What is the highest level of TESOL?

There are many different systems for ranking educational qualifications by their level of difficulty and many are unique to individual countries. If we look at the system used in the UK, for example, you will see that there are nine levels of courses. While this system is specific to the UK, it is fairly representative of many other systems in use around the world.

The UK system for ranking qualifications by their level of difficulty (including examples of real UK courses at each level):

  • Entry level: Entry level certificate (ELC)
  • Level 1: GCSE - grades 3, 2, 1 or grades D, E, F, G
  • Level 2: GCSE - grades 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4 or grades A*, A, B, C
  • Level 3: A level
  • Level 4: Certificate of higher education (Cert HE)
  • Level 5: Diploma of higher education (Dip HE)
  • Level 6: Degree with honors - for example bachelor of the arts (BA) hons
  • Level 7: Master’s degree, for example Master of Science (MSc)
  • Level 8: Doctorate, for example doctor of philosophy (PhD or DPhil)

As different National Qualification Frameworks (NQF) can vary in design, you might find ITTT’s most popular, entry-level 120-hour TESOL certification course rated as level 2 or level 3. If you were to start at this logical level of qualification, you could then work your way up through the levels via different TESOL certification such as a Diploma, a Degree, a Masters degree, and finally a PhD.

Using this analogy, the highest level of TESOL is therefore a PhD. If you think you might want to consider this level of qualification further down the line, there are a few different options to look at:

  • Full-time study at a university
  • Part-time study at a university
  • Online study

Which of these options you choose will have a big impact on how long it will take you to get certified. If you choose to study full-time, the typical study time is between 3 and 4 years. Part-time students typically take between 4 and 8 years to complete their study.

As well as potential timeframes to completion, you will also need to consider how to actually complete your PhD as there are a few different routes you can take.

Potential routes to your PhD

Thesis: This is probably the most common option when taking a PhD in TESOL. With this method you will need to complete a lot of research and then write a thesis of between 60,000 and 100,000 words. The thesis route typically requires three to four years of full-time study.

Professional Doctorate: This is also a common option, particularly for professions such as teaching and medicine. This method can be completed alongside your everyday job and also involves plenty of research, followed by a final essay. However, the essay is not the only piece of work that is evaluated as this route includes a significant amount of other components. The professional doctorate option can take up to eight years of part-time study to complete.

PhD Through Publication: The clue is in the name with this option as it requires you to complete your doctorate by publishing your own work. If you go down this avenue you will need to submit between four and eight published works, as well as a final statement outlining how your work has helped to develop the field of study.

PhD Through Online Study. This is obviously the most popular choice for students who are unable to physically attend a university, although short periods of attendance will often still be required. The majority of study is completed independently, under the supervision of a course monitor who maintains contact via an online video conferencing app such as Zoom or Skype. This route can take anywhere from four to eight years.

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