Tips for Evaluating Independent Certificate Programs

Independent TESL and TEFL certificate programs, which are programs that are neither accredited by nor affiliated with accredited postsecondary institutions, are becoming an increasingly popular way to enter the profession. In response to the numerous inquiries TESOL receives about independent certificate programs, TESOL has created the Standards for Short-term TEFL/TESL Certificate Programs and approved the following statement:
An independent TESL or TEFL certificate program, which is a program that is neither accredited nor affiliated with an accredited post-secondary institution, can serve as a gateway to the field and profession of English as a second or foreign language teaching for those who have proficiency in English. TESOL recommends that an independent TESL or TEFL certificate program should be taught by qualified teacher educators and offer a balance of theory and practice regarding pedagogy and methodology, including a minimum of 100 instructional hours plus a supervised practice teaching component.
Because TESOL cannot recommend specific certificate programs, TESOL has compiled the following suggestions to help you evaluate them. These suggestions are offered for informational purposes only. TESOL does not warrant that this information is comprehensive, complete, or otherwise reliable. TESOL does not evaluate teacher education programs and cannot recommend particular programs or types of programs. TESOL does not provide professional academic counseling, career counseling, legal assistance, or legal advice. TESOL hopes the information provided here is helpful to you but does not intend it to substitute for professional assistance.
  1. Investigate the institution. Type the institution's name into a search engine and visit its website. Look also at other websites where its name appears, such as academic organizations, research forums, conferences, government websites, the news media, and chat boards.

  2. Ask for references. Contact graduates who have received certificates from the institution and used them to obtain employment or other benefits. If an institution promises job placement, contact individuals who have used this service. Verify that graduates got their jobs because they had this particular certificate and could not have gotten the jobs on their own or without the certificate. Be cautious as well about money-back guarantees for job placement. Although this may be an excellent benefit, find out how you will be expected to demonstrate that you have searched for but failed to find employment.

  3. Verify any affiliations. If an institution claims or appears to be affiliated with a major university or another organization, verify this with the parent institution. Disreputable teacher education programs sometimes misuse the name or logo of another institution, or use a name or logo very similar to that of other well-respected organizations (including TESOL), to imply that they are affiliated with or accredited by that organization.

  4. Verify claims that a particular certificate qualifies you for a particular type of job, jobs in a particular country, or all international ESL/EFL jobs. Certificate programs are providing just that, a certificate, not certification (see TESOL's Position Statement on Independent Short-Term TESL/TEFL Certificate Programs). Your certificate verifies that you have completed a particular institution's curriculum. No single license qualifies you for all teaching jobs in all countries because no single body governs all employment worldwide. Requirements to teach ESL/EFL vary by country and by institution. Generally speaking, only the employer can determine whether or not an individual qualifies for a particular job. If you are counting on a certificate to obtain a particular job, contact your prospective employer and ask if the certificate would fulfill the job's academic requirements.

  5. If you are planning to teach in the U.S. public school system, be aware that independent certificates are not the same as state certification or licensure. Most jobs in the U.S. public school system require teachers to obtain an endorsement of some kind in TESOL or a related field from the state where they plan to teach. Confusingly, this license or endorsement is often called a certificate, and teachers who hold such a certificate may be referred to as certified teachers. Do not confuse the certificates granted by independent certificate programs with the specific license granted by any of the 50 states' Departments of Education. None of the states' Departments of Education considers holders of independent certificates to be certified teachers. Again, an independent certificate proves that you have completed a particular institution's curriculum. It is not a license. If you plan to teach in the U.S. public school system, contact the Department of Education in the state where you plan to teach and verify that the teacher education program you are taking fulfills the academic requirements for state licensure.