What is an Adjunct Professor? A Guide to What They’re Are All About

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Choosing classes stresses you out enough just trying to graduate in four years. The process can get even more stressful when you don’t know if top-rated adjunct professors should be chosen over lesser quality tenure-track profs. Before you choose, let’s unpack what an adjunct professor even is and how they influence the college experience.

We know you’ve Google searched, “What is an adjunct professor?”

“A professor that’s adjunct,” said Penn State University sophomore James Peterson.

“I have no idea,” said Villanova University freshman Sarah Kamata.

Remember when you first heard the weird words “adjunct professor” and wondered what the funct adjunct means? We’ve all heard of them, yet no one really understands what it even means. Let’s debunk some common adjunct professor myths and confusion. When comparing an adjunct professor to a tenure-track professor, you’ll find some key differences.

Adjunct professor is a broad title for a professor with part-time status, or only hired to teach a couple classes each semester. These professors do not get full member status of the faculty (despite their hard work). Both community colleges and four-year institutions employ adjunct professors. Surprisingly enough, colleges and universities hire more adjunct professors than tenured professors to save money. These institutions don’t have to offer the same insurance and other benefits that tenured professors get.

Why would you become an adjunct professor?

Education doesn’t call everyone’s name quite so loud—but those who do go into adjunct professorship show tons of interest, talent and knowledge in one topic, enough to share their interest, talent and knowledge with a bunch of ungrateful undergrads. Just like anyone in the education career path, many adjunct professors have a passion for teaching.

Oftentimes, adjunct professors hold jobs in the field in which they teach and perform their teaching gig on the side. “From my experience so far, adjunct professors have not inhibited my learning experience. They are actually very excited to teach at a college level, which sometimes you don’t find in tenure-track professors,” University of San Diego freshman Samantha Avera said. Overall, if you want to teach on a higher level but can’t commit to the full-time deal, adjunct professorship may prove something to look into.

How do you become an adjunct professor?

Your stepping stones into your part-time classroom vary by field and institution. One thing’s for sure: Educational requirements don’t get overlooked. Almost all adjunct professor gigs require a Bachelor’s degree from a higher learning institution. Usually, adjunct professors need at least a Master’s degree in order to teach at a college or university. Oftentimes students working on their Ph.D. will also work as adjunct professors to get job experience.

Grad school not for you? Don’t worry—some community colleges only require a Bachelor’s degree along with experience. Good news for all the aspiring professors: You can start your career as an adjunct at any school, not just your alma mater. Most institutions post adjunct openings on their websites.

Do the pros outweigh the cons?

For starters, an adjunct professor position starts building your post-grad resume and teaching experience at a university/college level. Many times, students will start out as an adjunct professor before they get full-time or tenure-track status in the institution. Furthermore, it provides flexibility and the opportunity to teach at multiple colleges. You’ll also get the chance to make a difference in your student’s lives without devoting your whole life to education. “My computer information systems class was taught by a part-time professor but I ended up getting my best grade of the semester in that class. Even though her office hours were limited she was always so eager to answer questions over the phone or email,” James Madison University freshman Olivia McCoy said.

But (there’s always a “but”), adjunct professors don’t receive the same benefits as tenure-track professors do. Adjunct professors don’t get the health insurance and job security that full-time professors receive. On average, adjuncts earn $20,000-$25,000 annually; so about $3,000 per class. Full-time instructors make $84,000 on average.

Don’t Judge the Adjunct-Book by its Cover

Just like your first rollercoaster ride, it may seem crazy and a bad decision, yet once you get off the ride, your mind’s been changed. Adjunct professors value themselves as well-educated and they really know their stuff. If you are interested in becoming an adjunct professor, make sure the benefits outweigh the cost. “All my professors that are adjunct professors are really excited to teach and try really hard to give a good lecture,” USD freshman Kaitlyn Paez said. No matter what, your adjunct professor probably knows more than you so you better listen up.

Zoë is a freshman studying marketing at the University of San Diego. Lover of life and cats. She's probably at the beach eating Açaí bowls while reading Harry Potter.

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