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Tips for Evaluating Independent Certificate Programs

What Are Independent Certificate Programs?

An independent TESL or TEFL certificate program is a program that is neither accredited nor affiliated with an accredited post-secondary institution. These programs can serve as a gateway to the field and profession of English language teaching for those who have high 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.

In response to the numerous inquiries TESOL receives about independent certificate programs, TESOL has created the Standards for Short-Term TEFL/TESL Certificate Programs.

How to Evaluate an Independent Certificate Program

 Because TESOL does not recommend or endorse specific certificate programs, TESOL has compiled the following suggestions to help you evaluate them. These suggestions are offered for informational purposes only. TESOL hopes the information provided here is helpful to you but does not intend it to substitute for professional assistance.

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.

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.

Verify Affiliations

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

Verify Claims

If a program claims that a particular certificate qualifies you for a particular type of job, jobs in a particular country, or all international ESL/EFL jobs, be sure to verify that. Certificate programs provide 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.

Independent Certificates vs. State Certification or Licensure

If you are planning to teach in the U.S. public school system, do not confuse the certificates granted by independent certificate programs with the specific license granted by any of the 50 states' Departments of Education. 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. Unfortunately, this license or endorsement is often called a certificate, and teachers who hold such a certificate may be referred to as certified teachers. 

 None of the states' Departments of Education considers holders of independent certificates to be certified teachers. 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.