Cincinnati ESL / TESOL Masters, Doctorates, & PhD Degree Programs

What is a TESOL Degree?

TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) encompasses teaching English as both a second language and a foreign language. Earning a TESOL Degree prepares students with the skills and knowledge to help non-English speaking people communicate.

TESOL programs generally focus on second language acquisition, particularly among children and adults who live in English-speaking communities, but who come from another language background. However, a variety of unique variants might be available.

ESL (English as Second Language) typically refers to teaching English in countries where English is the primary language.

About TESOL Graduate Programs

Some TESOL degree programs may focus on teaching English in communities where it is not the primary language. Others may prepare students to work with specific age groups, skill levels, or cultural backgrounds. They may also be offered at the masters, doctorate and graduate certificate level, both online and in the classroom. So whatever your interests, lifestyle or goals, there could be a TESOL program for you.

What Is the Difference Between ESL and TESL?

ESL, TESL and TEFL programs are all focused on teaching English and are therefore often confused. They fall under the umbrella of TESOL, which stands for Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages. This encompasses a wide variety of areas, from early childhood to adult education, both domestic and abroad.

Where TESL and ESL differ is in their area of focus or in the specific teaching settings. Understanding the differences between each of these might help you to narrow down the TESOL programs you consider.

  • TESL stands for Teaching English as a Second Language. This generally refers to people who may live in an English-speaking community, such as the majority of the United States, but whose primary language is not English. These programs frequently focus on students in the K-12 age group.
  • TEFL stands for Teaching English as a Foreign Language. This refers to teaching students living in non-English speaking communities or foreign countries to speak English. This might be in an international school setting, with an organization, in an international university setting, or even within corporations.
  • ESOL stands for English to Speakers of Other Languages. While this has a lot in common with TESL, it often refers to programs outside the K-12 setting, such as classes for adult students either in a college, night school setting or elsewhere.

While these definitions are a great starting point, it is important to note that they may vary when applied in different communities. Some people may use ESOL and TESL interchangeably. It is important to follow up with your program to be sure of all the relevant details.

Other important considerations when choosing your preferred TESOL graduate programs is the population you may want to work with. While not all programs may focus on specific groups, some may allow you to pursue an interest in early childhood education, secondary education, urban education, or some other relevant category.

Read program listings carefully and contact schools to learn more.

Types of Graduate TESOL Degrees

Identifying the particular focus of your ideal graduate TESOL programs isn’t the only part of the decision. You may still have to figure out what type of TESOL degree you want to earn!

Whether you’re looking for master’s in TESOL programs, doctoral programs, or at a graduate certificate in ESL, your preferred schools may award different types of degrees upon completion of their programs. Depending on the type of degree, each program may have different approaches and requirements. Below is a brief overview to help get you started.

Master’s in TESOL

Many TESOL masters programs are designed to help students with little or no TESOL experience, or who seek a credential or endorsement to that effect. However, that’s not always the case! Other programs may be tailored toward developing the skills of current, experienced language teachers.

The three most common types of TESOL master’s programs are listed below.

  • MAT in TESOL (or Master of Arts in Teaching), sometimes referred to as an MST or Master of Science in Teaching, are practice-oriented masters in TESOL degrees. The programs generally emphasize expertise in one’s subject area, and the instructional and classroom management skills to use that expertise in a school. A primary difference between MAT/MST programs and other education masters programs is that these are geared toward active teachers, not research or administrative roles. As such, these TESOL masters programs generally do not focus on research in the coursework.
  • Master of Education in TESOL Programs (MEd) may incorporate or even focus on classroom skills, as with the MAT. However, they may also build toward administrative roles, or performing education research to support the development of TESOL practices.
  • Master of Science in TESOL (MS TESOL) programs may vary widely on an individual basis. However, in general, these has a lot in common with MEd programs. The differences between the two may be minimal.

These and other TESOL masters programs may vary on an individual basis, especially with respect to required elements. For example, some may require observation or field experience like student teaching.

Often these Masters in TESOL programs are geared towards the requirements in that state for teaching licensure. However you might also find a program designed for active teachers which may not require field experience.

Typically master TESOL programs take about two years of full time study and require a bachelors degree. For more information on the focus of a program, the requirements for completion, and other details, reach out to the school.


