You may be surprised by the number of unfamiliar terms associated with college and college life. Undergraduate, TA, accreditation, Greek life, the FAFSA—high school counselors and college admissions officers use these terms every day. Unfortunately, they don’t always stop to explain what each term means.
The “College Speak” series explains the college-oriented vocab that you need to be in the know and focus on the more important questions, such as “which school would be the best fit for me?”
Today’s terms are:
- instructor (or lecturer),
- adjunct, and
- teaching assistant (TA).
Faculty: Your high school has a faculty. Think about it—have you recently walked by your school’s faculty lounge? Have you seen the movie The Faculty? Just like in high school, the faculty at a post-secondary school will teach the courses. Unlike in high school, post-secondary faculty members are never called “teacher.” They have a Latin word for that, “professor” (see below).
Professor: This roughly translates from Latin to “one who teaches.” Professors usually have the most education possible in their field. They’re full-time employees of the school and can earn tenure, which basically means that they’ll have their job for as long as they want it.
Depending on the amount of time they’ve spent as a professor and the work they’ve done in their field, they may be considered an assistant professor (entry level), an associate professor (mid level), or a full professor (high level, sometimes just called professor.)
Instructor or Lecturer: A full-time employee of the school who teaches courses. Instructors may not have the most education possible in their field. They usually teach introductory courses at undergraduate schools.
Adjunct: A part-time employee of the school who teaches courses. Adjuncts are paid for each course that they teach.
Teaching Assistant (TA): Teaching assistants are usually current graduate students. They support professors, instructors, or adjuncts at undergraduate schools by holding small discussion groups or exam review sessions for the students of the courses. They may also run lab sections and grade student work. At some schools, TAs will teach many courses without assistance.