Studying American Sign Language

Earning an ASL degree can lead to a rewarding career. Here, we outline degree levels, career options, and the benefits of studying American Sign Language.

March 22, 2022 • 5 Min Read

What is American Sign Language (ASL)? Earning a Degree in ASL

Learners can expand their communication skills by studying American Sign Language (ASL). Earning a degree in American Sign Language can help them communicate deeper than just the spoken word. Many kinds of sign language exist, but American Sign Language is the primary signed language in North America.

So, what is ASL? American Sign Language is the natural language of over 500,000 deaf people in the United States and Canada. These people learned ASL as their first language.

Many people use ASL, including hearing people. However, ASL is not simply English signed manually. It's a language in and of itself. ASL's syntax and grammar differ from written and spoken English.

Learners interested in studying American Sign Language can take college courses online or in person. Students can earn a degree or certificate in language or interpretation.

Read on for information about learning American Sign Language, including degree and career options.

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Frequently Asked Questions About Studying ASL in College

Does ASL fulfill college language requirements?

Learning American Sign Language fulfills the foreign language requirement at many schools. However, students should confirm with their advisor.

Is sign language a college major?

Many colleges offer an ASL major. Some schools offer different tracks in interpretation and deaf culture.

Can you take ASL classes online?

Several colleges and universities offer ASL classes online. Distance learners receive the same education as their on-campus peers.

Is there a high demand for ASL interpreters?

Yes. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects jobs for interpreters and translators to grow 24% from 2020-2030.

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American Sign Language Degrees

Learners can pursue a degree in American Sign Language at the associate, bachelor's, and master's levels. Some programs offer concentrations. Common options include interpretation and deaf culture. Interpretation concentrations focus on translating and interpreting ASL. Deaf culture concentrations focus on deaf cultural history.

ASL - English Interpreting

  • Associate

    Students can pursue an associate degree in American Sign Language with a focus on English interpreting. This program prepares students to use ASL. Classes include introductory ASL courses. Enrollees learn how to translate and interpret the language.

    An associate degree does not meet the requirement to become a certified interpreter in every state. Many students pursue the degree for personal reasons. They may want to communicate better with deaf friends or family members. Learners can complete associate programs in two years.

  • Bachelor's

    Students with a bachelor's degree in American Sign Language and English interpretation can work as interpreters and translators. Bachelor's programs include advanced ASL courses that help students become fluent. Coursework covers interpretation ethics and etiquette. Learners can complete a bachelor's degree in four years. Some programs require an internship or other hands-on experience.

  • Master's

    Students who earn a master's degree in American Sign Language learn how to teach ASL. Many programs require applicants to be fluent in ASL. Master's degree-holders can work as teachers, interpreters, or translators. Enrollees can earn a master's in two years. Students often complete an in-classroom teaching experience.

ASL - Deaf Culture

  • Associate

    This program trains enrollees for careers working with the deaf community. However, students may not become fluent in ASL. Coursework covers deaf history and deaf culture. Learners explore the many unique features of the deaf community.

  • Bachelor's

    A bachelor's program may meet some states' requirements for interpreters and translators. Students develop skills they can apply to a variety of jobs working with the deaf community. Learners take classes in ASL, deaf history, and deaf culture. Some programs require an internship.

  • Master's

    Master's programs cover the theory and culture of the deaf community. Learners also study philosophy and literature. Coursework covers deaf advocacy and public policy. Programs prepare students for careers in public health, social change, and politics. Applicants usually need ASL experience.

American Sign Language Certificates

Certificates in ASL allow students to learn and practice the language without getting a degree. Many community colleges offer ASL certificates. Classes often occur online. Earning an ASL certificate can give students the skills to communicate with friends and colleagues. Professionals who use ASL at work may consider earning an ASL certificate.

Certificate programs often include a handful of courses that students complete at their own pace. Some programs include an immersive experience.

What Can You Do With an ASL Degree?

Graduates with an ASL degree can pursue diverse careers. Some degree-holders work as interpreters or translators. These professionals work in schools, hospitals, and private businesses.

