How Can I Become an Adjunct Professor?

Explore the career requirements for adjunct professors. Get the facts about job duties, education requirements, professional licensure, salary and employment outlook to determine if this is the right field for you. Schools offering Adult Education degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Is an Adjunct Professor?

Adjunct professors teach classes at colleges and junior colleges on a part-time or contract basis. In some cases, they may hold a full professorship at a university, but they choose to teach at a different institution for a single academic year. Each year, they may be considered for reappointment. Like other professors, they teach undergraduate and/or graduate courses in their subject of expertise, but unlike full professors, they are not required to conduct research or publish academic papers. This allows them to focus on teaching. Take a look at the following chart for an overview of how to enter the field.

Degree Required Master's degree at minimum, Doctoral degree preferred
Education Field of Study All academic disciplines
Key Skills Teaching, planning, collaborating, grading, flexibility
Licensure Requirements vary by academic discipline
Job Growth (2014-2024) 13% (for all post-secondary teachers)*
Average Salary (January 2017) $42,451 (for adjunct professors)**

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **Glassdoor.com

What Does an Adjunct Instructor Do?

An adjunct instructor is a part-time educator who teaches classes at the college level. Adjuncts typically hold contracts on a per-semester or per-year basis, and contracts sometimes depend on whether or not enough students enroll in a class.

As an adjunct professor, you could be responsible for preparing lesson plans, giving lectures, administering tests and quizzes, facilitating discussions and grading papers. You could prepare a syllabus, assign textbooks and other materials, create course content, keep track of attendance records and hold office hours.

What Are the Educational Requirements?

You need at least a master's degree. In reality, most adjuncts have terminal degrees in their field or are in the process of earning their terminal degree. While many adjuncts have a Ph.D., you could secure an adjunct position with a different degree if it is a terminal degree. For example, a creative writer could hold a Master of Fine Arts (MFA) degree, a lawyer could hold a Juris Doctorate (J.D.), or a medical adjunct could hold a Doctor of Medicine. You could also find employment as an adjunct if you have substantial work experience in your field.

How Would I Enter This Field?

If you're a graduate student and want to work as an adjunct instructor, you could begin by looking within the department where you are acquiring your degree. If you have participated as a teaching assistant and have taught classes in your department, you have the advantage of knowing the administrative staff, curriculum requirements and department faculty. Additionally, many adjuncts are hired as ABDs (all but dissertation), an unofficial term for doctoral candidates who are working on their dissertation.

According to an article in The Chronicle of Higher Education, it can also be useful to target institutions with limited budgets or a large student population because these institutions may rely more heavily on the work of adjunct instructors (chronicle.com). Also, you may consider checking for open adjunct teaching positions through a school's career services office or website.

What Else Should I Consider?

Working part-time allows you to pursue different interests. As an adjunct, you're often also exempt from the politics, publishing requirements and administrative duties that go along with tenured teaching positions. If you've recently completed graduate school, adjunct teaching can be a good way to get valuable teaching experience. If you are currently in graduate school, you could earn tuition remission by working as an adjunct instructor.

As a part-time worker with a short contract, you're usually not eligible for benefits or retirement packages. Additionally, your pay may be less than full-time or tenured instructors. If you don't have other jobs, you may have to work part-time at different institutions, which can be expensive and time-consuming. If not enough students enroll in your class, you may not be able to teach. Lastly, it can be difficult for adjunct professors to engage in collective bargaining or unionize.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

One alternative to a job as an adjunct professor is a tenure-track professorship. Full professors are generally required to teach undergraduate and/or graduate courses, conduct and publish high-level academic research, mentor graduate students and participate in departmental committees. They usually need to have a Ph.D. Alternatively, if you prefer teaching, you could consider becoming a high school teacher. Like adjunct professors, high school teachers usually focus on a particular subject, such as history or biology. They also have supervisory duties within the classroom and in other school settings, like the hallway or the cafeteria. To work in a public school, high school teachers must have a bachelor's degree and a teaching license or certification.

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