Best Online ESL Certificate Programs

ESL certificate programs are commonly available in online formats, and some of the best provide unique learning experiences and help prepare students for further education in the field. Explore these certificate programs in depth, as well as some career possibilities. Schools offering Teaching ESL degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

Best Online Certificate Programs in ESL

Online certificate programs in English as a Second Language (ESL) or closely related areas, like Teaching English as a Second Language (TESL), are typically offered at the graduate level. Some of the top certificate programs in these fields may be considered the best because of hands-on experiences, program accreditation, program options, and more. Learn about some of these programs.

1. Kansas State University

LocationGraduate Tuition & Fees (in-state)
Manhattan, KS$11,069

Kansas State University offers an online ESL endorsement program and an online TESL for Adult Learners graduate certificate program. The ESL endorsement program requires 15 credits and includes a practicum experience; students can also apply credit towards a master's degree or apply for ESL endorsement credentials. The TESL for Adult Learners graduate certificate program totals 18 credits and is intended for adult educators who work with second language learners but need specialized training with ESL or working with adult learners. The education unit at the university is accredited by the Kansas State Department of Education (KSDE) and the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE).

2. University of Kansas

LocationGraduate Tuition & Fees (in-state)
Lawrence, KS$11,027

The University of Kansas provides an online graduate certificate program in TESOL (teaching English to speakers of other languages) that totals 15 credits. Students can complete the program in as little as 10 months, and courses are 8 weeks in length. The program requires students to create an instructional portfolio that can then be used in their future classroom. Students can also apply credit from the certificate program towards a master's degree in TESOL and are not required to take the GRE for admission.

3. Indiana University- Bloomington

LocationGraduate Tuition & Fees (in-state)
Bloomington, IN$10,564

Indiana University- Bloomington has a certificate program in English as a Foreign Language (EFL)/ESL Teaching that is available online. The certificate is at the graduate level and totals 12 credits. New and experienced teachers may apply to the program, but students should be aware that it is a professional development certificate program and not a licensing or professional certification program. Students in the program must complete a practicum experience.

4. University of Mississippi

LocationGraduate Tuition & Fees (in-state)
University, MS$8,660

The University of Mississippi offers an add-on ESL Endorsement program for current and future teachers in the state. The program consists of TESOL coursework that is available online. Students must take 4 courses at the 500-level. The university also has a certificate program in TESOL that may include some online linguistics coursework and totals 18 credits.

5. Regent University

LocationGraduate Tuition & Fees (in-state)
Virginia Beach, VA$16,179

Regent University has an online Certificate of Graduate Studies in TESOL- K-12 and an online Certificate of Graduate Studies in TESOL- Adult Education- Collegiate. The K-12 certificate totals 15 credits and gives students the option to take an additional 3 credits of electives, while the adult education certificate requires 15 to 18 credits. Both programs are presented from a Christian worldview and include coursework in linguistics and teaching.

Rank School Name Location Graduate Tuition & Fees (in-state)
6Lincoln Christian UniversityLincoln, IL$7,920
7Saint Cloud State UniversitySaint Cloud, MN$9,040
8Northwestern State University of LouisianaNatchitoches, LA$8,909
9George Mason UniversityFairfax, VA$15,138
10University of ArizonaTucson, AZ$13,044
11Missouri State University-SpringfieldSpringfield, MO$6,038
12University of Cincinnati-Main CampusCincinnati, OH$14,468
13Shippensburg University of PennsylvaniaShippensburg, PA$15,960
14College of Staten Island CUNYStaten Island, NY$11,330
15Northern Arizona UniversityFlagstaff, AZ$10,593
16Emporia State UniversityEmporia, KS$8,464
17University of GeorgiaAthens, GA$10,982
18Sam Houston State UniversityHuntsville, TX$7,791
19University of MemphisMemphis, TN$10,697
20Western Governors UniversitySalt Lake City, UT$7,790
21Indiana State UniversityTerre Haute, IN$7,616
22Canisius CollegeBuffalo, NY$15,480
23Ball State UniversityMuncie, IN$9,392
24Gannon UniversityErie, PA$19,220
25Granite State CollegeConcord, NH$8,610
26University of Missouri-St LouisSaint Louis, MO$11,436
27University of Southern MainePortland, ME$8,192
28University of North FloridaJacksonville, FL$10,367
29Azusa Pacific UniversityAzusa, CA$17,362
30Dallas Baptist UniversityDallas, TX$18,262
31Georgia Southern UniversityStatesboro, GA$8,728
32Valley City State UniversityValley City, ND$7,135
33Webster UniversitySaint Louis, MO$13,500
34Winston-Salem State UniversityWinston-Salem, NC$6,412
35SUNY at AlbanyAlbany, NY$12,998
36Biola UniversityLa Mirada, CA$11,178
37Eastern Washington UniversityCheney, WA$12,381
38Nova Southeastern UniversityFort Lauderdale, FL$20,620
39Campbellsville UniversityCampbellsville, KY$10,380
40Virginia International UniversityFairfax, VA$13,268
41The Southern Baptist Theological SeminaryLouisville, KY$17,338
42St John's University-New YorkQueens, NY$18,836
43Regis UniversityDenver, CO$13,177
44Western Illinois UniversityMacomb, IL$11,604
45Olivet Nazarene UniversityBourbonnais, IL$11,980