Graduates can also work as educators. They may teach the deaf community or teach ASL. Some graduates work as speech-language pathologists. See below for some possible careers for ASL degree-holders.

true Interpreter and Translators $52,330 24%

These professionals help people who speak or sign different languages understand each other. Many work in private settings. Some work in schools or government agencies. Employers may prefer interpreters and translators with a bachelor's degree.

true Speech-Language Pathologists $80,480 29%

Speech pathologists help diagnose and treat communicative disorders. They work with children and adults. These professionals often communicate in ASL since many of their clients are nonverbal. Speech pathologists usually need a master's degree. They may work in schools or at private practices.

true Deaf Educators $61,500 8%

These teachers work with the deaf population. They may work in schools with both deaf and hearing students. These educators need a bachelor's or master's degree in teaching. They also need ASL certification.

true Postsecondary Foreign Language Teachers $80,560 12%

These teachers instruct college-level ASL classes. Some schools only hire professors with a master's degree. Others only hire candidates with a Ph.D. Applicants benefit from having credentials in the language they teach.

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

The Benefits of Studying ASL

Students reap many benefits from studying American Sign Language. They do not necessarily need to pursue a career in interpretation or with the deaf community. See below for benefits of learning ASL.

Knowing ASL can help students in many career fields. Professionals in customer service, banking, and public health must know how to communicate with partially deaf or fully deaf people. The World Health Organization estimates that 1 in 10 people will experience disabling hearing loss by 2050. ASL interpreters can help address this issue. Students who are proficient in ASL can communicate with new groups. ASL is widely used across North America, allowing individuals to interact with more people. ASL differs from spoken and written English. This difference gives learners a new way to express themselves. Studying American Sign Language also helps learners improve their cognitive abilities and attention spans.

Which Colleges Offer ASL Degrees and Certificates?

Many colleges and universities offer ASL degrees and certificates. See below for some options:

Certificate Programs

Associate Programs

Bachelor's Programs

American Sign Language Scholarships

ASL majors can explore scholarships to help pay for their degree. See below for scholarships open to learners studying American Sign Language, deaf studies, or deaf education. Deadlines and award amounts vary. Students should check scholarships' websites for current information.

American Sign Language Scholarships
Scholarship Amount Who Can Apply

American Sign Language Teachers Association

$1,000-$3,000 Enrollees in a deaf studies, ASL, deaf education, or interpreter preparation program can apply. Applicants must attend a college with an active chapter of the American Sign Language Teachers Association.

The American Sign Language Project, NFP

$6,000 Full-time undergraduate and graduate students who propose a project on noninvasive technology for deaf/hearing communication can apply. Applicants need a 3.0 GPA and must be permanent U.S. residents.

Michael Fryzlewicz Scholarship

Up to $3,000 Full-time students at Columbia College Chicago can apply. Applicants need a 3.0 GPA and must submit FAFSA results.

Gerald "Bummy" Burstein Scholarship

At least $500 Hearing or deaf students who are members of the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf can apply. Applicants submit two recommendation letters. They also submit an essay explaining their current work in the interpretation field and future goals.

Preston Bass Interpreter Scholarship

Varies Students with one or more deaf parents who are currently enrolled in an interpreting program can apply. Applicants need a 3.5 GPA.

ASL Resources

ATA offers certification for interpreters and translators. Deaf and hearing people can use the site to find and hire interpreters. The association also hosts conferences and other events. DHCC provides deaf and hard of hearing people with interpreters in Philadelphia and other parts of Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware. The group also offers beginner and conversational ASL classes. IMIA's ASL division provides medical-translation training to ASL interpreters. The group advocates for rights for deaf and hard of hearing people. NAIE helps educational interpreters improve the lives of deaf and hard of hearing students. The group promotes standards for interpreters and offers continuing education and skill development. RID advocates for interpreters and best practices in interpreting. The membership organization provides continuing professional development. Candidates who meet its national guidelines can pursue certifications.

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