Earning an Online ESL
Bachelor’s Degree

English as a Second Language (ESL) educators help English language learners achieve English fluency while supporting them in their general studies. Some programs are ideal for teaching candidates without a bachelor’s degree, while others help educated professionals transition into teaching.

A career in ESL education is excellent for anyone who is passionate about helping diverse student populations and wants stable employment with great benefits. Teachers with ESL certifications often earn bonuses on top of their salaries.

Overview of ESL Degrees

The number of American school children learning English as a second language continues to rise. As of 2018, approximately 22% of children in the country speak a language that is not English when they are at home. ESL teachers help these learners gain English fluency while teaching other subjects.

Most states require ESL teachers to have bachelor’s degrees, pass ESL content exams, and earn teaching certifications. A bachelor’s degree in teaching English as a second language prepares candidates to earn these credentials.

In bachelor's in ESL programs, learners study bilingual student learning methods, lesson planning, and classroom management skills. Although most components of online ESL and TESOL bachelor’s degrees take place online, there are some in-person requirements. Learners often must complete student teaching hours toward the end of the program.

PayScale reports that the average ESL teacher earns $41,092 per year, though salaries vary by district and experience.


Application Process

Admission criteria for online ESL programs vary, but there are several common requirements. Most universities require transcripts. First-year college students submit official high school transcripts while learners with undergraduate experience must send official transcripts from all previously attended colleges and universities. Transfer students with few credits may need to submit high school transcripts.

Some universities require candidates to submit 2-3 letters of recommendation and a personal statement. Applicants should request letters of recommendation from supervisors, teachers, or professional associates. Personal statements typically consist of around 500 words that demonstrate the applicant's professional and educational goals.

Most universities charge application fees between $25 and $100. Candidates with financial need can typically apply for fee waivers.

What Will I Learn?

Many of the best online ESL programs allow learners to earn bachelor’s degrees with an education major and specialization in ESL education. Students complete general education courses, general teaching courses, and ESL-specific courses. Most programs comprise 120 credits and take four years of full-time study to complete.

In general teaching courses, students learn about childhood development, education theories, and classroom management. Courses often include teaching methods for the elementary, middle, and high school levels. In ESL-specific courses, learners study the cultural differences that teachers may encounter and how cultures affect language development. Classes also cover linguistic theories that affect bilingual students and how to incorporate English learning into all subjects. Specific courses differ among programs, but the following classes remain common for bachelor's in ESL programs.

Child and Early Adolescent Development

Learners study the linguistic, social, cognitive, and emotional aspects of child and adolescent development. With this knowledge, teachers are equipped to support ESL students in their studies and design lesson plans for different ages.

Instructional Planning and Assessments

Students study foundations for designing lessons and testing learners’ knowledge. The course covers basic learning theories, how to set curriculum-based goals, and strategies for creating community in the classroom. Some schools require in-person experience or curriculum projects to complete these courses.

School, Community, and Culture

This course covers the integral role that schools play in the surrounding community, as well as how cultural influences affect classrooms. Students learn how to adapt teaching methods to better serve diverse students.

Managing Learning Environments

Students study how to create classroom environments that are conducive to student learning and how to manage those environments throughout the year. Students also learn how to nurture each learner’s emotional, social, and intellectual growth.

Literacy for English Language Learners

In these ESL-specific courses, degree candidates learn strategies for helping students gain English literacy. Students learn how to foster each child’s English language reading, writing, and speaking abilities without undermining their family cultures and native languages.

Student Teaching with ESL Specialization

Many accredited online ESL degrees require learners to complete student teaching hours toward the end of the program. Candidates must create lesson plans and teach under a certified educator. Learners gain hands-on experience that they can use to shape their first years as ESL teachers.

What Can I Do with an Online Bachelor’s Degree in ESL?

Graduates of online ESL programs work in elementary, middle, and high schools. They often teach in specific ESL classrooms, but they may teach in general classrooms as well. Graduates can also use their understanding of classroom management, childhood development, linguistic learning, and cultural sensitivity in special education careers.

