Is a TEFL diploma worth more than a relevant MA?

EF in China and most British Council branches think so (though they are both involved in running diploma courses), whereas I don’t know of a single university which would agree (though they are all involved in peddling MAs). I have a Delta and quit my MA, so I’ll let anyone who thinks they have a comparative lack of bias comment first…

This entry was posted in British Council, Cambridge Delta, Diploma in TESOL, EF, MA TESOL. Bookmark the permalink.

33 Responses to Is a TEFL diploma worth more than a relevant MA?

  1. Julie says:

    Thanks so much for your input. I am planning on taking a training course this summer. Do you have any suggestions? I’m looking into Cambridge CELTA courses, since that seems to be the best place to start. If you have any other suggestions I’d love to hear them!!

  2. Bekah says:

    I’m assuming that a TESOL certificate is similar to / the same as a TEFL diploma. I have a MA in Teaching English and a graduate TESOL certificate. Here in Germany, I have found that most schools seem to care more about the TESOL certificate, but they are more impressed by the MA degree. :-/ It could be different in other places, though.

  3. Timorous Beastie says:

    I have both a TEFL Diploma and an MA and don’t think they are really comparable. The Diploma was easy – it does not require in-depth knowledge of theory, much reading or writing of lengthy papers. It’s much more practically oriented than an MA. A Diploma teaches you how to teach better, so is probably a more reliable guarantee that that the holder is a decent teacher.

    An MA teaches you how to think clearly and critically in an academic sense, and gives you a far better grounding in linguistic and TEFL theory, but most MAs don’t force you to prove or improve your teaching per se.

    In my experience, education authorities directly linked to the government tend to value MAs more than diplomas, perhaps because they are evidence of a good level of general literacy and a sound knowledge of theory, or perhaps because of bureaucratic rules. Private TEFL organisations and the BC tend to place higher value on practical teaching abilities, and so often prefer TEFL diplomas.

  4. Eric H. Roth says:

    If English teachers want to continue their teaching careers when they return to the United States, they will certainly find many advantages to the MA and far, far fewer for the diplomas. Whether this preference indicates a bureaucratic obsession with academic degrees (possible!) or an astute appreciation for the many more classes, assignments, and costs required to earn an M.A. may be open to debate. Public school systems, community colleges, universities, and even a majority of private language schools using government funds for various employment/training programs also expect an M.A. Cynics will note that education institutions granting pieces of paper value those same pieces of paper far more than actual teaching experience.
    Whatever the reasons, the core facts remain the same for American citizens wanting to transfer their satisfying EFL careers into full-time English teaching positions. The MA is almost always a prerequisite.

  5. Julie says:

    The MA programs at universities in my area in the US range from $30,000 (lower level state university) to $60,000 (private university)!!! and require 2-3 years of full time study to complete. The major frustration among students I have spoken with is the point made by Timorous Beastie. They spend all the time and money, yet when they graduate have very little in the way of practical abilities

  6. TEFLista says:

    MAs in the USA and the UK can also be quite different from each other. In the states, many MA programs require observed teaching practice and in the UK they usually don’t.

  7. Alex Case says:

    I’d heard that too, but if true it must be quite recent because none of the Americans with MAs in TESOL I came across while recruiting and teacher training in Spain had teaching practice as part of their MA.

    Another difference is that most American MAs are available to people with no teaching experience whereas most British MAs aren’t (or sometimes one university runs two MAs to split the pre-experience people off from the others).

  8. Alex Case says:

    “I’m assuming that a TESOL certificate is similar to / the same as a TEFL diploma.”

    In TEFL, Diploma usually means one level higher than a Cert, that is TEFL-Q (for qualified) rather than TEFL-I (for initial). Basically the only acceptable ones are the Cambridge Delta and the Trinity DipTESOL. Many TEFL providers do use the name diploma to make their Certs look good, but these are always providers to avoid.

  9. Helen says:

    I question both the Delta and Masters on the basis of relevance and cost. OK – maybe not the Delta so much but the costs are far too much for the average TEFL teacher. I would like to see other ways to be recognised for experience, knowledge, etc. especially in light of the new buzzwords “Lifelong Learning”. Most teachers are by nature lifelong learners and I would love to see a way to get formal recognition for that. That could be a good alternative to doing a Masters. What do you think? I’d also be interested to know, Alex, why you dropped out of your Masters?

