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Frequently Asked Questions

Please Note: The MA in TEFL program is currently suspended until further notice.


TESOL stands for Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages, and is probably the most general of these terms. 

EFL stands for English as a Foreign Language (TEFL - Teaching English as a Foreign Language) and refers to teaching English in a place where it is not widely spoken and is a foreign language. 

ESL stands for English as a Second Language (TESL - Teaching English as a Second Language), and usually refers to teaching English to non-native English speakers in a country where English is widely spoken (like the U.S.). 

ESOL stands for English for Speakers of Other Languages and is usually used to refer to teaching ESL in schools (K-12) in the U.S. 

ELT stands for English Language Teaching.

Knowledge of second language is recommended, but not required. It makes sense to have the experience of communicating in another language so that you personally understand how languages are structured and learned. You may find yourself teaching a classroom of students with a variety of language backgrounds; therefore, we teach you how to teach ESL without having to rely on students' native languages.

No background in linguistics is required or assumed. We'll teach you the linguistics you need.

You may take courses non-degree even if you have not completed the paperwork for one of our programs of study. Later those courses may be rolled into your credential program. We have rolling admissions, which means you can apply at any time. Fall semester usually begins on the last Monday in August and ends early to mid-December. Spring semester begins the second or third Monday in January and finishes up by mid-May. See American University's academic calendar for exact dates.

The Summer TESOL Institute consists of two seven-week sessions of classes. The classes meet twice a week for 2.5 hours instead of meeting once a week as they do in the Fall and Spring semesters. The first session runs from mid-May to the end of June and the second session runs from the first week of July to the third week in August.

Most of our courses are conveniently offered in the evenings. We do occasionally have afternoon, late evening, and weekend courses, but in most cases, the 3-credit courses meet from 5:30pm to 8:00pm. Our courses typically meet once a week for 2.5 hours in the Fall and Spring semesters, and twice a week from 5:30pm-8:00pm in the summer sessions. Visit our Courses page for more information.

A full time graduate load is nine credit hours; enrollment in less than nine credit hours is considered to be part-time. You have to take a least one credit per semester to stay enrolled in the program. In certain circumstances, master's students can be granted a leave of absence for one semester only. Graduate Certificate students can choose to take a semester off and do not need to take a leave of absence. You do not have to take courses during the summer - summer sessions are optional.

Contact the TESOL Program ( for details about registering. Be sure to enroll no later than the Friday before classes begin; otherwise, you will be charged a $50 late fee. Your academic adviser will need to authorize your registration before you can enroll in TESOL classes.

Our fundamental courses required for almost all programs are TESL-500: Principles of Linguistics, TESL-501: English Language Teaching I (ELT I), and TESL-502: English Language Teaching II (ELT II). Principles of Linguistics is offered every semester, ELT I every Fall and Summer I, and ELT II every Spring and Summer II. It is always recommended to begin with TESL-500 and TESL-501 if possible. You will also have a discussion with your academic advisor about your coursework and program of study.

Graduate Certificate in TESOL

It depends on how many courses you would like to take per semester. If you choose to take courses full-time, you will complete the program in two semesters or a single summer. However, some students choose to take only one course per semester and stay in the Certificate program for up to five semesters. 


This program is designed to be completed in as few as five and half years. Bachelor's/Master's students must complete at least 18 in-residence credit hours at the graduate level after the bachelor's degree is earned and maintain continuous, sequential enrollment in both programs. 


This program is designed to be completed in four semesters of full-time enrollment. Students who choose to take courses full-time including in the summer, complete the program in 16 months, and students enrolled part-time stay in the program longer.


This program is designed to be finished in four to six semesters depending on course availability and arrangement of student teaching assignments.

Graduate Certificate: ESOL

This program is designed to be finished in three to four semesters depending on the student's previous background and enrollment status.

For more information about the ESOL programs, please visit the School of Education.

The MA in TESOL program requires completion of a Teaching Portfolio and Oral Comprehensive Exam during the last semester of the program.

MAT: ESOL: Students must submit a Master's Portfolio and pass a four-hour Written Comprehensive Exam. See the School of Education, Teaching, and Health (SETH) for details.

