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Students Guide to Teaching English Qualifications – TEFL

Janet Madaka in Life skills 
Students Studying Courtesy of Alexis Brown from Unsplash

Students Studying Courtesy of Alexis Brown from Unsplash

While getting stuck into teaching English as a foreign language (TEFL) industry is by no means limited to students, it’s true that a large number of those undertaking TEFL qualifications and looking for teaching jobs are from the student population. Whether you want a meaningful gap year that will enable you to travel globally either before or after university, or whether you’re hoping to get into teaching as a long-term career, students are in a great position to study for a TEFL qualification and start applying for jobs. Read on to discover everything you need to know in this Students Guide to TEFL Qualification.

When Should a Student Study for a TEFL Qualification?

Many students undertake a TEFL gap year which gives them a great excuse for travelling the world as well as putting away a bit of cash and gaining valuable work experience. While some students choose to do their gap year before university, it’s also a great choice to make for those who are considering their post-grad options. Around 90% of those who intend to go to university after their gap year manage to do so, and while there are surely a few who get so enamoured with the teaching and travelling life that they stay abroad much longer, the majority come back on time, enriched by their experiences.
If you’re currently a student and thinking about what to do after you graduate, TEFL is a great idea. Regardless of what subject you’ve studied, having a degree under your belt makes you employable as a TEFL teacher in many countries. Though if you do have a degree in an English subject or a teaching specialisation, you could even be looking at work in top international schools in Europe. If the job market is stagnant back home and your postgrad options are looking grim, remember that the TEFL world is always hiring – a year out getting some workplace experience will look good on your CV, making you more employable when you come home.
Also, TEFL experiences aren’t just for one-year contracts. Students can make the most of their long holidays by doing shorter stints of teaching work. If you don’t want to travel far, check out residential summer courses in your country to see if you can get summer camp work – while tiring, the work is often enjoyable and can help you save money as you’re too busy to spend it!
Whatever stage of student life you’ve reached, now is a great time to study for a TEFL qualification. Foreword planning will be needed if you hope to teach English abroad in the future, as depending on the type of course you want to do, it might take several months to get qualified. Also, as a student you might be able to find special deals for getting a TEFL qualification, or can at least make the most of your free time by studying before you’re tied down to a full-time job.

What TEFL Qualifications are there?

Teaching English as a Foreign Language is a broad term that’s used to describe all sorts of TEFL qualifications, but can also be used to describe a standard TEFL certificate, which is different to other TEFL qualifications. Also known as TESOL (Teaching English to speakers of other languages), ESL (English as a second language), and TESL (Teaching English as a second language), a TEFL certificate is an entry-level qualification that you can do without any background learning on the subject.
TEFL certificates can be cheap and quick to complete, but it’s true that you get what you pay for, and a poor-quality course will be useless in actually getting you a job in the future. There’s also a certificate called CELTA, which is a Certificate in English Language Teaching to Adults. As a CELTA is specifically geared towards teaching adults, and is a more expensive and intensive course, it’s aimed at career teachers who know they’d rather not be working with young learners. For student TEFL teachers who are looking for a gap year experience, a standard TEFL qualification is more popular.

How to Choose a TEFL Course

If you want to get TEFL qualified, you’ll soon discover that there are a multitude of courses out there. Choosing the right course for you can take time, so remember to consider these main points when picking which certificate to study for.
Money – The bank balance is always a major concern for those in full-time education, and so how much a course costs will certainly play a part in what you choose. However, a word of caution – cheap courses are cheap for a reason! If you try to get the best bargain out there, you may find yourself with a qualification that’s worthless in the real world. Employers want to know that you’re qualified to a certain standard, which means picking a certified TEFL course provider and doing a course of the correct length. Which leads us onto the next point…
Course Length – TEFL courses are often listed by the number of hours you’ll spend studying to get qualified. As a rule, employers want to see that your course was at least 120-hours long, and anything shorter is unlikely to land you a decent job. The length of the course doesn’t always dictate the number of weeks or months that you’ll spend on it, as while some courses (such as face-to-face ones) will be scheduled, other courses you’ll be able to complete at your own pace. Employers might also have a preference for course delivery.
Course Delivery – There are three options when it comes to choosing how you study for your TEFL: Face-to-face, online or combination. Some employers prefer candidates with a combination or classroom-based TEFL certificates, but for most jobs, a good quality online TEFL should be sufficient. If you want to give your CV an edge over online-only candidates, consider a combination course where you do most of your learning online, but also have an intensive two or three-day in-person training module. This offers the best of both worlds, allowing you to do the majority of the study in your own time and to your own schedule, but also giving you the vital interactions that take your qualification to the next level. If online study isn’t your thing, you can find courses that are entirely classroom based, either as intensive sessions that see you qualified in a few weeks, to part-time courses that you attend each week for several months.
Where, Who, What: When picking your TEFL qualification, you need to consider your motivations for study. Who do you want to teach? If you want to teach children, there’s no point taking an adult orientated CELTA qualification. Where do you want to travel? If you want to hit the major TEFL destinations (which are always hiring, and are often less strict about who they hire) such as China, Russia, Indonesia, Cambodia, Spain, Vietnam and Thailand, a basic TEFL will usually be enough.
However, if you’re looking at teaching somewhere in Europe where the TEFL industry has been in decline or where people already speak excellent English, you may need a level 5 TEFL certificate, or something more advanced, to be considered for a role. Also think about what your long-term goals are. If you only want to teach for a year, there’s no point spending £1,000’s on the best course available. Equally, if you feel like the TEFL road could be your path for years to come, it’s worth investing in a Level 5 qualification that will really give you a firm grounding in the subject.

What are the Benefits of Getting TEFL Qualified?

Mention the phrase ‘gap year’ and you’re sure to get some eye rolls, usually from people who presume that every student gap year is just an excuse to laze around and not achieve very much. However, getting TEFL qualified has so many benefits whether you plan to teach on a gap year or for longer stints abroad.
Work Experience – If you’re fresh out of university, your CV might be looking a bit empty. Whether you want to go into teaching in the future or not, having held a TEFL position will be something to show for yourself in the world of work, and equip you with vital skills such as timekeeping, communication, confidence, and planning ahead.
Networking – Make friends and keep contact with colleagues who not only could become friends for life, but may also be able to help you find jobs in the future.
Travel – Teaching English abroad is a holiday without the financial strain – really get to know a country and a culture by spending months (or years!) there, gaining so much more than you would from a short and costly vacation.
Broaden Horizons – Do things you never thought you could do, try mad foods or learn an incomprehensible language, take time to reflect on plans for your adult life and really find yourself in your TEFL world.


If you think TEFL could be for you, start looking into it now – TEFL courses are often available, and by giving yourself time to shop around, you can find the perfect course. With the summer holidays coming up, this is a great time for students to consider their options and make use of time off by studying for a TEFL. Remember to consider your motivation for studying, and factors like where you want to travel and who you want to teach, when choosing your perfect TEFL course.

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