Core Skills

Through online ESL programs, learners gain the skills needed to understand diverse student bodies and help them grow. Students learn the ways that children at different ages learn, which allows graduates to work in classrooms from kindergarten to 12th grade. Graduates boast skills in lesson planning and assessment design that they can apply to various types of teaching.

Some ESL-specific courses teach students how to better connect with students from different backgrounds and ability levels. This skill enables graduates to excel in education-related careers outside of ESL, such as special education.

In addition to teaching skills, graduates from online ESL programs gain leadership skills that they can apply to diverse careers. Some graduates pursue master’s degrees and become administrators. Other graduates become learning specialists or policymakers.

Potential Careers and Salaries

Graduates from online ESL programs may work in public and private schools of all levels. Elementary teachers help young children build the intellectual foundation for their academic lives, while high school teachers prepare learners to enter the workforce or college. Special education teachers support students with varying abilities throughout their studies.

Childhood education is not the only industry in which these graduates can work. For instances, some graduates become development specialists for private companies or government organizations. These training professionals ensure that employees stay up-to-date on necessary skills.

Career Profiles


Elementary School Teacher

Annual Median Salary: $56,900

These educators work in public and private schools leading classes from kindergarten through fifth grade. They may teach one or two subjects to different classes throughout the day or lead one class all day. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects average career growth for this profession.


English as a Second Language (ESL) Teacher

Annual Median Salary: $41,092

ESL teachers instruct and support English language learners in a variety of subjects. Schools need ESL instructors at every level from kindergarten through high school. Some ESL teachers instruct adults, such as GED candidates.


High School Teacher

Annual Median Salary: $59,170

These educators lead classes of students from ninth through 12th grade. They typically teach one or two subjects and change students several times each day. The BLS projects the demand for high school teachers to grow 8% by 2026.


Learning and Development Specialist

Annual Median Salary: $60,360

Large organizations lean on training professionals to ensure their workforces are equipped to complete tasks efficiently and safely. They design and implement training programs that help meet corporate goals. The BLS projects demand for this field to grow 11% by 2026.

Will I Need a Graduate Degree for a Career in ESL?

With an online ESL bachelor’s degree, professionals enjoy thriving careers. Graduates who want to teach classes in high school or below can do so with a bachelor’s degree. These educators can advance into department head and senior teaching roles with experience. Graduates can also move among grade levels, teach GED courses, train employees, or work in government agencies.

Certain leadership positions require advanced degrees. For example, most school districts require principals and administrators to hold master’s degrees. Graduates who wish to teach in community colleges or universities must also seek advanced degrees.

Accreditation for ESL Bachelor’s Programs

Candidates seeking online ESL programs should only consider accredited institutions. Graduates from unaccredited schools may not qualify for teaching certifications, and credits from unaccredited colleges rarely transfer. Accredited online ESL programs can earn two types of credentials: institutional and programmatic.

Institutional accreditation applies to the entire school and may be regional or national. Generally, regionally accredited institutions meet higher academic standards than nationally accredited schools. The U.S. Department of Education approves regional organizations to award these credentials, such as the Middle States Commission on Higher Education and the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

Programmatic accreditation applies to specific programs within a school. For ESL education programs, the primary oversight body is the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP). Although non-CAEP programs may produce excellent teachers, CAEP accreditation ensures that the college meets the highest standards in the field.

ESL Professional Organizations

ESL education students and professionals benefit from professional organizations. Members enjoy access to networking opportunities, exclusive job boards, lesson planning resources, and mentorship programs. Members also benefit from up-to-date research in the field, continuing education opportunities, and discounts on professional development resources.

Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages
TESOL members gain access to some of the leading publications in the field. They can also connect with other professionals through education symposiums and gain new skills through online continuing education opportunities. TESOL advocates for policy changes that help their members and the students they serve.


National Association for Bilingual Education
Bilingual parents, ESL educators, school administrators, and policy advocates may join NABE. Members may attend an annual conference to exchange ideas and network with colleagues. The NABE marketplace allows interested parties to share educational resources.


National Council of Teachers of English
English teachers of all kinds join NCTE. Students pursuing teaching degrees can join for reduced fees. Members enjoy access to professional journals, networking events, lesson plans, and online learning opportunities.