Applying to the Program

MA TESOL and MAT: ESOL Programs

All applicants are required to have a Bachelor's/undergraduate degree by the time of enrollment, a 3.0 GPA (on a 4.0 scale) on all previous course work, a statement of purpose, two letters of academic reference, and GRE scores. For applicants whose native or first language is not English, a minimum of 100 on the internet-based TOEFL (iBT) (600 on the paper-based TOEFL, 250 on the computer-based TOEFL) is required. International students whose scores are 95-99 on iBT TOEFL can apply and will be considered for provisional admission with the requirement to complete the Graduate International Gateway Program during the summer before their start in the TESOL program in the fall. See our International Students page for more information.

Graduate Certificate in TESOL

The Graduate Certificate in TESOL Program is open to students who have achieved at least a bachelor's degree, current AU graduate students, and AU undergraduate students with at least junior standing. All applicants must have a 3.0 GPA on previous undergraduate or graduate level coursework and should submit a statement of purpose with their application.

Yes, if your score is between 95 and 99 on the iBT TOEFL, you will still be considered for admission. If you are applying to the MA in TESOL program, you will be considered for provisional admission with the requirement to complete the Graduate International Gateway Program (IGP) during the summer before starting in the TESOL program in the fall. The IGP is for conditionally admitted international students who need additional support in achieving success in their graduate academic studies. A minimum score of 95 on the iBT TOEFL is required for full admission in the MA in TEFL program online.

  1. Complete the online application, providing a statement of purpose, test scores, transcripts, and recommendation letters as required. The application fee must be paid before your application can be processed.
  2. Your application is entered into the University computer systems, your GPA is evaluated by professionals, and your application is verified to ensure all necessary documentation is included.
  3. Once your application is verified as complete, it is forwarded to the academic unit where faculty decide if they feel you should be admitted to the particular program.
  4. Once the academic unit has made its decision, a letter is sent by e-mail informing you of the decision. You will either be offered or denied admission. If you are denied admission, you cannot be reconsidered for one academic year.

Yes, you can defer admission for up to one year by sending a request to be deferred by email to This request should include the semester you wish to defer to and your reason for deferring.

AU TESOL has rolling admissions, meaning applications are accepted throughout the year. However, if you applying to the MA or MIP in TESOL Program and interested in being considered for a Merit Award, you must apply by February 1st of your entry year to begin that fall semester. If you are not interested in being considered for a Merit Award, domestic students' applications must be completed and received by the University no later than three weeks before the start of classes. For international students, your application should be completed at least two months before you wish you begin classes.

This depends greatly on you. The sooner your application is complete and all official documents have arrived, the sooner we can begin reviewing and processing your application. General processing takes 3-4 weeks and academic evaluation at the program level usually takes 1-2 weeks.

Anyone can take a class at AU as a non-degree student. To do so, you have to register through the College of Arts and Sciences non-degree registration and pay your fees and tuition. You can apply up to 12 credit hours of TESOL graduate coursework at AU toward one of our master's programs and up to 6 credit hours toward a Graduate TESOL Certificate.

Cost and Financial Aid

Students pay tuition per credit hour. For up to date information on tuition costs, see Tuition and Fees.

All TESOL courses at the 500 and 600 level are graduate courses billed at the graduate tuition rate. However, if you are an undergraduate student at AU and are taking TESOL courses towards a Graduate TESOL Certificate or as an elective, you are billed at an undergraduate tuition rate.

The TESOL Program offers a limited number of Merit Awards to outstanding MA in TESOL program applicants. Only full-time graduate students in residence at AU are eligible for a Merit Award. A full-time award covers tuition remission of up to nine credit hours per semester and a stipend. Recipients of full Merit Awards are required to work for the TESOL Program 20 hours a week. Partial Merit Awards are also available. To be eligible for a Merit Award, you must apply by February 1st of your entry year to begin that fall. Merit Awards are rarely available for students beginning in the spring semester, and none for those who start in the summer.

If you are not selected as a Merit Award recipient for the semester you wish to begin, there are effectively no other scholarships available from the University at this time. Merit Awards are available only to new Master's students.

For more information about other forms of financial aid visit the Office of Financial Aid website.

Some students may benefit from private scholarships, which aren't sponsored by AU itself. See our Scholarships page for a list of resources.

Simply check the "Yes" box on item 24 of the Graduate Application Form and you will automatically be eligible for any type of Merit Award you qualify for.

In the past four years, 2-3 students per year in the MA and MIP Programs have received Merit Awards. The primary criterion for Merit Award selection is a candidate's academic accomplishments. These awards are highly competitive.

