Tips for Choosing a TESOL Master’s Program

Which Master’s Degree Is Right for You?

MEd or MA or MAT?

An MA or master of arts degree requires a bachelor’s degree as a prerequisite. Having an MA means that you are highly educated in a particular subject.

An MEd degree is a master’s degree in education. This indicates that you are not only highly qualified in a certain subject but that you are also able to teach it to others.

An MAT is a master of arts in teaching. It is similar to the master’s degree in education because it indicates that the graduate is both highly knowledgeable in a subject and has been given the tools and methodology to teach the subject to others.

How Many Classes Are in a Typical Master’s Program?

The number of classes varies from one school to the next. Most require 30–41 college units to complete the entire degree. One graduate credit is usually given for each hour the class meets each week, so a 3-unit graduate class would generally meet for three hours a week for the entire term. This time does not include homework, reading, and projects that would be required for the course also. A full time course load in graduate school is usually about 8 units per term. Working professionals often choose to enroll part time because of the time commitment involved in undertaking a graduate program.

TESOL or Applied Linguistics?

There are so many different types of TESOL-related master’s degrees that figuring out which one is best for you may be a challenge. Most of the degrees can fall into one of two categories:

MA in TESOL: This degree focuses on pedagogy. If you are hoping to teach English as a second language to non-English-speaking students in an ESL context, or if you would like to teach in an EFL context, then this degree will give you the proper training and experience to do so. You should be able to teach students English without knowing the language of the students that you are teaching, but when teaching ESL or EFL it is also beneficial if you know something about the language(s) and culture(s) of your students. Many colleges that offer an MA in TESOL will also offer state certification to teach ESL in K–12 public schools. This route will require more units to satisfy the requirements that lead to certification and usually involves a semester of student teaching. This would not be necessary for prospective students that already have a teaching credential, are attending the school online, do not live in the same state or country as the school, or have already decided that they would like to teach adults.

MA in applied linguistics: This degree will usually focus more on theory and language research. The MA in applied linguistics is designed as a first step in a research career in applied linguistics. It provides both breadth of knowledge in several areas of applied linguistics and the specialized knowledge and skills needed to plan and conduct research in the areas of specialization within a program, such as language acquisition or discourse analysis.

What Kind of Program: Bricks and Mortar, Online, or a Hybrid of Both?

Bricks and Mortar Programs

For some people it is important to have a traditional college experience by going in-person to the school or university for each class. This is a great way to meet other people in your community that are focused on ELLs. Attending classes at the institution has advantages because you are able to use school facilities like the library and computer labs. Many feel that traditional classes are also easier to focus on and that the face-to-face interaction with classmates and professors is invaluable. Many universities offer graduate classes in the late afternoon or evening to accommodate working professionals.

Online Programs

More and more colleges and universities are offering their graduate classes online for students who are unable to physically attend their classes due to work schedules or geographic location. This provides a great opportunity for students to connect with other graduate students around the world. The backgrounds and diversity that each of the students bring to an online class can enrich the experience and broaden the collective experience of the class. One student may be a 5 practicing EFL teacher in Korea, while another student may be new to ESL and living in Los Angeles.

Synchronous or asynchronous?

Online classes can be delivered in two formats:

Synchronous classes require all of the students that are enrolled in the class to meet at the computer via web cams on specific class times and days. The professor takes attendance and presents lessons on a computer platform which enables PowerPoint; videos can even have students discuss topics in small breakout rooms.

Asynchronous classes do not require students to meet at a certain time and day. These classes are delivered by having students read assignments and write papers on their own schedule and submit assignments by a specified due date. The students in the class may be required to write comments on an online class bulletin board or discussion board or respond to other students’ comments or ideas.

Hybrid Programs

Some colleges and universities are offering a mixture of classes that are both online or in a traditional classroom setting. There are also programs that may provide the majority of the classes online but require a short (several weeks) residency on the campus several times a year. Many graduate students appreciate the flexibility of a hybrid program because they are given an opportunity to interact with the professors and classmates face-to-face and the flexibility of taking classes online when their schedules will not accommodate class time on the campus.

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