Should I do a Cambridge Delta or a Master’s Degree?

If you’re working in ESL or EFL—maybe with some years of experience under your belt and/or a certification such as CELTA, you may now be trying to decide whether to do a Delta or a master’s degree. This was my dilemma last year before eventually choosing to do a Master’s of Education in TESL. So, which should you choose?

If you want to work in Europe or the UK, do a Delta. If you want to work in North America, Asia, or elsewhere, a Master’s in TESL is often preferred. In terms of finances and time, a Delta is usually significantly cheaper than a Master’s and can be completed in as little as 3 months if you’re not working (compared to a 1-2 year Master’s program).

Let’s look at what exactly the Delta course is and what makes it different from doing a master’s program. I’ll tell you why I personally opted for a master’s degree instead of the Delta (although I do still harbor some aspirations to do the Delta too someday…). It’s a tough choice. Hopefully this information will make your decision between the two somewhat easier going forward.

You might also want to check out my related post How I Got My First Year of Grad School for Free in Canada 🙂

Why do either—is a Delta or Master’s degree even worth it?

If you want to continue a career in education (especially language or literacy education), a higher diploma or degree will open the doors to more opportunities and should increase your salary as well.

From my personal perspective, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to teach forever, but I thought—If I am going to teach for a while, I want to at least be the best I can be at it.

If you’re lukewarm on teaching and doing one of these diplomas or degrees is going to put you in absolute financial ruin, I don’t think I would recommend it. But for anyone who has a desire to stay in teaching or the field of education for the near future, and for whom it won’t completely break the bank, I think it’s a great financial and intellectual investment.

What is a DELTA diploma in ESL/EFL?

The University of Cambridge offers the Delta (Diploma in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) course to teachers who have at least one year of teaching experience and usually a CELTA (Cambridge University’s Certificate in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) or an equivalent teaching certification. The course used to be called the DELTA (Diploma in English Language Teaching to Adults) but has since changed because now teachers of both young learners and of adults can take the Delta course. It can also be taken by teachers in any context, ESL or EFL.

The Delta is comprised of three parts, or modules, which can be taken all at the same time or separately:

  • Module 1: In the first module, you learn the theory behind language acquisition. This is the kind of thing you would also learn in depth in a master’s program. You learn mainstream and experimental classroom methodologies, language systems and how they work, common language problems that learners face and strategies, and key concepts/terminology. This module is assessed with a written examination which includes two 90-minute papers.
  • Module 2: This is the expensive module at most of the Delta course centers I researched, costing the bulk of the program price tag. Module 2 includes both practical teaching practice and the completion of research papers that will support and inform your classroom lessons. You also have the opportunity to observe experienced teachers giving a lesson. This module is assessed based on the quality of your 4 essays and 2 lessons.  
  • Module 3: For the third module, you choose a specialization (such as Business English or English for Academic Purposes) and write a paper based on research of this topic. This module is assessed on the depth and organization of your written essay.

What does a Master’s degree in TESL entail?

In my program in the Department of Language and Literacy at the University of British Columbia (which is an amazing program and department by the way!), we have students doing a Master of Arts (MA) and students doing a Master of Education (MEd). Both programs require coursework, but the MA students have less coursework and must write a thesis.

The MEd students have the choice of doing only coursework or integrating a final project into their program—which is usually somewhat of a “mini thesis.” For my MEd, I have so far taken these courses and they have all been incredible:

  • Research Methodology in Education
  • Language, Discourse and Identity
  • Drama, Literacies and Literature in Education
  • Intercultural Education: Theories, Research, and Practice
  • Learning and Teaching Second/Foreign Language Vocabulary
  • Theories of Second Language Acquisition

Master’s degrees in TESL focus much more on theoretical perspectives, but that is not to say that it hasn’t been very practical for me as a teacher. Much of what I have learned has been very useful and applicable to the classroom (and has fundamentally changed me as a teacher I would say). It’s just that—in contrast to the Delta—there has never actually been anyone observing me teach or commenting on my teaching practices during my Master’s program.   

Much of what we do is research, reading, discussions, and writing papers based on our research and what we have read! Of course, our teaching practices heavily influence this process, but it is not always at the forefront.

We also explore issues very much pertinent to our teaching, such as identity and intercultural competence, but these are not “direct” classroom practices I suppose, at least not in the same sense as how direct classroom practices are explored and concentrated on in the Delta course.   

What ways is the Delta course significantly different from a Master’s program?

The Delta is a blend of both theory and practice, but includes a hands-on practical element that isn’t required in many master’s programs. It has a focus on classroom practices and there are literally observations of you teaching—this is not part of many master’s programs.  

The Delta can be done quickly if you’re not working—in about three months. However, this isn’t doable for most people, who usually opt to complete the Delta over the course of a year.

Master’s degrees take a year at minimum, but usually longer—a year and a half or two years, sometimes longer.

When doing a master’s degree, there may be more of a focus on you getting published, depending on your supervisor. Academia is more geared towards research and creating publications, while the Delta’s sole goal is making you a better classroom teacher.

What is the difference in COST between a Delta and a Master’s degree?

A Delta course’s price can vary depending on where you do it, but the price range seems to be about $4-5,000 US dollars total for all three modules—which can be done at your own pace.

The price of a master’s degree program can vary greatly too, depending on which school and which country you do it in, but is usually more expensive than the Delta price tag. At the University of British Columbia in Canada, where I do my Master of Education degree, the cost of tuition is about $7,000 USD for a domestic student per year and usually takes students two years to complete. For international students, the cost is much higher.

What is the difference in job opportunities between a Delta and Master’s degree?

If you’re considering working in Europe or the UK, the Delta, which has been carefully developed by Cambridge, will be held in high regard. However, in many schools in Asia, many people have never heard of it. They just want a master’s degree. It’s all very regional.

So, the best thing to do before making a decision would be to search the kind of job opportunities that you’d like to pursue in the next few years. Carefully examine their requirements and choose whether to do the Delta or master’s degree based on that.

If you have no idea where you want to teach in the next few years, you have even more research and soul-searching to do before forking out big bucks for one of these programs.

And if you’re like me, and thought, what if I want to work everywhere?! Then you just have to consider other things first (like cost, location, etc.), choose the most practical one in terms of those items, and save the second diploma/degree for another time in the future!

Why did I choose to do a Master’s degree over a Delta course?

It was a hard decision for me, but ultimately, I chose something that I thought would be more captivating for me and suitable to my broader interests. The CELTA certification had been a fun challenge but I’m not incredibly interested in grammar and linguistics on their own—I felt that a Delta would be a continuation of this.

A master’s program isn’t as narrow—you can learn arts-based approaches in depth if you’d like (I’m currently taking a poetic inquiry course and I loved the research-based theatre class that I took). You have the flexibility to choose courses and the opportunity to speak and work with professors who are experts in their fields. You even have the opportunity to publish in academic journals.

I was also swayed by the great things I’d heard about the program and university I chose to go to. I’m so happy with my decision and I feel like it’s made all the difference. However, I play with the idea of doing a Delta in the future. Like I said, I liked the challenge of the CELTA and I know that the Delta would really improve the practical, nitty-gritty aspects of my classroom teaching practices.


Brittany is a Wayfaring Human who loves to adventure with her husband and son. When she's not having adventures, she's taking pictures of them and writing about them.

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