  10. Alex Case says:

    My reasons for quitting my MA were, in approximate order:
    – It was in the UK and I’d had enough of the place
    – Leaving the UK was also a good way of splitting up with my then girlfriend
    – I took it too soon after my Dip
    – I was being paid to write things about TEFL that people apparently read and appreciated the ideas in, but the MA just seemed like more paying to write something no one would read and just for testing purposes not being encouraged to actually come up with something original
    – Jennifer Jenkins

    I hardly have room for the DELTA on my CV with the other qualifications like LCCI Teaching Biz and my publications, but I get a pay rise for having a Dip and none for anything else I have ever done, so I guess in terms of getting jobs and getting paid there is no option.

  11. Julie says:

    I see that the University of Bath has a combination MA in TESOL with Delta.

    I wonder if anyone has thoughts on something like this. Is it worth it? They offer a “blend” of online (during the school year) and on site (during the summer) for teachers.

    Does anyone have experience with this school or with a similar program?
    Also, what is LCCI?

  12. Alex Case says:

    LCCI and other Teaching Biz qualifications explained here:

    As I explained above it isn’t really a replacement for an MA or Dip as far as pay and job prospects go, but that is part of one option – get lots of other smaller specialist qualifications instead. Alternatives include ones for young learners, teaching with technology, CLIL, one to one classes, ELT management, plus others I’m sure.
    Some here:

  13. Bekah says:

    @Julie – my degree program was a combo MA/grad certif, and I thought it was really nice. All of the MA courses were advanced methodology and theory, but the TESOL track gave us the option to complete the practical aspect of the program for dual credit with the MA. I think that the cert made up about 25% of the program, and the other 75% was the MA. I don’t know how the program at Bath is, but I thought mine was a good investment.

  14. Alex Case says:

    Quite a few book reviewers and TEFL bloggers did combined Delta/ MA courses (they are less common now than they used to be) and I’ve never heard anything negative about them. Other universities offer credits for having a Dip meaning you can complete the course in a shorter time.

  15. Patrice says:

    Thanks very much for the input. Where did you do your course?

  16. Alex Case says:

    Which course and who, Patrice?

  17. Julie says:

    Oh, yes, I was attempting to respond to the comment by Bekah regarding the combo MA/grad certif. I have been looking into the program at Bath, but Bekah mentioned another and I wondered where it was.

  18. Bekah says:

    @Julie–mine was in California. It was good, but probably not worth traveling so far for 😉 I mean the comment mostly as support for combo MA/certif programs that integrate theory and practice.

  19. Andy Mallory says:

    I think MAs and Diplomas are two very different things. It’s easy to get cynical and say that the institutions peddling one or the other vaunt theirs in their selection and rewards for staff.

    If you are going the academic route then I guess you will need an MA at some point – though they are expensive beasties.

    A diploma is moderately priced and within the reach of someone doing DIY training to get a better job or make their teaching easier. That is one thing about doing a dip that I think applies – you can then knock out your 20-25 hours a week teaching without it being backbreaking or a total shambles – at least until your motivation bubble bursts.

    I have only encountered a few teachers with MAs and slightly more who were part way through them. They were all very mediocre or at times quite appaling teachers – but I wouldn’t want to generalise or claim the MA made them worse. I met at least two DELTA qualified teachers who were utterly useless/clueless.

    One thing is that getting on an MA programme seems to be about having the money to pay for it. To get on a TESOL dip or DELTA course you are supposed to have a Cert level course and 2 years experience already…but I know the rules get bent sometimes.

  20. Lyle says:

    I would say MA every time. It’s portable, and has general currency. Nobody outside the world of TEFL has ever heard of a DELTA.

  21. cp says:

    My two cents: Doing my DELTA was directly responsible for me moving from grinding away at the chalkface teaching GE to becoming the DoS at a large, well-run English school, on a permanent contract and earning pretty much twice what I was making when I arrived here 4 years ago.

    While it’s not true in every context, in a great many countries the DELTA is highly regarded by the schools that matter. In Australia it’s also one of the preferred qualifications required by regulatory authorities (unlike an MA). In short, it proves that you can practice what you teach.

    I’ve met a lot of teachers with MAs and in my experience there is little correlation between the quality of a teacher’s teaching and whether or not they have an MA. On the other hand, virtually every DELTA grad I’ve had working here has been a s**t-hot classroom teacher.

    Havign said that I started an MA last year and have been enjoying it tremendously. I started it because unfortunately short-sighted government institutions still don’t recognise DELTA to the same extent as an MA, so if I ever need to jump ship to a uni or college I’d need it for the CV.

