What is an Ed.D. in TESOL?
Ed.D. programs in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL), English as a Second Language (ESL), English as a Foreign Language (EFL), English Language Arts (ELA), and related fields are intended for people who teach English to speakers of other languages, as well as people who create, supervise, and assess programs intended to do so. They are designed primarily for second-language English teachers, directors and coordinators of TESOL programs, and teacher educators, as well as administrators, curriculum specialists, and educational technology specialists who deal primarily with TESOL programs.
Types of Doctorate in TESOL Programs
Conventional wisdom would suggest that a graduate degree in TESOL bears a lot of similarity to a graduate degree in English. Conventional wisdom, in this case, would be wrong. TESOL is a subcategory of applied linguistics, and therefore fits more within the framework of the social sciences than the humanities. Think of it as a highly specific field representing the meeting point between applied linguistics and curriculum and instruction, not between English and education as general fields.
Some programs place more emphasis on the linguistic framework behind TESOL than others, and the major title can reflect this. Programs like Columbia University’s Ed.D. in Applied Linguistics and TESOL, the University of Pennsylvania’s Ed.D. in Educational Linguistics, and the applied linguistics track within Hofstra University’s Ed.D. in Teaching and Learning all emphasize basic linguistic principles and methodologies that can be easily adapted to the teaching of languages other than English.
Other programs zero in more on the specific context of English instruction. Columbia University’s Ed.D. in the Teaching of English, Northcentral University’s online Ed.D. in English as a Second Language, and the English Language Arts track within the University of Central Florida’s Ed.D. in Curriculum and Instruction all focus specifically on applied TESOL, with less attention given to the applied linguistics principles that undergird it.
TESOL is a relatively common subspecialty within the Ed.D. in Curriculum and Instruction, and even programs specifically dedicated to TESOL tend to include a strong curriculum design component.
TESOL vs. Related Fields
The term TESOL, meaning “teaching English to speakers of other languages,” began to become the industry standard in the United States after the TESOL International Organization was founded in 1966. Other popular terms with the same meaning include TESL (“teaching English as a second language”) and TEFL (“teaching English as a foreign language”). All of these terms center the speaker, which makes sense for college programs, such as the ones listed here, that instruct people on how to teach English.
There are also more general terms used to refer to the field from a student-centered perspective, such as ESL (“English as a second language”) and EFL (“English as a foreign language”). Strictly speaking, ESL teachers work in English-speaking countries with students whose first language is not English. EFL, on the other hand, focuses on teaching English outside of the United States in areas where English is not the primary language.
One more general term you will also sometimes see in the context of TESOL and related fields is ELA (“English Language Arts”). This term, popularized within Common Core standards, is used to refer in a general sense to English usage, acquisition, and literary study, regardless of whether or not the person studying English is a native speaker and regardless of whether the study of the field is basic (as in the case of an introductory ESL course) or advanced (as in the case of a Ph.D. in English).
Ph.D. vs. Ed.D. in TESOL & Bilingual Education
People who earn a terminal degree in TESOL often intend to become teacher educators, and most ESL instructors are trained at the college level. Since a Ph.D. is generally regarded as a more competitive credential for tenure-track academic positions, this could make a Ph.D. in applied linguistics and/or TESOL a better fit than an Ed.D. in TESOL would be. But there are two other factors to bear in mind.
First, as we’ll discuss below, Ed.D. programs in TESOL tend to be more research-driven and Ph.D.-like than Ed.D. programs in other specialties. This could mitigate the perception that an Ed.D. in TESOL is a less rigorous research degree than a Ph.D. in the same field.
Second, as we’ll also discuss below, the TESOL/ESL market is one of the few U.S. education sectors that’s actually expected to shrink in the years ahead. That being the case, it’s possible that open U.S. tenure-track TESOL teacher educator positions might become scarce and difficult to obtain in general, regardless of the type of terminal degree you have.
Third, the international TESOL market is growing. Most of the new teacher educator jobs in this field are opening up in international campuses overseas, where diverse degree nomenclature is the norm. This means that in many cases, U.S.-based stereotypes about the relative research intensity of a Ph.D. versus that of an Ed.D. may not be relevant.
Earning an Ed.D. in TESOL
TESOL Admissions and Prerequisites
Applicants should hold a master’s degree in TESOL, education, or applied linguistics. A master’s degree in English or M.F.A. in Writing may suffice on a special-case basis if the curriculum focuses specifically and to an unusual degree on applied linguistics and English language instruction, but these exceptions are rare and may still necessitate bridge coursework. Most programs require a GPA of 3.0 or higher, a GRE exam, an autobiographical admissions essay, and letters of recommendation.
Because of the highly specialized nature of the field, an Ed.S. in a general or unrelated education field is unlikely to grant much advanced placement, though it will usually grant some.
