How to Become an Adjunct Professor

There's never been a better time to become an online teacher. If you're interested, you might want to read our guide on how to become an adjunct professor.

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Are you looking for a way to either supplement your income or earn a full-time living working from the comfort of your home? If so, you might have considered becoming a tutor or even an online college professor.

Working as an online college professor is a rewarding career with high earning potential, low stress, and you’ll also have the satisfaction of knowing the work you do is helping to further people’s educations and prepare them for their future careers.

We recently covered ways for you to get paid to go to school, now we will learn about how to become an adjunct professor.

The Rise of Online Education

In recent years the higher education establishment has been shaken by an unstoppable force that has completely transformed the delivery of course content – online degrees. The COVID-19 pandemic has changed education forever with the rise of online learning. Thanks to the internet it’s now possible to earn a college degree from home without ever stepping foot on a college campus.

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These days nearly every school you can think of either offers some online courses or entire degree programs that are fully online. In fact, it’s now kind of hard to find a school that doesn’t have an online program of some kind.

Even many of the big-name schools now have online (or mostly online) degree programs including Harvard, Columbia, Stanford, Duke, Northwestern, and so many others.

Without a doubt, online degree programs are here to stay, and it’s now possible to have a lucrative career teaching online courses for multiple schools right from the comfort of your home.

What is an Adjunct Instructor?

With the advent of online degree programs, schools quickly ran into a problem – who’s going to teach all of these new courses? Schools’ regular professors already had full schedules teaching courses on campus in addition to their other duties such as academic advising, research, and academic publishing.

No, adding additional courses to the full-timers’ schedules wouldn’t work at all. Another solution was needed.

That solution was found in using adjuncts to teach the majority of the new online courses. The term “adjunct professor” just refers to someone who teaches at a school on a part-time basis.

Using adjuncts makes a lot of sense because schools only have to pay them for each individual course they teach. Schools typically don’t provide adjuncts with any benefits, allowing them to save big on health insurance, 401(k) retirement contributions, and paid vacation.

The use of adjuncts to teach college courses is very common, and it’s not just limited to online courses. Adjuncts play an important role in higher education, filling in gaps on campus that are not met by the full-time staff.

How to Make a Full-Time Income as an Adjunct Professor?

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If adjuncts only work part-time for schools and they are only paid for the individual courses they teach, then how can you earn a full-time living teaching online?

The answer is simple: You teach for multiple schools at a time.

Before online degree programs came along, working as an adjunct was a pretty crummy deal. Since you physically had to be present to teach a course, most only worked as adjuncts for one or two schools at a time. Because of the geographic limitations, adjuncts didn’t earn much money.

Things are very different for online adjuncts.

Since everything is online, online adjuncts don’t have to travel from school to school to teach courses. As long as you have access to a computer and an internet connection, that’s all you need. This allows you to teach for multiple schools at once – thus giving you the ability to earn a full-time living right from home.

The Benefits of Being an Online Adjunct Professor


There are many benefits to working as a full-time online adjunct. Being able to work from home, of course, is the primary attraction.

It’s hard to deny the awesomeness of not having to worry about alarm clocks, being at work by a certain time, commuting, office politics, and all of the other stuff that makes so many want to pull their hair out.

Salary may vary from $1,000 to $5,000 for a 3-hour course, depending upon the university’s pay scale. The national average is $2700 for a 3-hour course.

Online adjuncts typically don’t have to attend meetings like on-campus professors. They also don’t have to worry about the “publish or perish” mentality that exists at many schools these days. Your job as an online adjunct is to teach the courses you are assigned.

Another benefit of working as an online adjunct is that after you’ve taught a particular course a few times, you can almost operate on autopilot. With rare exception, students tend to ask many of the same questions in each course term.

You can even save many of the things you post in a class to a Word document and copy and paste them in future course terms. This cuts down on the time needed to teach and allows you to take on more work.

As an online adjunct, your work is also portable. As long as you have an internet connection, it really doesn’t matter where you are when you teach. Some online adjuncts have even become frequent travelers, taking their courses with them as they see the world.

One of the best things about this career is that you don’t have to quit your current job to get started. You can start part-time with just one or two schools and then ramp up to earn a full-time income when you’re ready.

The Drawbacks of Being an Online Adjunct Professor

Being an online adjunct is not without its drawbacks, of course, and it’s important that you understand the potential pitfalls of the career before jumping in.

One problem that some encounter is the issue of micromanagement from supervisors. Professors who teach courses in-person typically have a great deal of freedom in how they teach. Things are different online.

Many online courses are highly structured, and supervisors regularly log on to see how things are going. Even if you’re doing an excellent job teaching, don’t be surprised if supervisors still offer pointers and tips.

Another frequent problem online adjuncts encounter is too much initial and recurring training. All of the schools you work for have their own training programs (which are fully online). The training is mandatory. You can’t opt-out of it based on experience. And to make matters worse, most schools don’t pay you to go through the training.

Perhaps the biggest gripe that online adjuncts have is the fact that they don’t receive any benefits. They don’t receive any health insurance, retirement benefits, or any other perks. They only get paid for teaching. As an online adjunct, you will be self-employed, and that means you will have to be responsible for your own health insurance.

There are many who believe the benefits of being an online adjunct outweigh the negatives. It’s like having a bad day at the beach when you have to deal with one of the negatives. The weather may be a little crummy – but you’re still at the beach.

How to Become an Adjunct Professor

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To qualify to teach courses at the college level, you must have either a master’s degree in a specific subject or a master’s in another field of study plus an additional 18 graduate credit hours in the subject you want to teach.

The “18 credit hour rule,” as it is known in higher education, is universal to all colleges and universities in the United States and was put in place by the accrediting agencies. There are many online adjuncts who acquire 18 graduate credits in multiple subjects to make them more marketable.

It’s important to keep in mind that having a master’s degree or a master’s plus 18 is a minimum requirement. Naturally, schools prefer to hire adjuncts with doctoral degrees since it looks better to their accrediting agencies. Nevertheless, it is definitely still possible to teach with a master’s degree or a master’s plus 18.

One strategy for being successful as an online adjunct is to be qualified to teach at least one subject that is in high demand. Subjects that schools traditionally have a hard time filling include finance, accounting, and statistics. Many avoid these subjects because they are perceived as being more difficult than others. You can use this to your advantage to ensure steady work.

Is Becoming an Adjunct Professor for You?

Working as an online adjunct is a truly great career with a lot of flexibility. It is the perfect career for parents who want to supplement their incomes working from home, for those who are fed up working for “the man” and want to be their own boss, and even for those who have medical issues that make working regular jobs difficult or impossible.

If you are interested in exploring this potentially lucrative career further, the book Make Money Teaching Online (affiliate link) by Danielle Babb is the ultimate guide to breaking into the field with your first teaching gig, building up your roster of schools, and other strategies for success.

Author: Cyrus Vanover

Brian Meiggs
Brian Meiggs
Brian is the founder of Gigs Done Right and has tried every side hustle under the sun. His mission with Gigs Done Right is to share valuable information regarding the gig economy to everyone from beginners looking to start a side hustle, to veteran gig workers trying to expand their empire. He teaches people just like you how to make money in the gig economy and has been featured in Business Insider, Yahoo! Finance, NASDAQ, Discover, and more. He normally shares the latest news, videos, and topics for gig workers so they can earn more money in the gig economy.
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