Aspiring Academics: Breaking Into the World of Higher Education

Have you ever had the desire to teach at the collegiate level but weren't sure how to get started? You're not alone! Higher education can seem foreign and even somewhat intimidating to some. Many working professionals have a desire to help educate students by sharing their industry or field knowledge, their skills, and their expertise, but are unsure how to break into the world of higher ed. The following information will help prepare and guide you through your quest for a teaching role at a college or university.


In order to be eligible to teach at the collegiate level in an accredited academic program like English or Math, a candidate should minimally have a master's degree and at least 18 credits of coursework in their field. To teach in an accredited professional program, like the applied health fields or IT, a candidate should have a bachelor's degree and work experience in the field. Finally, to teach in an unaccredited vocational program or an enrichment program, like Welding and Plumbing or Photography, candidates may need a recognized industry certification and work experience.   

Beyond credentials and work experience in the field, institutions are often interested in a candidate's engagement in the field, evidenced by membership and networking in industry and professional groups, research and publishing. Additionally, schools are looking for instructors who can model leadership and professionalism and mentor students as they prepare to enter their professions after graduation.

Teaching Positions

Most working professionals who are interested in teaching pursue part-time or adjunct teaching positions. Teaching part time allows the flexibility to continue working in your profession while teaching a course or two on the side. Many courses are offered after normal business hours or online. Some employers will allow their employees to teach during work hours and count it towards professional development credit. Adjunct teaching is an excellent way to educate the next generation of practitioners in your field and to help ensure that students have the skills they need to be successful in their professional lives after graduation.

Finding the Right Opportunity

As you begin your search for a teaching position it is important to extensively research the institutions you are considering just as you would when looking for a job in the non-academic world. Begin by finding out if the institution is a community college, a four-year public or private college or university, a liberal arts college, an academy or a research institution. This information will help you determine the type of students you will be teaching. Consider the institutionĂ¢€ s history, mission, and vision to determine if the goals of the institution align with your goals. Most institutions will list their open positions with application instructions on their website or job boards. 

Getting in the Door

Those who hire adjunct professors, department chairs and program directors often struggle to find the qualified adjunct faculty they need to teach their courses. A great way to get in the door is to reach out to your own professional, personal, and alumni networks to find out if any of your connections perhaps know someone who is hiring adjunct faculty. 

Creating a free profile with APL, Adjunct Professor Link, is another excellent way to get connected with those hiring adjunct faculty at institutions. APL matches you with colleges and universities who need adjunct faculty with your credentials, skills, and experience, using your profile information. Rather than filling out multiple applications, APL provides you with opportunities that match your qualifications, expertise, location, and availability.   

You got the job! Now What?

Begin to define your teaching style and pedagogy, create a syllabus with course objectives, and define how you will measure student success. There are many online resources that can help prepare you for the classroom. Check out APL's resources on defining your pedagogy, finding your teaching style, administering exams, and download the free ebook "Adjunct Teaching: 5 Steps to Prepare for Your First Semester."