Linguistics / English as a Second Language M.A.

At USF, our Linguistics and TESL programs are among the oldest in the Sunshine State. Linguistics dates back to the early 1960s, early in USF history, and the Applied Linguistics program has prepared ESL/ESOL/EFL educators since the 1970s.

However, our program is known for more than its age-it is known for the quality of our graduates.

Our students are prepared for positions teaching second languages to non-native speakers, whether adults or children. Our alumni have taught in six continents, in public and private institutes, here in the Tampa Bay area and around the world. Other graduates have continued their graduate education and earned doctoral degrees. Many of our alumni hold positions of leadership. In short, our graduates have made a name for the applied linguistics program at USF.

How do we prepare teachers for such a broad range of instructional contexts?

Our instructional approach to the field of applied linguistics includes theory and practical applications. Every course provides students the grounding of theory and research, while making knowledge relevant through application activities. This approach lets our students build up a broad range of expertise. Our graduates know more than classroom techniques: they also know how to interpret the research literature and reflectively apply it to their instructional context.

Different programs of study in applied linguistics are offered at USF. Our primary program leads to a Master of Arts in Linguistics: Teaching English as a Second Language (TESL). This non-thesis program is appropriate for those who wish to teach in intensive English institutes, in community college settings, in private schools, and in international contexts.

Why Study Here?

Our Expertise

Our MA program was established in 1978. Our program is one of the oldest of its kind in the Sunshine State. We work closely with INTO, USF’s English Language Program for international students.

Faculty-Student Relationship

Mutual appreciation, respect, and support mark the faculty-student relationship in our program. Our faculty, all of whom hold Ph.D. degrees, set the level of instruction to challenge students to achieve their best. Our students enjoy graduate courses devoted to graduate students: we do not "cross register" undergraduate and graduate courses. Students receive additional faculty attention since typical class sizes are around 15 students per class. Our students appreciate the opportunities for close faculty mentorship that are available in our program.

Alumni Employability 

Our program prepares students for a broad range of opportunities in Applied Linguistics. Moreover, our graduates enter the job market with a wealth of experiences and professional skills. A recent graduate informed the program that he was offered every job he applied for: His challenge was not finding a job but choosing the best one.


You need not be concerned if you lack teaching experience when you enter our program. You will have gained valuable hands-on experience by the time you graduate as part of the internship component of our program. An internship experience is a required feature of our program, and there is some flexibility in selecting where students complete their internships (e.g., an intensive English program, a community-based ESL program). Our internship is one more reason why our graduates are in high demand in the job market.

Theory Plus Practice 

Every class blends theory with practice/application. Pedagogically speaking, yes, you will learn "what to do on Monday morning" but you will go beyond that! In other courses, you will apply linguistic knowledge to real-world problems. With a solid foundation in theory and research, you will know why to select a particular instructional approach. You will be able to interpret, critique, and apply the research literature.

The Portfolio 

In every class, you will apply theory to practice in assignments that include projects and papers. By compiling these papers, projects, and reflections, you will build up your portfolio gradually throughout your coursework in the program. At the end of your program of studies, you will submit your portfolio for evaluation as part of the comprehensive examination system. Our alumni report that the portfolio is a powerful tool, and that it helped them appreciate what they learned in their courses. It also can be used to demonstrate your experience and abilities to prospective employers. 


Our Linguistics Graduate Organization, LINGO, is run by students, for students. Grad students, with the help of a faculty advisor, plan sessions to help in professional development, career preparation, and social interaction. Joining LINGO lets you gain leadership experience and make connections with students and other professionals in the field.

Program Atmosphere 

We enjoy a positive climate in our program. This is partly because of the collaborative teamwork carried out by our students. It is also because of the mutual respect between faculty and students. In the MA program, we enjoy a positive atmosphere and high achievement. We invite you to come visit us and see if you would like to make our program your academic home.


What kind of job will I be prepared for with the MA in Linguistics/ESL from USF?

Our Master's program is appropriate if you are interested in teaching adult second language learners or pursuing doctoral studies in Applied Linguistics. This program will prepare you for a career in private language institutes or in university-affiliated language programs. You will be prepared for positions in teaching or administration in these settings. In both the US and abroad, your master's degree will make you a desirable candidate in a competitive job market. Our graduates are also well-prepared for pursuing doctoral studies and have found our MA program to be an excellent foundation for future careers in academia.

What kind of students are enrolled in the program? 

Our graduate students come from the United States and many other countries. Most of our students have some English language teaching experience; many of them have worked in international contexts. In our program, you will likely find many shared experiences with the other students. Some students enter our program directly after completing an undergraduate degree. Many of our students enter this field at a later stage in life as a second career.

I'm not a native speaker of English. Will I fit in?

Yes, absolutely. Our program welcomes both native and non-native speakers of English. In fact, international English speakers are an important part of our student population. We do require sufficient English proficiency for academic success as our classes are conducted in English. Native speakers of English are required to demonstrate proficiency of a second language before graduating. In other words, all of our MA students will have personally experienced the second language acquisition process.

