You’re gonna’ pay me what?!: How to Evaluate a University Job Salary

Surely money isn't everything, but if you want to get the best university job offer possible, here's what to look for.

At first glance, the salaries for teaching English at universities abroad often look quite similar. Some countries like the UAE pay more, and some countries pay less. But beware - there can be a great disparity in pay and benefits for identical positions in the same country. Never assume that there is a "standard rate" for each country. For instance, in Korea, I managed to increase my salary by over $6,000 per year to do the same job teaching the same amount of hours. All I did was change employers!

Absolute Income: Don't Pay Attention to It

Most job hunters focus on their monthly or yearly pay to gauge the quality of a job offer. That’s a mistake and not how to gauge a competitive salary. Here's why: it doesn't paint a true picture of what you're earning. The more accurate idea you have of your salary, the easier it is to increase. Think like a lawyer - in terms of billable hours. Your ultimate goal in terms of salary should be to increase your hourly rate.

Relative Income: Know This

The most important thing you should calculate when reviewing a university job offer is the relative income. Let’s take a closer look. In his book The 4-Hour Work Week, Tim Ferris writes:

Relative income is more important than absolute income. Absolute income is measured using one holy and inalterable variable: the raw and almighty dollar. Jane Doe makes $100,000 per year and is thus twice as rich as John Doe, who makes $50,000 per year.

Relative income uses two variables: the dollar and time, usually hours. The whole “per year” concept is arbitrary and makes it easy to trick yourself. Let’s look at the real trade. Jane Doe makes $100,000 per year, $2,000 for each of 50 weeks per year, and works 80 hours per week. Jane Doe thus makes $25 per hour. John Doe makes $50,000 per year, $1,000 for each of 50 weeks per year, but works 10 hours per week and hence makes $100 per hour. In relative income, John is four times richer.

As you can see, relative income is much more important. There are only so many hours in the day. Increase your hourly income as much as possible. How does this relate to a university job abroad?

Sample Job Ad Comparison: Tongymeong Univ. VS Dong-A Univ.

Let's compare offers at two different universities that are both in Busan, Korea. Each ad was posted in the spring of 2014. If you have an MA and 2 years of experience, this is what these schools are offering.

Tongyeong University Salary and Benefits

1. Salary of 2.3 million won/month
2. 14 teaching hours/week (possible overtime each semester at the university OT rate)
3. up to 16 weeks vacation annually (summer and winter breaks)
4. Potential reduction of contract hours with each renewal, dependent on the results of annual performance review.
6. Note: neither housing nor a housing allowance are currently provided

Dong-A University Salary and Benefits:

  1. Teaching: nine hours a week (with some paid overtime usually required)
  2. Salary: KRW 2.5 million per month plus a KRW 350,000 monthly housing allowance
  3. Contract: Two years with renewal eligibility

Well, the monthly salary is not that different: 2.3 million vs 2.5 million. And yes, Dong-A does offer housing as almost all universities in Korea do. That's 350,000 more per month. But is the difference really that great? Let's take a closer look.

Income/Benefits Tongmyeong Univ. Dong-A Univ.
  • Base Contract Hours per week 
  • 2 x 16-week semesters per year
  • 14
  • 448 hrs. x year
  • 9
  • 288 hrs. x year
  • Yearly Vacation
  • 16 wks.
  • 16 wks.
  • Yearly Housing Stipend
  • 0
  • $4,200
  • Return ticket home paid by university
  • 1 million won
  • 1 million won
  • Total Absolute Income
  • 27.6 million won
  • 34.2 million won

  • Total RELATIVE Income

  • 62,000 won x hr.

  • 119,000 won x hr.

As you can see, Dong-A pays almost double in terms of relative income than Tongyeong. And that's for doing the EXACT SAME JOB with the EXACT SAME REQUIREMENTS! 

To recap, some things to consider when calculating your hourly rate:

  • base contract hours
  • overtime rate
  • vacation time
  • summer/winter camps (paid or unpaid?)
  • housing allowance
  • year-end bonus
  • pension
  • return ticket home

For more details, have a look at 12 Points to Consider Before Signing a University Job Contract.

Finally, once you know the average hourly rate for a particular country (just compare a few job offers and see what you come up with), you can figure out if that job is at the higher or lower end of that country's uni job pay scale. For example, good university jobs in Korea tend to pay around 80 - 120 thousand won per hour.

Why Your Hourly Rate Matters

Most university jobs are like part-time jobs. You only teach for 2 semesters (32 weeks per year). And even then, you get a bunch of time off during the week. It's not uncommon for people to double or even triple their base salaries doing other work like teaching private lessons or doing other side jobs.

In Korea, I used to make over $500 a weekend as an IELTS test examiner. I've also taught at summer and winter English camps where I made $3,000 in 10 days. Finding a job that is low hours and high pay and long on the vacation time is ideal. More free time means you can take on other higher-paying, follow your personal interests, build your skill set, or travel the world.

Some argue that "you shouldn't be in teaching for the money" or "it's not right to say that the best thing about a job is how little you have to do it." That's crazy. There's absolutely nothing wrong with being an educator and earn the highest salary possible, or wanting to escape the 40-hour work week.

This is your livelihood and you deserve to get paid for it accordingly - even more so when your abroad. You're on your own. Nobody is looking out for you. Don't get me wrong. I love my job or I wouldn't have been doing it for this long. But you have to think of yourself as a freelancer, as the owner of your own company. When you're searching for your job, get clear about your financial goals. Look out for yourself. And work on increasing your hourly rate little by little.

2 thoughts on “You’re gonna’ pay me what?!: How to Evaluate a University Job Salary

  1. Stephanie

    This is very helpful information! Thank you for posting this! I’m strongly considering teaching at a University in South Korea after I finish my M.A. TESOL.

Comments are closed.