A doctorate in TESOL program generally looks toward a few specific leadership and research objectives. It may help foster new linguistics and education research to further TESOL as a field and improve classroom strategies. Or students might learn to design and implement new instructional programs and materials.

Doctoral programs also may prepare students to conduct research related to TESOL pedagogy or pursue leadership roles within an educational community as a TESOL authority.

While other options might be available, generally, students might earn one of two types of doctorate TESOL degrees.

  • TESOL PhD programs tend to focus, in addition to language education practices, on contributing to and understanding the body of TESOL research. Topics could include pedagogy, linguistics, or other contributing areas of discipline. A PhD in TESOL may have a variety of practical applications. Graduates might pursue administration or leadership roles, classroom teaching, or research.
  • TESOL EdD programs (Doctor of Education) typically focus more strongly on understanding and applying language acquisition research in an education setting, rather than conducting it. These programs might help to prepare you to use data to make decisions to help a classroom or school become a more effective learning environment for ELLs.

In some cases, doctoral TESOL programs might be combined, offered in conjunction with, or be referred to as Applied Linguistics. While programs may vary, this might indicate a program’s focus on applying linguistics research to classroom teaching strategies and to encouraging second language acquisition. Schools vary, so follow up directly to learn more.

TESOL Graduate Certificates

Graduate Certificates in TESOL might be offered at the masters or doctoral level. As they’re not degree programs, they generally require fewer courses and might be completed a little more quickly, depending on your course load. Often, because of the reduced number of courses, these programs focus specifically on one topic, like teaching certain populations, assessment, or pedagogy.

Some TESOL graduate certificate programs may be designed to act as educational endorsements for licensed teachers, potentially enabling teachers in other disciplines (for example, a Spanish or Language Arts teacher) to move into a TESOL role. In other cases, they might be aimed toward current TESOL teachers who want to expand their knowledge.

Individual graduate certificate programs vary, so for more information on the contents of a given program, and the options available to enrolled students, get in touch with them for more information.

Licensing and Accreditation for TESOL Graduate Programs

Before earning your TESOL degree, it's important to consider any licensing or state certification requirements you need to meet. In order to teach in a TESOL classroom, you’ll probably need to hold a teaching license in that state. That’s generally a given. However, requirements beyond that may vary between states.

Some places might require (or express a preference for) TESOL-specific certification or licensure, or an educational endorsement. An educational endorsement is the part of a teaching license that indicates what subject areas you are qualified to teach.

Generally, one must pursue at least bachelor’s level education in a given subject area in order to be endorsed. However, some certificate programs are designed to meet these standards and provide students with an additional secondary endorsement to their licenses.

These and other requirements may vary. For more information on the qualifications you might need and how your selected ESL graduate program might support them, get in touch with the school in question.

ESL and TESOL Program Formats

When considering TESOL graduate programs, choosing a format that fits into your life could be a major factor. One thing to keep in mind when considering what program format you might prefer: how it affects the program requirements.

For example, if you’re looking for a program that supports you in becoming a licensed teacher for the first time, you’ll likely have field experience requirements including observation and student teaching. Studying on campus versus online could have a big impact on how that is handled.

ESL and TESOL Schools

TESOL graduate schools offer programs anchored in the community. These are typically associated with a local campus, and often use a more regular class schedule with face-to-face instruction.

Studying on campus could give you access to variety of resources, both in general and within your specific program. For example, some universities utilize classroom simulation labs, which could give you hands-on experience using classroom technology. They might also offer a variety of teacher resources to help you practice your curriculum planning, just like you might do in the field.

And if you’re more interested in the linguistics and pedagogical research side of TESOL? Studying in a graduate TESOL school, you might have the opportunity to get involved with that research, working alongside your peers and instructors to advance language instruction practices.

Online TESOL Programs

Online TESOL graduate programs use technology to enable students to pursue graduate education on the go. They also aim to provide many similar resources and benefits to what you might find in a campus program. This could include research and library services through online databases, academic and career support, registrar assistance, and social opportunities through forums and social networks.

One advantage to studying TESOL online could be the format itself. With technology being increasingly present in classrooms at every level, studying online could grant you first-hand experience to what that might be like for students. Plus, with the flexibility of online learning, your graduate program might balance more easily with your busy teaching schedule.

And without worrying about a commute, you could consider great programs that might otherwise have been out of reach.

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