  22. Bekah says:

    I guess what it all comes down to, then, is do you want the theory or do you want the practical? An MA will not be as practice-oriented and hands-on-training-like as a certificate or a diploma. On the other hand, a diploma won’t give you the same access to the research and theory aspect of teaching, to the history of schools of thought/methodology, and to the science of language acquisition (or the writing type and style used in the field of education). Yes, you’ll get a taste all of it in each type of program (probably), but it won’t be developed in the same way because the focus of each type of degree is completely different.

    Maybe if you have the practice, go for the theory; if you have the theory, go for the practice?

  23. Alex Case says:

    Had a question on this topic by email:

    Does anyone know if the experience required for admission to a DELTA course needs to be full time?

  24. Christine says:


    You didn’t mention the name of your MA school — could you share the name? I actually live here in CA, so I’m interested to know. What certification was it? Was it the DELTA? If so, I’m confused, because I was under the impression that only universities in the UK offered DELTA exemptions or DELTA combination MA programs.

    If anyone has information about universities outside the UK that offer DELTA exemptions (credits for completing the DELTA) or combination DELTA/MA programs, let me know. I’m particularly interested in programs either in the US or in Germany.

    Thanks in advance!

  25. Alex Case says:

    There is a way of making a complete list in ten minutes or so – go through the list of Delta providers on the Cambridge ESOL site, note the ones that are universities and visit their sites to find if they are joint programmes (most if not all of them will be). Quite rare nowadays though.

  26. Eric Roth says:

    It behooves educational institutions, of all types, to include practical guidance to teaching – especially MA programs. Focusing more on theory than practice and ignoring classroom applications makes little sense. Having said that, quality M.A. programs – which do cost more than ideal, especially at elite private universities – almost always combine both theory and practice in the United States.

    Although I’m biased because I so teach at USC and know a few excellent English teachers who teach online courses in their MATESOL program, I would encourage committed English teachers to consider the USC program if they are looking for a highly rated, quality program in California.
    If money is not a barrier, you have many exciting, outstanding choices to pursue an M.A.

  27. Christine says:

    Alex, thanks for the help.

    However, those may be the ones with joint programs, but there are also schools that offer credit exemptions. So it’s not exactly a joint MA because the DELTA isn’t offered at the university, but if you’ve already done it before you get there, you can skip a portion of the MA.

    There is a list on the DELTA website of schools in the UK that offer exemptions, but I was wondering if there are any schools outside the UK that do.

  28. Julie says:

    Yes, money is unfortunately a barrier. I am considering going to the UK for an MA/DELTA program even though I live in the US, because US programs are outrageously expensive, even those that are at lower level, state universities.

  29. Alex Case says:

    Hi Christine

    I tried to find a list like that when I was researching for the Diploma FAQ page ( As far as I remember, Cambridge says somewhere something like they haven’t put a list up because it is negotiable at most universities (though that might have been on the CELTA page, come to think of it).

  30. Bekah Palmer says:

    @ Christine –
    My program in CA was at CSU Chico, but it wasn’t DELTA. It was a combo graduate TESOL cert and MA degree in Teaching International Languages (a nice mix of Methodology, Practice, and Linguistics)

  31. CP says:

    @Christine re: credit exemptions for DELTA

    Did you have any luck finding schools which offer credit exemptions for DELTA? I’ve now had the chance to speak to a few people I know here in Oz who held DELTAs before starting an MA. Some of my acquaintances have had limited success in getting recognition of a DELTA in lieu of elective course on MA TESOL courses here in OZ (including distance courses), replacing 1 or occasionally 2 of the standard 8 subjects required for an MA. The course has to be a TESOL course though (it won’t carry any weight for an Applied Linguistics course for example).

  32. Christine says:


    This is the only list I could find of schools that offer DELTA exemptions in the UK:

    I’m not sure if there are any outside the UK that will do exemptions. However, as you can see, some of the programs on this list are Applied Linguistics programs. Normally, they will offer an exemption from any teaching practice section of the MA.

    That’s interesting to know there might be schools outside of the UK that will do some exemptions for it. I don’t think I’m likely to consider Australia for doing my MA, though.

  33. Simon says:

    Regarding whether part-time teaching counts as 2 years experience. My understanding is that the 2 years teaching required for Delta should be approximately 2000 “teaching” hours.

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