA, you can expect to dedicate a large portion of your time to research. If you’re someone who is deeply interested in theoretical-based learning, you’ll probably find an MA TESOL worth it.

Just because an MA in TESOL focuses on theory and research doesn’t mean that the degree doesn’t also incorporate experience-based learning. Some programs also include teaching experiences, both through role-playing or modeling and teaching in real classrooms.

Teacher in an international classroom

 

Earning TEFL certification as a pathway to a degree


If you’re on the fence as to whether an MA in TESOL is worth it for you, it’s important to note that some TEFL programs may be taken for university credit, giving you the option of later earning a degree in TESOL. Such TEFL certification courses do this in several ways:

  • A TEFL course may have been reviewed and recommended for university credit by an outside body, meaning you can apply that credit toward an undergraduate or graduate program in TESOL (see BridgeTEFL courses approved for credit).
  • A TEFL course may be concurrently taken for college credit through an affiliated university.
  • A course may be accepted by certain universities as a pathway to their specific graduate programs in TESOL.

For example, the Bridge International Diploma in English Language Teaching (IDELTOnline™) has been evaluated and recommended up to 9 semester hours of college credit by The American Council on Education’s College Credit Recommendation Service (ACE CREDIT®) so qualified enrollees can then transfer those credits to an MA program at a participating university. Bridge also partners with a number of universities in the U.S. and abroad that accept the IDELTOnline as a pathway master’s degree program in TESOL, or in some cases a doctorate program or scholarship.

Who typically gets a Master’s in TESOL?

While language institutes and schools in many countries will accept a TEFL certificate when hiring teachers, if you are considering a job in higher education, then you’ll want to pursue a master’s. Also, teaching in English-speaking countries, such as the United States, or teaching abroad in a competitive region such as the Middle East, can require a Master’s in TESOL.

For this reason, most people who pursue a Master’s in TESOL plan to make a career out of teaching English as a foreign language, as opposed to someone who just plans to teach English abroad as a short-term adventure.

Read one teacher’s story of earning both TEFL certification and a master’s degree to teach abroad! 

What can you do with a Master’s in TESOL?

A Master’s in TESOL isn’t just for teaching in universities or in one of the aforementioned regions. It can also be your ticket to non-teaching roles, such as developing teaching materials for schools or larger companies. With an MA TESOL, you may be eligible for higher positions in a number of institutions that specialize in EFL/ESL programs. You could become the next program director, curriculum writer, or ESL textbook editor.

What are the benefits of an MA TESOL?

One of the greatest benefits of getting a Master’s in TESOL is that it opens you up to an incredibly large range of teaching possibilities. Not only can you teach almost anywhere in the world, but you also have your pick when it comes to level, and ESL teachers who have an MA are generally eligible to work at universities. There are tons of great job websites, such as HigherEdJobs or TESOL.org, where you can find ESL admin and university teaching positions.

Another advantage of earning a Master’s in TESOL is that it will give you a leg up in the job market. Having an MA under your belt will set you apart from other candidates vying for the same opportunities as you.

How much does a Master’s in TESOL cost? Does it make financial sense to get one?

MA TESOL programs can range anywhere from $8,000-$30,000 in cost. Why such a wide range? It’s because a number of factors are involved when it comes to determining an MA TESOL cost. Perhaps the biggest factor of all is whether or not you’re taking classes online, on-campus, or some combination of the two. On-campus courses are almost always more expensive than online programs. Compare the cost of several MA TESOL programs offered through BridgeTEFL university pathway partners. 

Other factors that will play a role in a Master’s in TESOL cost include the university’s accreditation. It’s important to weigh cost versus quality, as getting the cheaper master’s doesn’t always pan out in the long run when from an unaccredited school.

In the end, whether or not it’s worth it for you to spend money on an MA TESOL boils down to what you intend to do with it. If you’re serious about making a career out of teaching English, and you have some ideas about which types of institutions you want to apply to, then an MA can be a great choice. However, if you’re unsure whether or not you’ll enjoy teaching or you just want to spend one year abroad, a TEFL certificate makes more sense.

Online student at the computer

Should I get an MA TESOL online?

There are plenty of benefits when it comes to getting an MA TESOL online.

  • For one, you’ll have a wide range of program options because you won’t be limited to location.
  • It’s also convenient for those who already have full-time jobs or families and need to complete courses in their own time.
  • Perhaps the biggest benefit of all is that an MA TESOL online costs much less than an on-campus program.

However, you’ll need to consider if online learning is right for you. Some people love it, while others thrive with in-person interaction. While cost and convenience are definitely enormous factors to consider, your learning style is important as well since you’ll want to get the most out of whichever program you choose.

What are some tips for choosing a Master’s in TESOL program?


Research, and then research some more!


The best thing you could possibly do when choosing a program for getting an MA in TESOL is to spend as much time as possible researching and comparing programs.

  • See which options provide online versus on-site classes (or some combination of the two).
  • Make a list of each option’s cost.
  • Consider how long each program lasts (one year? two?) and whether or not the dates fit with your schedule.

To get started, try comparing options using MasterStudies.com, a site that provides side-by-side previews of educational institutions.

Take accreditation seriously.


This is something many people often take for granted when pursuing any sort of degree or certificate in TEFL. Checking out an institution or university’s accreditation is essential. Then, follow up by researching the accrediting body and seeing whether or not they’re legitimate and favorably regarded in the education community. The undeniable truth is that not every TEFL certificate or degree is equal, and you don’t want to get stuck wasting money on a credential that won’t be recognized by top employers.

Reach out and ask questions.


Don’t be afraid to contact the school or institution from the very beginning. Getting an MA in TESOL is a big commitment, and you want to make sure that those in charge of your program are going to be equally committed to you. It’s important that they be willing to take the time to provide support and answer your questions beforehand. Whichever program you decide to enroll in is going to be an important part of your life for the next year or two. You definitely want a good feeling about it from the very beginning!

Can I get an MA TESOL if English is not my first language?

Yes, absolutely! While general entry requirements differ for various MA TESOL programs, if you’re not a native English speaker, you’ll probably need to submit proof that you’re fluent in English. The majority of programs require the equivalent of at least a C1 level of English proficiency, as determined by CEFR standards.

Depending on the institution, proof of English fluency can include records of completed secondary education in English, approved scores on select English language tests, or successful completion of certain English academic programs.

So, is an MA TESOL worth it?

When deciding whether a Master’s in TESOL is worth it, you have to consider a myriad of factors such as time, cost, and future career plans. In the end, it’s a personal decision that depends on where, who, and what you want to teach. If you’d like to begin your professional TESOL career, learn more about the IDELTOnline as a pathway to an MA TESOL.