How to Become an

English Second Language Professor (ESL)

The complete career guide to be an English Second Language Professor (ESL): salary, job growth, employers, best schools, and education you may need to get started.

Why We Love It

  • $68,200
    Potential Avg. Salary
  • 9%
    Job Growth Rate
  • Growing Demand
    Job Outlook
  • Flexible Hours
    Career Attribute

English as a second language (ESL) professors teach English to students whose first language was something other than English. They instruct students on composition, speaking, grammar, and reading in order to guide students to becoming proficient speakers and writers of the English language.

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What is an English Second Language Professor (ESL)?

The following job responsibilities are common for individuals in ESL professor roles:

  • Teach undergraduate and graduate college courses in ESL topics like writing, linguistics, speech, grammar, and literature
  • Expand college ESL programs by offering new course suggestions
  • Conduct research and publish regularly in scholarly publications
  • Create lesson plans for courses, and grade student assignments
  • Assist with administrative and marketing tasks designed to increase enrollments and retain students in ESL department programs

A Day in the Life

ESL professors spend their days teaching, planning for future classes and lessons, grading student work and assignments, engaging in professional development opportunities, and assisting with department administration tasks. Their primary responsibility is to teach students for whom English is a second or subsequent language to help them become better speakers and writers in the English language.

Generally, only about a fourth of a professor’s time is spent in classrooms teaching, lecturing, or administering tests. ESL professors may spend more time preparing for classes, creating assignments and activities, and grading submitted assignments and tests. Additionally, most professors are required to hold regular office hours, which are blocks of time in which professors are available for students to drop by and ask questions or get assistance.

For ESL professors who seek tenue or career-advancement in their institutions, they may also spend some of their time developing themselves professionally by conducting research, drawing conclusions on other research, and publishing their findings in scholarly publications. They may also have administrative responsibilities within their departments to engage in activities and events designed to grow program enrollments or encourage student retention.

Typical Work Schedule

Many ESL professors have the flexibility to set their own schedules and decide whether to teach during the week, during the day, during the evening, or on weekends. However, the flexibility depends in part on whether or not the school has appropriate coverage for course schedules that are in highest demand. ESL professors may choose to teach over the summer as well, though many take off to enjoy the long break.

Special Education Professor Specializations

  • Adjunct instructors are independent contractors that teach introductory-level ESL courses at a college or university on a freelance basis.
  • Associate/Assistant professors are junior-level tenured or tenure-track instructors that teach courses for linguistics or ESL departments and assist with department administrative tasks.
  • Professors are senior-level tenured positions offered to ESL instructors with significant teaching experience, a CV of proven successes, and a history of innovative and insightful publications.

Career Progression

  • Early Career: Writing Tutor, Adjunct ESL Instructor
  • Mid-Career: Assistant Professor, Associate Professor
  • Late Career: Professor, Dean

Typical Employers

ESL professors work for colleges and universities with linguistics or ESL programs, and they also work in writing centers where students take advantage of tutoring to improve their English writing skills.

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How To Become an English Second Language Professor (ESL)

The bare minimum degree needed to work as an ESL professor is a bachelor’s degree, but most positions will require a master’s degree. Native English speakers with a bachelor’s degree in a second language—such as Spanish—may qualify for ESL teaching positions at community or technical colleges if they’re also TESOL (teaching English to speakers of other language) certified. However, most four-year colleges will require professors to hold either a master’s or doctoral degree.

Bachelor’s degrees in English or another language are commonly pursued by aspiring ESL professors. Once a bachelor’s degree is earned, students typically move into master’s degree programs in linguistics, English, a foreign language, or TESOL. With a master’s degree, students generally qualify to work as adjunct instructors and may even be able to secure full-time teaching positions, though tenure-track positions are generally reserved for candidates with doctoral degrees.

If interested in pursuing assistant, associate, or full-professor positions, you’ll need to follow up earning a master’s degree by pursing a Ph.D. in ESL/TESOL. With a Ph.D. and experience as an English second language instructor, you should be qualified to apply for tenure-track ESL professor positions at most colleges and universities.

English Second Language Professor (ESL) Salary Data

We’ve provided you the following to learn more about this career. The salary and growth data on this page comes from recently published Bureau of Labor Statistics data while the recommendations and editorial content are based on our research.

National Anual Salary

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High Range


National Hourly Wage

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High Range


How do English Second Language Professor (ESL) salaries stack up to other jobs across the country? Based on the latest jobs data nationwide, English Second Language Professor (ESL)'s can make an average annual salary of $68,200, or --- per hour. On the lower end, they can make $44,640 or --- per hour, perhaps when just starting out or based on the state you live in.

Salary Rankings And Facts

  • #213 Nationally for All Careers

  • Above Average Salary Nationally

Programs and Degrees

Here are the most common degrees for becoming an English Second Language Professor (ESL). a is usually recommended and specifically a degree or coursework that prepares you for the particular field, see below.

Highest Education Among English Second Language Professor (ESL)s

  • 43.3%   Doctorate
  • 35.7%   Masters
  • 16.2%   Bachelors
  • 2%   Associates
  • 2.4%   College
  • 0.2%   High School
  • 0.2%   Less than High School

Job Growth Projections and Forecast

2014 Total Jobs


2024 Est. Jobs


Job Growth Rate


Est. New Jobs


How does English Second Language Professor (ESL) job growth stack up to other jobs across the country? By 2024, there will be a change of 6,800 jobs for a total of 82,500 people employed in the career nationwide. This is a 9% change in growth over the next ten years, giving the career a growth rate nationwide of Above Average.

Growth Rankings And Facts

  • #242 Nationally for All Careers

  • Above Avg. Growth Nationally

What Companies Employ The Most English Second Language Professor (ESL)s

Industry Current Jobs New Jobs Needed % Increase
Colleges, universities, and professional schools; state 33,300 1,400 1%
Colleges, universities, and professional schools; private 31,800 4,300 4%
Junior colleges; local 5,300 800 1%

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