Ed.D. programs in TESOL tend to be highly technical in nature, and more specialized than Ed.D. programs in most other fields. Even the Alliant International University Ed.D. in TESOL, which emphasizes practical elements of the field and does not advertise itself as a program in applied linguistics, still includes coursework in sociolinguistics, psycholinguistics, language acquisition, and other specialized linguistic disciplines.
Beyond the specifics of TESOL itself, expect a heavy dose of curriculum and instruction.
TESOL Dissertations and Capstone Projects
Every Ed.D. program in our database with a major in TESOL requires a dissertation, which is unusual. In most other fields, Ed.D. programs are available that allow a capstone project or project portfolio in lieu of a dissertation. In the highly specialized, theory-driven field of TESOL, no such alternatives are available.
Fortunately, a few Ed.D. programs in other fields that offer a specialization track in TESOL allow students to pursue a capstone project rather than a dissertation. The University of Michigan at Dearborn’s Ed.D. in Educational Leadership, which offers a TESOL specialization within its curriculum and instruction track, allows students to pursue an “applied studies project” instead of a dissertation, with faculty approval.
TESOL Internships and Field Work
The emphasis on academic research within the TESOL specialty has one practical advantage for students: internships and field work requirements are lighter within this specialty than they are within most others. That’s not to say that no TESOL programs require field work, but when they do, the requirement tends to be lighter than average. Wayne State’s Ed.D. in English Education, which limits the field work requirement to a single 3-hour supervisory practicum, is fairly typical in this respect.
Online Ed.D. in TESOL Programs
Are Ed.D. in TESOL Programs Offered Online
Several are, but they’re not particularly common. The University of West Georgia’s online Ed.D. in School Improvement with emphasis in TESOL is a good example, requiring only a single summer residency over the course of the entire program.
Online Ed.D. in TESOL Residency Requirements
Most online Ed.D. in TESOL programs have residency requirements, but Northcentral University’s Ed.D. in English Language Learning, which can be completed 100% online with absolutely no on-campus residency, is a notable exception.
Ed.D. in TESOL Jobs
The Bureau of Labor Statistics classifies ESL educators who work directly with adult students under the category of adult literacy and high school diploma equivalency teachers, but most TESOL professionals at the Ed.D. level work as instructional coordinators who design curricula and supervise and assess their implementation. The latter field is projected to grow much faster over the 2016-2026 period (11%) than the former, which is one of the few education-related professions that’s expected to actually shrink in the United States during that time period (in this case, by 5%).
That said, it’s important to note that despite its unencouraging outlook in the United States, TESOL is a growing international field. Many TESOL and ESL educators work overseas, and average salary information is not available for these often-lucrative positions.
Ed.D. in TESOL Salary
The BLS estimates an annual median wage of $52,100 for instructors in this category, slightly higher than the average annual ESL instructor salaries given by Indeed.com ($45,885) and Glassdoor.com ($48,800). Instructional coordinators do much better, with a projected BLS annual median wage of $63,750.
Is an Ed.D. in TESOL Worth It?
If you’re passionate about the field, and/or comfortable with the idea of living abroad, the answer is an unqualified yes.
Let’s be blunt: TESOL is not currently a fast-growing field in the United States, and the shrinking number of positions that do exist here are likely to become more competitive over the coming years. This could make an Ed.D. essential to your career’s long-term survival in a way that it might not be in most other fields. A terminal degree also positions you well to teach English as a second language (and/or teach the people who teach English as a second language) in growing overseas ESL markets like China, South Korea, and the United Arab Emirates.
If you’re not excited about English as a second language, and you don’t want to work outside of the United States, TESOL is among the least practical Ed.D. majors you could choose. This is not a flexible, all-purpose major that can be easily adapted to a wide range of growing fields. It’s a specific tool with a specific purpose. But if that specific purpose is a good fit for you, an Ed.D. in TESOL could be just what you need to land a wonderful overseas gig—or stay engaged and productive in the United States during what is likely to be a challenging decade ahead.
TESOL & Bilingual Education Resources
- Center for Adult English Language Acquisition (CAELA): This research-driven organization promotes the teaching and acquisition of English as a second language in the United States.
- International Association of Teachers of English as a Foreign Language (IATEFL): IATEFL provides networking opportunities and a job board for TESOL/ESL educators working in what is increasingly becoming a global field.
- National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE): NCTE works to promote the teaching of English as a second language in the United States, from pre-K through college.
- TEFL.net: This online resource portal links to job postings, events, online courses, and discussion forums relevant to TESOL/ESL educators in the United States and abroad.
- TESOL International Association: This organization works to promote and preserve TESOL/ESL instruction in the United States while helping to broaden career, research, and networking opportunities overseas.