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“How long are you going to wait before you demand the best for yourself and in no instance bypass the discriminations of reason?”
-Epictetus (50-135 AD), Stoic philosopher
Should you pursue a MAT-TESOL degree or simply earn a TEFL certificate?
Depending on your career goals both options are viable! However, a master’s degree versus a 100-200 hour certificate have very different price tags attached. My story started in the summer of 2016, when I had a desire to teach English in South Korea and a bachelor degree. It made sense for me to pay roughly $300 for a 120-hour TEFL certificate.
In 2016, I was able to quickly make my way from San Francisco to South Korea. At first, I started earning the average salary (at the time around $2,000 per month including housing) for a native English speaking teacher. After about 10 months, I was able to leverage my experience for a higher salary at the top private language academy in Seoul, South Korea.
Getting Started with TEFL Certification
First, a TEFL certificate can act as a passport to the world of teaching English as a foreign language. My 120-hour TEFL certificate helped me gain access to entry level English teaching positions abroad. Getting a TEFL certificate is a great way to transition from online tutoring to teaching your own class. If I had wanted to continue teaching at private schools aboard, a bachelor’s degree and TEFL certificate were enough. I knew satisfied high level managers and material writers in South Korea that had worked their way up through their private academies with the same level of education as myself.
At the time, I was mostly surrounded by dedicated colleagues that did not have master’s degrees. The few diligent colleagues that did have master’s degrees were more eligible for visas (like the coveted F-5 permanent residence visa in South Korea), additional job opportunities, and financial security.
Moving Up with a Master’s Degree
Second, adding to a master’s degree can make a huge difference in what teaching positions are available to you. By the end of my second year in South Korea, I had taught a wide variety of classes and wanted more options to elevate my career. Through internet searches and conversations with colleagues, I came to realize that my options would greatly increase with a MAT-TESOL degree.
University of Southern California’s (USC) Rossier School of Education MAT-TESOL program became my first choice. With hefty tuition cost of almost $48,000 for a year and half long program. Even with this steep cost, I realized that my annual income would potentially double with this degree. Other noteworthy TESOL graduate programs are at Purdue University, The New School, New York University, and Pepperdine University.
Third, joining a short master’s program means a quick turn over time to get back to work with a high-level position. After earning a TESOL degree, you’re eligible to teach English to speakers of other languages at the university and community college level across the globe. In South Korea, foreign public school teachers with a master’s degree are paid more. Some schools require their teachers to have a master’s degree at minimum. Earning an expensive MAT-TESOL degree could open exciting doors for your career.
Weighing Your Options
Finally, a TEFL or TESOL certification will aid you to teach outside of the United States, however, it will hardly secure you a position in America. I desired the chance to teach English in the United States. Above all, I wanted to become a better educator. After getting accepted to USC, I was excited to become a part of a community of educators that valued diversity, equity, and inclusion. In addition, USC’s legendary network led me to believe I could easily find work after I graduated. Even within a short period (I graduated from USC December 2020), the relationships with my cohort and faculty have already afforded me wonderful opportunities to advance my career.
During my master’s program, I was introduced to new concepts, skilled educators, and thinkers in the field. A few highlights from my experience at USC include:
- Interviewing Stephen Krashen (you can read his work here)
- Frequent individual attention and feedback from my professors.
- Becoming a part of a community of educators and learners at USC.
- Increasing my activity in the California TESOL community.
- Presenting three times at the CATESOL 2020 Conference.
- Meeting diverse student populations while working at the USC American Language Institute.
I was able to network and elevate my career while earning a MAT-TESOL degree. Through my graduate program, I connected with Eric H. Roth. I was able to observe and participate in his academic and professional courses at USC and use Search and Shares from Creating Compelling Conversations in my own classroom. Together we presented at a conference (you can read about our experiences here and here).
You may also be interested in more affordable online options to improve your English teaching. I’ve heard good things about courses on Coursera, like Arizona State University TESOL Certificate. Though some of these shorter online programs are known for being less rigorous than a master’s degree.
If you are looking to become an excellent English language educator, then I encourage you to pursue a MAT-TESOL degree. Or if you want to start your career teaching English as a foreign language within a few months, then a TEFL certificate is a great way to begin.
Are you looking to lead your own English classroom? Do you want feedback from other educators in a graduate program? What other factors will affect your next steps?