How to Become an Adjunct Educator: Education and Career Roadmap

Learn how to become an adjunct educator. Research the education requirements, training information, and experience required for starting a career in postsecondary instruction. View article »

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  • 0:01 Become an Adjunct…
  • 1:30 Step 1: Earn a…
  • 2:42 Step 2: Complete Grad School
  • 3:26 Step 3: Gain Work Experience
  • 3:57 Step 4: Get an Asst.…
  • 4:20 Step 5: Advance as an Adjunct

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Video Transcript

Becoming an Adjunct Educator

Adjunct educators teach courses at colleges or universities but are not tenure-track professors. They usually teach part-time and are paid per course or credit rather than by annual salary. Adjunct educators might be scholars or experts in their designated fields who have primary jobs outside of the college or university. Strong competition can exist in securing these teaching positions, which could become positive resume items, in addition to providing extra income. The disadvantages of being an adjunct professor are that they generally do not receive benefits from the college or university and may switch schools often, depending on what subject they want to teach.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average salary for a post-secondary professor is $74,040.

Career Requirements

Degree Level Master's required at 2-year colleges; doctoral required at 4-year institutions
Degree Field Subject related to field to be taught
Experience Prior teaching or professional experience is preferred
Key Skills Strong critical-thinking, verbal communication, and writing skills; knowledge of course-management systems like Blackboard and CourseWeb
Salary $74,040 (mean salary for a postsecondary professor)

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2014), Carnegie Mellon University.

The minimum level of education for an adjunct teacher varies depending on the subject and setting in which one teaches but a master's degree is usually the minimum requirement. Here are the main requirements for working as an adjunct educator:

  • At least a master's required for positions at 2-year colleges; doctoral required for teaching at 4-year institutions
  • A degree in a subject related to field of teaching
  • Prior teaching or professional experience is preferred
  • Strong critical-thinking, verbal communication and writing skills, knowledge of course-management systems like Blackboard and CourseWeb

Step 1: Earn a Bachelor's Degree

An individual who would like to become an adjunct educator must first obtain a bachelor's degree from an accredited college or university. A student should major in the field in which he or she would like to teach or a closely related subject. For example, students who wish to teach microeconomics at the postsecondary level may benefit from earning an undergraduate degree in economics, which can increase their chances of admission to a related graduate degree program. In some cases, vocational and technical schools may hire adjunct educators who have only bachelor's degrees and relevant work experience.

Success Tip: Select an optimal major.

While educators ideally teach subjects they are passionate about, students should keep the job market in mind when selecting their areas of focus. Aspiring adjunct educators may want to consider that some fields, like humanities, are more popular than others, which could result in a large number of applicants applying for relatively few teaching positions. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that fields like nursing and engineering were expected to have stronger job prospects in the 2012-2022 decade.

Step 2: Complete Grad School

Adjunct educators generally must have graduate degrees in the fields in which they would like to teach. While some community and junior colleges accept teachers who have master's degrees, many 2-year schools, as well as most 4-year colleges and universities, prefer candidates who have doctorates or are currently working toward PhDs. Master's degree programs tend to take two years to complete beyond undergraduate school, while PhD programs can last up to six years.

Success Tip: Gain teaching experience.

Prior teaching experience can be valuable for securing an adjunct educator position with a 2-year or 4-year institution. Students may obtain such experience through graduate teaching assistantships, which are often paid positions.

Step 3: Gain Work Experience

Instructors are also valued for their research or work experience outside of academia. In fact, aspiring adjunct educators often supplement their part-time employment with practical positions in their industries. Aspiring educators might kick off their careers after college by taking on relevant full-time employment with private businesses, government agencies or not-for-profit companies. For instance, an aspiring computer science professor might take on a position as an information systems manager.

Step 4: Get an Asst. Adj. Position

Assistant adjunct faculty members are usually hired on an as-needed basis when a college or university requires additional faculty to meet demand or expand the curriculum. An applicant is generally required to submit his or her resumes detailing education and related work experience, a letter of interest and three professional references.

Step 5: Advance as an Adjunct

Adjunct educators are not eligible for tenure, which means they can be dismissed if they do not perform adequately or if the school no longer needs an adjunct instructor for a specific course. However, there are opportunities for advancement that can lead to job security. Some schools employ ranking systems for these educators, including the adjunct assistant professor, adjunct associate professor and adjunct professor job titles.

Entry-level educators may start out as adjunct assistant professors then, after a designated term, undergo a performance review. The department will evaluate the assistant adjunct professor based on his or her teaching, research and professional performance. If the teacher meets the requirements of the college or university, he or she may advance to an adjunct associate professor and then, eventually, adjunct professor. These promotions may come with extended terms of service and the ability to teach more classes per semester, which can lead to higher earnings.

Obtaining a bachelor's degree and then a master's degree, gaining real world experience, and then finding assistant adjunct positions are steps to move you towards securing an adjunct professor position.

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