So you’ve taken the first step in deciding that you are going to study English at an ESL program. When you search “ESL School” in Google, there are over a 23 million results! How are you going to start to narrow down your options and choose your school? Here are some tips to consider before completing the school application and putting down your deposit:

Step 1. Decide what you want to study in your ESL program.

English Language Programs are designed to help you read, write, understand and speak English. The English language is vast, complex and varied. So, when considering English language programs (often called ESL programs), you should first identify your English goals. Are you looking to enroll in a university or college as an international student and need to satisfy minimum English requirements? Are you looking to advance your career by improving your fluency? There are typically four types of programs – general English where you are looking to improve practical skills, pre-academic programs that prepare you to meet school requirements, exam preparation classes which prepare you for a specific exam and English for Specific Purposes which is designed to help you in your professional career. It is important to pinpoint WHY you want to enroll in an ESL school and what it is you want to focus on. If you are looking for an ESL program to help you with your career, perhaps you should enroll in a specialized English course focusing on the terminology in your industry? Some ESL programs will also help you with test taking strategies and teach to the test if you plan to enroll in an English language exam. No matter your reason, one thing is certain, by studying and having real world exposure, you will no doubt improve your grammar, vocabulary and communication skills.

Step 2. Think about what you want to gain from this experience.

So, you’ve identified your goals for enrolling in an ESL program. Now, think about what you want from your experience. Ask yourself, “How do I want to make this the most efficient use of my resources?”

If you have decided that you are doing this for academic reasons, you may want to think about your academic goals. Are you looking for a program that your school will honor and offer credit for? Will your program offer you an opportunity to audit college classes? Some schools even allow students who complete an ESL program to satisfy the language requirement instead of sitting for an exam. Other ESL schools will write a letter of recommendation to help you get into the program of your choice.

If you are enrolling in an ESL program for career reasons, think about what you want to learn specifically. Do you want to expand your business terminology, learn to write business letters (e.g., emails, faxes, letters, and proposals), improve your negotiation skills, learn proper etiquette on the phone, or perhaps enhance your presentation and social interaction skills? Some programs will also offer a certificate of completion that you can present to your employer or organization. You can also do a longer-term program that will place you in a professional internship where you can apply your English skills in your industry. Other programs will put you in situations where you will interact and network with business professionals.

Think – what do I want to walk away with?

Step 3. Think about when you are going to enroll.

Now that you have evaluated the type of program you are interested in, you will also need to consider your free time and availability. There are a variety of programs that you can choose from that are designed to be a short-term program during a vacation period or for longer-term program for those looking to accomplish specific goals. Obviously, the more time that you devote the learning English, the better developed your English will be. Another factor affecting the length of your program may be the price of the program. Generally speaking, the longer the program the more expensive it may be. Here is where you will also want to consider your budget and think about how much time – and money – you’d like to set aside to accomplish these goals. Not only this, but the time frame may also need to be planned around any deadlines you may have with applications for a university program. If you will need to take an English language exam by a particular date, be sure to consider this when figuring out the best time to begin your ESL Program. Additionally, some seasons are busier than others. Be sure to think about the peak season, usually around July and August, as this can affect availability and prices. If you plan to enroll during this time, be sure to apply earlier to secure a spot in your ESL school. (And, as an aside, if you are planning to do some traveling in your overseas destination, you may want to check the weather to allow for any of the activities you are planning).

Step 4. Budgeting your finances.

You may want to think about this in advance of looking at the various ESL programs. Program costs can vary depending on the type of program, activities included, location of the ESL school, and length of the course. Think about how much money you’d like to set aside for your experience abroad learning English. This may be one of the hardest parts, but it is the most important. You will want to consider not only the cost of the ESL program, but also living expenses. You will need to cover your housing, food, activities, travel expenses to and from your destination, and the cost of any additional travel you plan on doing in your host country. Not only this, but don't forget about your commuting fees, any school supplies you’ll need, and international student insurance . By thinking about all the fees associated with your trip, you will be able to evaluate the type of program you want and can afford. Check out our page about tips to save money when going overseas.

Step 5. What type of sleeping and living accommodations are you looking for?

This may or may not be that important to you; however, many ESL programs will offer different living arrangements to choose from. Depending on your school, you may have different amenities available to you.

