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Obtaining a Doctorate in ESL: A Guide to University Programs

written by: •edited by: Noreen Gunnell•updated: 5/18/2011

Considering a Ph.D. in Teaching English as a second language? Discover four universities that offer this degree. The programs differ slightly, providing training to educators in research as well as pedagogy, advocacy and multiculturalism.

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    Doctorate Program

    Doctoral programs groom scholars to be experts in their field. Research skills, critical literacy, pedagogy, and strong understanding of policies are part of all doctoral studies in English language learning. Some universities also offer coursework and research in how ESL connects across schools and communities with emphasis on cross-cultural, multicultural communication. The choices are numerous; therefore, careful consideration is a necessity.

    When applying to universities it is important to pay careful attention to the degree requirements, which differ at each university. In addition, pay careful attention to the admission requirements. Most universities want students to have a Master's degree in the subject area in which they are seeking their doctorate. However, if the Master's degree is in a non-related subject, but the incoming student worked as an English language instructor, this requirement could be overridden. The student would have to provide proof of experience, along with letters of support.

    Finally, be aware that different universities use the terms Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages and Teaching English as a Second Language for their doctoral programs.

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    University of Alberta

    At the University of Alberta, the Educational Psychology Department offers a PhD in Teaching English as a Second Language. Because of the wide variety of students' interest, this degree program is highly individualized. However, there are three core courses, totaling 12 credits. Once the student completes the required 21 credits, they must pass an oral exam, complete research and finally, write and defend a dissertation. Course cost is based on "assigned fee index units." For winter 2011, the cost per fee index unit was $101.20 (Canadian). International students (anyone not a Canadian citizen) paid approximately $4,500 a semester, full-time.

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    New York University Steinhardt

    New York University provides educators with a PhD in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages. This degree program concentrates on the issues speakers of other languages face when acquiring and using English. NYU Steinhardt requires 45 to 60 post Master's credits as well as training in one or more methodologies, an oral exam and defense of a dissertation. Students must consult their advisor to the exact number of credits necessary for graduation. Maximum time allotted to complete the program is six years. Tuition for a student taking 15 credits during the spring 2011 semester is approximately $20,100 for course work and over $25,000 for room, board, books and fees.

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    Temple University

    Students at Temple University receive an EdD in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages upon completion of their coursework. The University requires students to take 48 credits beyond their Master's degree with 18 of those credits in the Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages concentration. Completion of the program depends on oral exams, a defense of the written dissertation. Students living in Pennsylvania pay $625 per credit hour, while out-of-state students pay $912 per credit hour. Additional University service fees are required. Maximum length of time to complete doctoral degrees at Temple University is seven years.

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    University of Minnesota

    The PhD program at the University of Minnesota offers scholars a degree in Second Languages and Cultures in three distinct areas - ESL, foreign language acquisition and bilingual immersion education. This degree is reached by following one of four tracks or curricular strands, as they are called by the University. These strands are Second Language Acquisition and Classroom Discourse, Second Language Pedagogy and Teacher Development, Language Policy, and Languages and Cultures across Communities. Students have five to six years to complete their degree program. The University requires a minimum of 78 semester credits for completion of the degree. The total cost of tuition, fees, room, board, books, etc. for an instate student is approximately $27,000 per year. Out-of-state students pay a total of approximately $34,800 per year.

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    References and Resources

    Since English as a second language doctoral programs vary from one university to another, potential scholars should look carefully at the course work for each program, as well as their cost, and length of time to complete the degree.


    • University of Alberta, Doctoral Programs, 2009 -
    • University of Alberta, How Are Fees Calculated, 2009 -
    • NYU, Doctoral Degree Requirements, 2011 -
    • NYU, Tuition & Other Expenses, 2011 -
    • Temple University, TESOL, 2009 -
    • Temple University, Bursar's Office, 2006 -
    • University of Minnesota, Department of Curriculum and Instruction, 2011 -
    • University of Minnesota, Cost & Tuition, 2010 -


    • Grad Schools, TESOL Education Graduate Programs, 2011 -
    •, Degrees in ESL, 2011 -