How long does it take to complete the M.A. degree?

The length of time depends on whether you attend full-time or part-time. Most students complete the program in two years, though part-time students might need more time. The program duration also depends on how well the course sequence is planned. Most courses are not offered every semester, but on a yearly basis. Every student should ask the Program Director for help in planning their individual program of study.

That's a long time! Don't you have a program that I can finish faster?

We realize that some prospective students might prefer a brief course of study. However, please consider this: the value of an educational degree is related to how much the student invests in it, in terms of time, effort, attention, finances, etc. We recognize that graduate students make sacrifices in order to earn the degree. Based on our graduates' experiences, we are confident that our MA in Linguistics / ESL is valuable for our students' professional and personal development. If you are considering our program but still have questions, you are welcome to call the Program Director to discuss these important matters.

Can I get financial aid or an assistantship?

Many, although not all, of our students are able to find funding to support their graduate education. For more information, please see the Handbook available on the Resources page. There are other work-study programs that might be of interest to prospective students. You should contact the Financial Aid Office, who coordinates scholarships and work-study programs. Also, please be sure to note your interest in financial aid in your application, so that you will receive further information.

Prospective Students - Admission Information

Applying for admission can take a surprisingly long time. The actual application document is not very long, but the other documents take time to prepare. You are encouraged to plan your admissions packet with careful attention. Your packet represents you to the Faculty Admissions Committee, so be sure that it reflects the quality of work that you intend to give your graduate studies. If you have any questions, please e-mail the graduate director. In the application process, it is also a good idea to make contact with the graduate director via e-mail so that she is aware of your intent to apply.

Admission Requirements for the Program:
  • A completed bachelor's degree from an accredited college or university  
  • An updated curriculum vitae  
  • GPA of 3.0 or higher of undergraduate coursework  
  • GRE scores (taken within the last five years) at or above 149 (430, prior scale) Verbal, and 4 or above on the Analytical Writing section are generally considered acceptable. 
  • Three letters of recommendation 
  • A Statement of Purpose (2-page writing sample)

Note: GRE scores are optional for applications for the Spring 2024 and Fall 2024 semesters.

Additional Admissions Requirements for Non-Native Speakers of English  

TOEFL scores of 95 or higher on the internet-based test or equivalent IELTS scores. TOEFL scores are preferred.  

For admissions purposes, the TOEFL exam is not required if applicants have earned a college degree in an English-medium university in an English-speaking country. Please note that taking ESL courses does not exempt applicants from taking the TOEFL.

More information about the program can be found in the Student Handbook.

Additional Admission Information:


Our core classes are held in the evening hours. We do this for the convenience of our students, since many students work while in school. Core courses generally meet for a three-hour period once each week. Class size is generally about 15 students per class or smaller. The relatively low student-to-faculty ratio promotes positive learning experiences. Learning is also fostered by the interactive teaching style we like to use. 

USF Graduate Catalog 2022-2023

Program Information

Applied linguistics and language teaching, in the College of Arts and Sciences at USF, are disciplines we explore by connecting theory, research, and practice. We use linguistic science to help answer real life problems. We are especially interested in solving problems related to culture, second language acquisition, and language teaching. 

Our MA is distinctive in how we balance theory and practice. So, if you want to learn "how to," you will learn the nuts and bolts of teaching in our program. And if you want to know "when" and "why" you might also find our program a good option.

Who are our MA students? 

Some of our students come to us from counties near the Tampa Bay area. Others have moved to the Sunshine State for our MA degree. We also have students from around the world come to study in our program. 

Many of our students already possess considerable experience as language teachers -- whether in the public or private sector -- but this experience is not a requirement. Novices and experts both benefit from graduate studies with us. 

Many of our students enter the field because they love learning languages; our program welcomes both native and non-native speakers of English. In fact, international, non-native English speakers are an important part of our student population. We do require sufficient English proficiency for academic success as our classes are conducted in English.

All of our MA students will have personally experienced the second language acquisition process, including the native English speakers. Since language learning is so complex, we require our MA students to demonstrate some level of ability in a second language (L2) before they graduate to have experienced the language learning process.

What are the career options for our MA alumni? 

The strength and breadth of our program is evident if you consider where our alumni are employed. Our graduates now teach ESL in Higher Education contexts; others teach EFL in international settings; some direct language institutes; a few have careers in sales or marketing related to international education; others have proceeded to earn doctoral degrees. Our program, as you can imagine, prepares students for a breadth of opportunities in language education and research. 


Academic advising and scheduling will be done in coordination with the Program Director. It is the student’s responsibility, while in residence, to meet with the Program Director regularly, but at least once each semester during the regular registration period to schedule his/her courses for the following semester. Each student is reminded of University Policy Statement 415:

Although the University provides advising services to assist students with academic planning, the responsibility for seeing that all requirements are met rests with the student. 


For questions regarding the Linguistics/English as a Second Language MA program, please contact:

Zhu, Wei
USF Tampa campus: CPR 442