How to Select the Best TESOL Certificate Program

As a teacher, you know that every child’s learning style is different, and finding the right tools and strategies to help them can be one of the most challenging parts of your job. But what happens when your students are English language learners, and communication in and of itself is a challenge? This is why our education system needs TESOL teachers.

A 2017 U.S. Department of Education study found that 32 states have a shortage of teachers who are qualified to work with English language learners. Furthermore, a report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine found that teachers who do work with English-learners are often underprepared for the job.

One resource that teachers can take advantage of are online TESOL certificate programs. These comprehensive online programs equip teachers with the tools they need to effectively work with their students who are still learning the English language. To help find the right path for you, we’ve compiled this comprehensive guide to selecting the best TESOL certificate programs.

TESOL Certificate vs. Certification

When looking for an online TESOL program, many people get confused by TESOL certificate vs. certification. In reality, there is no true difference. These programs, and specifically an online TESOL certificate program, prepare you to teach TESOL classes and students, and are a great next step for teachers who would like to pursue a master’s degree in the field.

 A TESOL certificate is ideal for a teacher or aspiring teacher who works with or would like to work with English language learners across all grade and subject levels. It’s also great for teachers considering master’s degree programs, as these certificate courses may help you earn credits towards an advanced degree. What better way to dip your toe in the water, so to speak, before fully committing to a graduate degree program?

In a TESOL program, you can expect to learn theoretical and practical English language skills to help you meet the learning needs of every student and adult in academic, business, and vocational settings. Online certificate courses provide comprehensive instruction on the structure of the English language, the process of language learning and acquisition, and practical act of teaching English as second, foreign and international language


When teaching English to non-native speakers or just working with English language learners, three terms are used somewhat interchangeably: TESOL, TEFL, and TESL. While these three are fairly similar, each has its own distinct definition.

  • TESOL: TESOL stands for Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages. It is an overarching term for this discipline and includes both TEFL and TESL.
  • TEFL: TEFL stands for Teaching English as a Foreign Language and applies to teaching English in countries where it is not the primary language.
  • TESL: Lastly, TESL refers to Teaching English as a Second Language, and encompasses programs in English-speaking countries that teach English to non-native speakers.

In-Class TESOL Certificate Programs

Depending on where you live and what you have access to, you might choose to enroll in an in-class TESOL certificate course. While this may limit your options in terms of scheduling and programs as many TESOL courses are online, there are some benefits to an in-class option.

The primary benefit of in-person courses is that you will be able to practice your new skills and strategies on another person, in a real classroom setting. This will allow you to most authentically replicate the school environment, which might give you more confidence when it comes to working with your students.

Online TESOL Certificate Programs

Conversely, many people opt for online TESOL certificate programs. Online TESOL certificate programs offer a convenient way for you to complete each course while balancing your current teaching careers and private life. It also means you get to choose from the very best programs in the world, regardless of where you live. This kind of flexibility isn’t as feasible with in-person programs.

Many universities and colleges offer online TESOL certificates, which act as a great primer for a TESOL master’s degree. In fact, oftentimes partial credit hours or units from the certificate program can be put towards the advanced degree, meaning students can get a head start on completing their master’s.

Regardless of which format you choose, once you complete your certificate, you are certified to teach TESOL and TESL classes.

TESOL Certificate Program Benefits

For current teachers interested in professional development or aspiring teachers getting ready to change careers, your motivation for choosing an online TESOL certificate course can be varied, but the benefits are not. Some of the biggest benefits of getting this certificate include:

  • Learn new skills and techniques that will help you in the classroom or an online educational environment.
  • Engage in valuable professional development training through a highly regarded academic institution.
  • Interact and learn from fellow language teachers from far and wide.
  • Learn from faculty experts with deep experience in the field.
  • Earn credits that, in some cases, can be used to meet district requirements for salary advancement.
  • Explore new areas of language instruction (example: longtime K-12 teachers who may be seeking a new challenge).
  • Position yourself to advance your career in a field that you love.

TESOL Certificate Course Costs and Requirements

The costs will vary greatly from program to program, so make sure you do your homework before choosing. You will see prices range from $150 – $2,000 and more. But price doesn’t always correlate with the quality of the program — always look for certificate programs offered by accredited institutions.

As far as requirements go, there are no blanket admission prerequisites, but course participants should have a bachelor’s degree and either work in or aspire to work in education. Certificate completion requirements also vary from program to program, but as an example, the University of San Diego Professional and Continuing Education Program requires students to complete every course with a grade of a “C” or better and maintain an overall GPA of 2.5 or higher.

TESOL Certificate Frequently Asked Questions

How long does it take to get a TESOL certificate?

This will depend on the type of certificate program you enroll in. If you enroll in an in-person or online fixed-date setup, the timeline will be set in stone. The actual days and months it takes to complete will depend on how many courses you take at a time and when you begin. If you elect to take online self-paced or independent courses, you can complete your certificate on your own schedule and when it works for you.

How long does a TESOL certificate last?

TESOL certificates never expire.

What is a certificate good for?

Teachers who hold TESOL certificates are certified to teach TESOL, TEFL, and TESL classes, depending on the institution.

Does accreditation matter?

Definitely. You should only seek out TESOL certificate programs from accredited institutions.

Is a TESOL certificate a requirement for a work permit?

That depends on the town, city, or state that you teach in. Consult your individual district’s requirements to ensure that you qualify.

What type of certificate do I need to teach ESL/EFL?

A TESOL certificate means you can teach both ESL and EFL courses. However, a TEFL certificate only certifies you to teach EFL courses and not ESL.

Does a live practicum matter?

A practicum is the grand finale, the ultimate culmination of all your hard work in the TESOL certificate program. While having an in-person classroom practicum can be beneficial to some learners, it’s not essential. Many programs allow you to design lesson plans and demonstrate what you’ve learned in simulated classroom settings or live classrooms, depending on the situations.

Putting a TESOL Certificate to Use

As we mentioned before, there is a shortage of qualified, certified teachers for TEFL, TESL, and TESOL classes. There are many great resources for finding a TESOL job, both in the United States and internationally. is the professional association for teachers in this field and always has a current list of opportunities.

The University of San Diego online TESOL certificate program will teach you practical, applicable ESL tools to set you up for success in your own classroom and professional development. Our accredited program is led by certified TESOL professionals with decades of experience in the field, who have helped countless teachers find their passion teaching English language learners. Please visit the USD PCE TESOL online certificate program page to learn more.