One of the most common options is a homestay with a local family. If you are looking for the immersion experience, this may be the way to go. Not only does this option tend to be the most popular, but it also gives you the opportunity to experience the culture first-hand. If you are considering this option, you may also have the option to choose between a private or shared bedroom with another family member. While the cost may be less expensive with a shared bedroom, you will also want to consider the duration of the program and accommodations to make your experience positive and rewarding. If you plan to live with a host family, schools typically will give you a preference form to match you up with a well-suited family. Host families will differ as some have children, others do not, while other families may even live with their elderly family members. Typically, these families are screened in advance and are warm and welcoming to their guests. For many, this is the beginning of a long-lasting relationship that will continue far after you leave the country.

If you are looking for more private accommodations, your program may also give you an apartment or residence where you can either opt to live on your own or with other students. You will need to find out whether these arrangements are made by the school or if you’ll need to find this on your own. Residences are usually arranged by the school and are typically furnished. Apartments may or may not be furnished, so you’ll want to find out in advance. This may mean that you will not only pay for furniture, but also utilities such as water, sewage, electricity, gas, etc. With this option, food may or may not be provided, so you will want to consider this as well. Living in either an apartment or residence is typically the more expensive route.

Other schools, especially those affiliated with a university or college, may have access to a residency hall or dormitory (also known as “dorm”). This option tends to be the most convenient for students as dorms are usually right on campus so you can easily get to and from classes. This option is usually the least expensive option depending on whether they are shared. Dormitories are usually available as a private room (also called a “single”) or a shared room that can be usually shared with up to two other students (“double” for two people, “triple” for three). You will want to contact your ESL school about the layout of the building. Typically, you will have your own room with common areas that will include a kitchen, laundry room, and television room. Depending on the facility, you may also have shared bathroom facilities.

With any option you select, there are advantages or disadvantages to the options listed above. You may want to think about whether you are a social person. Do you like to have alone time? Is it important to be on campus with easy access to your school? If you live further away from your classes, how will you get to school? Will you have transportation to help with the commute? If you are going to be at a college or university, do you want to be on campus to participate in the activities? Will you be less inclined to participate if you are off campus? If you live in an apartment on your own, will you have enough social activity? Do you need your privacy? These are all important questions to ask yourself as you decide what you want out of your experience. You will want to create an environment which cultivates cultural exploration in a comfortable and enriching manner.

Step 6. Considerations about the visa process.

If you plan to enroll in an ESL school outside your home country, chances are that you will be dealing with the consulate and embassy. Some countries may allow you to study on a tourist visa; others may require a student visa while others may have a reciprocity agreement allowing you to arrive without a visa. This is an important consideration in determining where you are going to study. Depending on your citizenship, countries may have specific agreements that may make the visa process easier. Some countries may even have what’s called a Visa-Waiver for visiting students. This means that you do not need a visa in order to enter the country. Many ESL Schools can help you with the visa process and guide you through the procedure.

Step 7. Deciding where you want to study.

There are thousands of ESL schools throughout the world; You can learn English in the United Kingdom, Australia, Ireland, the United States, New Zealand, or Canada — each with their own culture, tradition, and customs. The options are unlimited and will expand your awareness – not just of English – but of different perspectives and cultures. This is an opportunity to meet people from all around the world, exchange ideas, and perhaps travel and explore a new country. When considering where to study English, we recommend going through our overview of English programs around the world to help you decide where you want to study. If you are going to be studying or doing business overseas in English, you may want to consider going to that country to pick up the local accent, slangs and terminology. This can also give you the opportunity to establish a social – and perhaps even a business – network of people in the area. You may also consider the type of environment you’d like to study in. Do you want a large city, suburban culture, or perhaps a rural and tranquil setting? Would you prefer being in a big city with the hustle and bustle of the streets or a small neighborhood where everyone knows everyone else? These are all important considerations while you choose where to study.

Step 8. Now you are ready to search programs.

Now that you’ve thought about what you want from the experience, where you want to go, your budget, and the type of program you are looking for, you are now ready to begin your search of ESL programs and schools. Some students hire educational consultants to help them find the right school for them, while other students prefer to do this on their own. The other option is going to an ELS Language Center that can help you navigate to a larger university or college system once you complete your English courses. No matter what your choice, we have put together a list of questions to ask your ESL school to make sure it is the right fit for you. There is no shortage of schools with different programs, activities, and living arrangements giving you the option to choose your perfect program.

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