All statistics provided by the National Center for Education Statistics, tuition based on 2018-2019 school year's school ranking methodology categorizes and assesses data from schools and other reliable sources, such as the U.S. Department of Education, and weighs the information based on quality, cost, value and other factors critical to students' academic decisions.

Online ESL Certificate Program Overview

Online ESL certificate programs are typically available after students have completed an undergraduate program. These may be available in TESOL, TESL, or EFL and/or at different grade levels, such as K through 12th grade or adult learners. Programs usually range from 12 to 18 credits, and some may be completed in as little as 8 to 10 months.

It is fairly common for credits from these programs to be eligible towards a master's degree in ESL or TESOL should students decide to further their studies. Many of these programs can be completed fully online, but some may include a hands-on practicum experience. Get more details for online ESL certificate programs below.


Many schools that offer online education programs are accredited by a regional institution, such as the Higher Learning Commission. This accreditation helps ensure that institutions are meeting high quality standards for programs.

There are many education departments that may take accreditation a step further and earn specialized accreditation for programs. There are several online ESL certificate programs that are accredited from education groups like the NCATE and the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP), as well as state-level departments of education. Some programs may also align curriculum with standards set forth by groups like the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC).

Common Coursework

Coursework for ESL or TESOL certificate programs generally only consists of 4 to 6 classes, but aims to help prepare and equip students for working with ESL students of various ages. Some coursework may be geared towards working with students K through 12, while other coursework may focus on working with adult learners. Either way, many of these online certificate programs discuss topics in the areas of:

  • Teaching Methods- These courses may explore the history, as well as the different methods and strategies for teaching second-language learners. Students explore writing, speaking, and reading in a bilingual setting, and students may learn self-evaluation tools for their teaching materials and practices.
  • Grammar- Courses in grammar help students further understand the complexities of English grammar and how to begin teaching these topics to ESL or EFL students. Courses may provide the different teaching methodologies for English grammar.
  • Acquisition- Acquisition courses typically cover the theory of second-language acquisition, but some courses may also include the study of first-language acquisition. Students may examine the psychology behind second-language practices, current trends in second-language education, and how to apply these socio-cultural, cognitive, and educational factors to curriculum.
  • Assessment- These types of courses explore the various diagnostic tools and techniques used to assess language development, as well as the challenges and issues with this assessment. Students may learn about topics in programming placement, pre- and post- assessment, language testing, and error analysis.
  • Linguistics- The goal of linguistics courses is to help students create quality curriculum using knowledge of language acquisition and linguistic theories. Students study language analysis and linguistic topics that are common in all languages, as well as some ways that languages are different.
  • Multicultural Classrooms- Courses in diversity in the classroom help students explore issues with classroom practices and how best to serve multicultural students. Some issues and practices discussed in these courses may include legal issues, bias and stereotypes, bilingual education, advocacy, family collaboration, and differentiation of instruction.

Some online certificate programs in ESL or TESOL may also include a practicum experience that may require students to spend so many hours in a classroom setting. Some of these practicum experiences may be available at the elementary or secondary levels and may conclude with a portfolio project.

