What is an ESL Major and Is It Right For You?

Choosing which major to pursue is a big decision. If you’re considering an English as a second language (ESL) degree, use this guide to learn about the career opportunities it will unlock and the classes you can expect. You’ll also find tips to prepare for the program, explore continuing education options in the field, and much more!

What is an English as a Second Language Major?

An ESL major provides students with the tools they need to teach English as a second language to non-native speakers. It covers different theories and practices to help students of all ages understand and master the English language. This degree is a good fit for students who enjoy grammar and writing, want to work in teaching, and have a passion for different cultures.

What Opportunities Does an English as a Second Language Major Provide?

Most students combine ESL courses with a general education degree. With a state certification, this then qualifies them to teach English as a second language in schools. US schools require specific ESL certification to teach English as a second language, so an undergraduate degree in ESL or ESL specialization with an education degree will put you ahead of the pack.

Students who complete ESL majors can teach, work in ESL programs at universities, or go into private tutoring, while others may find work in-house for companies in the US and around the world. The education degree also qualifies students to work in administration, research, and curriculum development for school systems and education companies. Payscale reports that in the United States the average salary for ESL teachers is $41,038 per year.

What Classes Can You Expect to Take?

A degree in English as a second language is not very common in the United States. Instead, many students choose to pursue a bachelor’s in education with a specialization in ESL. In this case, the 4-year program will often require core classes in sciences and the humanities along with classes on teaching theory and practices.

Then, an ESL track will include a multi-course focus sequence on teaching English to language learners. Every teaching program in the US also requires a semester of full-time student teaching as well.

Top Schools for English as a Second Language Majors

US News and World Report ranked the top schools for education degrees in the country. The University of California-Los Angeles tops the list, while Harvard University, the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Stanford University and the University of Pennsylvania round out the top five. Additionally, New York University (Steinhardt), Teachers College at Columbia University, Vanderbilt University (Peabody), the University of Washington and Northwestern University take places six through ten on the list.

How Can You Prepare for an ESL Major?

The best way to prepare for an English as a second language major is by building experience with your chosen age group.

Students with an early education degree can volunteer with children’s programs or work in a daycare center. Or, students who are interested in adult education or special needs education can explore opportunities in those areas to become familiar with the field before applying. Being bilingual is not required to complete an English as a second language major, but learning a commonly spoken second language can help with job prospects down the road.

Master’s and Doctorate Degrees in ESL

Many schools offer Master’s degrees for continued education in the field. These are usually completed as a Master’s in Education with a focus on English language learning. The graduate degree leads to a significant increase in income and Payscale reports that the average salary for someone with a Master’s in Education is $56,000.

Continuing education with a PhD in English as a second language is also possible. The Steinhardt school of education at NYU reports that their PhD in Teaching English to Speakers of a Second Language prepares students for a career as a “Researcher or teacher educator in TESOL in colleges and universities” or as a “Curriculum specialist, developer, or evaluator in government agencies and non-governmental organizations.”

Is an English as a Second Language Major Right For You?

An degree in education with a specialization or certification in ESL opens the door to a variety of career opportunities and options to advance with continued education. If you aspire to be a teacher and are interested in linguistics and culture, then an ESL major may just be a good fit for you!

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