A full Merit Award usually covers tuition of up to nine credit hours and pays a stipend. At the same time, a full Merit Award is not sufficient to cover all of a student's expenses. Therefore, you will need supplemental resources to pay for books, food, housing, travel, and other incidental expenses.

Programs of Study

The TESOL program offers four graduate programs in TESOL: MA in TESOL, MA in TEFL online, BA/MA in TESOL, and Graduate Certificate in TESOL.

In these programs. you can prepare to teach adults in higher education, in professional settings, in adult education and adult literacy instruction environments typically oriented toward recent refugees and immigrants, and to children in ESL and EFL contexts. However, our TESOL programs do not provide certification to teach in K-12 settings in the U.S.

The School of Education (SOE) offers two TESOL-related degrees in partnership with the TESOL program that provide K-12 teacher certification: MAT: ESOL and a Graduate Certificate in ESOL.

Graduate Certificate in TESOL

You can think of the Graduate Certificate in TESOL like "half a master's degree." You can roll all your Certificate credits into the MA TESOL program if you decide to continue your graduate studies. The value of a TESOL Certificate often depends on what other educational background and experience you have. For example, someone with a K-12 certification in another discipline might only need a TESOL Certificate to begin teaching ESOL students; or someone with an international business background could supplement that with a TESOL Certificate and become a very successful Business English teacher.

The TESOL Certificate is a very good credential for someone who is looking for a way to support themselves abroad, because it shows that not only are you a fluent speaker of English, but that you know your way around an ESL/EFL classroom, too. In the U.S., the Certificate is a very good credential for those in the field of Adult Education and often in private language schools that teach English. Please note that the Graduate Certificate in TESOL DOES NOT lead to K-12 certification.


This is the terminal teaching degree in our profession. Those with an MA in TESOL are qualified to teach English almost everywhere in the U.S. and abroad: in university intensive English programs, in community college programs, in private schools, and in adult education programs.

For international students, the MA in TESOL is often the best choice even if you plan to teach elementary, middle, or high school. The difference between the MA in TESOL and the MAT: ESOL is that the extra coursework in the MAT program satisfies K-12 certification standards required in the U.S. You do not need this certification to teach in schools outside the U.S. As far as preparing you to teach children, both programs offer very similar preparation.

Combined BA/MA in TESOL

Undergraduate students at American University in other programs of study may apply to the MA in TESOL program during their Junior year, and if accepted they can take six credits of TESOL coursework which can be applied to both their undergraduate and graduate degrees. This makes it possible to finish the MA in TESOL in three semesters. Both the traditional MA in TESOL and the Master's International Program can be done through the combined BA/MA in TESOL option.

MA in TEFL Online:

Please Note:
The MA in TEFL program is currently suspended until further notice.

The online MA in Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) program is designed specifically for students interested in teaching English as a Foreign Language (EFL) in secondary schools, universities, and private language schools outside of the United States.


If you want to teach in grades K-12 in public schools in the U.S., and you don't have teaching experience in that environment, this is the program you should consider. It satisfies all the District of Columbia coursework requirements for public school ESOL licensure (certification), and DC certification is recognized in more than 30 states. In addition to the MAT: ESOL coursework, you will also need to pass the PRAXIS exam, and may have to take additional undergraduate courses depending on your academic background and the jurisdiction you plan to be working in. For more information about the MAT: ESOL program visit the School of Education.

Graduate Certificate: ESOL

If you already have teaching experience in K-12 public schools in the U.S., especially if you've been certified in another discipline, and would like to receive an ESOL credential, you may consider this program. For more information about the Graduate Certificate: ESOL program, visit the School of Education.

Credit for Previous Coursework or Teaching Experience

You can transfer in up to six credits of graduate-level TESOL-related coursework from another college to any TESOL Master's degree and up to three credits of graduate-level TESOL-related coursework to the Graduate Certificate in TESOL Program. The courses must be of a graduate level of study (500 level courses, 400 level at some institutions), have a grade of B or better, must not have been applied to any other previous degree program, and must have been taken within seven years of the time of enrollment in the TESOL program at AU. To transfer courses, you have to provide detailed course syllabi, your transcript, and receive approval of the TESOL program director.

There is no credit for teaching experience in the TESOL Certificate Program, but your prior work experience will be very valuable and useful when completing your TESOL coursework.

In such cases, determinations will be made on a case-by-case basis by the TESOL program director. You will work with the program director to determine which courses are comparable and which courses you will need to take at AU to complete your degree.

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