Cost, Scholarships, and Financial Aid

Since online certificate programs in ESL require fewer credits than an undergraduate or graduate degree program, the cost of the program is usually less than these other programs. Students may still need to compare the cost of programs when making a decision about which program to enroll in. Tuition rates vary from school to school, but some certificate programs may charge around $200 per credit hour. When calculating the cost of their program of interest, students should check for in-state vs. out-of-state differences and/or any additional fees schools may have.

To help make programs more affordable, most schools accept various forms of financial aid. After determining their eligibility, students may decide to utilize federal or state financial aid in the form of grants and/or loans, and/or apply for various kinds of scholarships that may be offered through an institution or outside organizations.

There are several schools that offer TESOL scholarships to their students. For example, Ball State University in Indiana has the Dr. Janet Ross Scholarship for Teachers of English as a Second Language for students majoring in English education and who are pursuing an ESL licensing program. The New School in New York offers several scholarships for TESOL students who decide to study the subject at the master's level.

Job Options for ESL

ESL can be applied to many different fields, and graduates with an ESL certificate can pursue a variety of careers depending on their individual skills and educational background. Many graduates may pursue ESL positions in the field of education, but those with additional skills or education, such as knowledge of a foreign language may pursue other language-focused careers like translating. A few examples of job titles for those with a background in ESL include:

  • ESL teacher
  • Foreign language teacher
  • Adult literacy teacher
  • School counselor
  • Speech pathologist
  • ESL administrator
  • Reading specialist
  • Translator

Kindergarten and Elementary School Teachers

Some kindergarten and elementary school teachers may specialize in ESL. These teachers need to have a bachelor's degree in education and typically need a state teaching license or certification. They usually work with younger children to help prepare them for middle school. Teachers are responsible for creating curriculum and rules for their classroom, monitoring students, communicating with parents, and distributing and grading assignments. As of 2018, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that kindergarten and elementary teachers had a median salary of $57,980, and jobs are expected to grow by 3% from 2018 to 2028.

Adult Literacy and High School Equivalency Diploma Teachers

Adult literacy and high school equivalency diploma teachers typically need a bachelor's degree and license or certification. Some of these educators may specialize in working with ESL students. These teachers help adult learners earn their high school diploma and/or master skills in speaking English, writing, and reading. They design lessons, adapt lessons to meet the needs of their students, and evaluate their students' academic progress. According to the BLS, these teachers made a median salary of $53,630 in 2018, but jobs are presumed to decline 10% from 2018 to 2028. This may be due to low enrollment and/or funding in the field.

Interpreters and Translators

Some ESL educators, those with an ESL education, and/or those who were ESL students themselves, may have additional knowledge of another language that would allow them to work as an interpreter or translator. Interpreters and translators usually have a bachelor's degree, but they must be fluent in at least 2 languages. Interpreters specialize in converting spoken language, while translators specialize in written language. Both of these professionals must be able to easily change one language into another and may work in a variety of settings, including education, healthcare, and business. The BLS reported that interpreters and translators made a median salary of $49,930 in 2018 and have a job outlook of 19% from 2018 to 2028, which is much faster than average.

Licensure and Certification for ESL Careers

As mentioned, several careers in the field of ESL require licensure and/or certification. Since many online certificate programs in ESL or TESOL are designed for teachers, it is important to note that elementary, middle, and high school teachers in public schools are required to earn state-level licensure or certification in teaching. This licensure/certification varies by state, but commonly requires an exam, along with the completion of a bachelor's degree and student-teaching program. Teachers are also required to pass a background check and may need to meet professional development requirements to maintain licensure. Many of these same requirements also apply to adult literacy teachers, but may vary by state.

Teachers wishing to specialize in ESL may then need to meet additional requirements. Some ESL endorsement programs (online or on-campus) may meet certain states' requirements for teaching ESL. Students who have completed the endorsement program may then need to apply for endorsement credentials. Students may also be able to add an ESL endorsement to their teaching license if they pass a content test in the subject.

Outside of education, interpreters and translators are not typically required to be certified unless they work in the court systems. However, there are a number of organizations that provide various proficiency tests and/or certification exams. To demonstrate proficiency in a language, students may consider earning certification in their given language from the American Translators Association.

To continue researching, browse degree options below for course curriculum, prerequisites and financial aid information. Or, learn more about the subject by reading the related articles below:

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