How Can I Become a College Professor?

College professors spend their professional careers focused on a particular subject, including conducting research and teaching classes. Learn more about how to become a college professor, where they work and what they might earn. Schools offering Adult Education degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Education Do I Need To Be a College Professor?

Education requirements depend on your field of study, and where you teach. In general, a master's degree is sufficient to teach at community colleges, but 4-year colleges and universities require you to have a doctorate. A master's degree may be earned in 2-3 years and a doctoral degree in 5-6 years, depending on the specialty.

As a graduate student, you're usually required to serve as a teaching assistant. You may have other opportunities to hone your teaching skills through workshops and mentoring programs.

Depending on the field of study, other experiential training may be required. For example, you're more likely to obtain a professorship in religious studies if you complete a seminary program along with a conventional doctoral degree program. If you aspire to teach medicine or law, you'll typically need an advanced degree and experience via a clinical residency or judicial internship.

Admission to a master's degree program generally requires a bachelor's degree in, or related to, your chosen field. For example, a master's degree program in civil, mechanical or electrical engineering may accept you if you have either an engineering or a physics degree. Most doctoral programs require you to have a bachelor's degree in a related subject.

Where Could I Work?

Your potential employers include the 4,495 accredited public, private nonprofit and private for-profit postsecondary schools operating in the U.S. as of the 2009-2010 school year, according to the National Center for Education Statistics (nces.ed.gov). However, not all schools offer a full program of courses in your subject area.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that approximately 1.7 million people were employed as postsecondary teachers in 2008 (www.bls.gov). The BLS projected employment in this category would increase 15% from 2008-2018.

What Duties Will I Have?

As a professor, you'll have various teaching duties, including devising lesson plans, delivering lectures, leading discussions, setting assignments, grading papers and tests, advising students and writing evaluations. The subject matter you teach will affect what you do in class and what assignments you give. For example, courses in engineering, the natural sciences or behavioral sciences will likely have a lab or a field research component, requiring students to conduct experiments or collect samples outdoors. Courses in the music, visual or performing arts may require you to help students produce works of creative expression in a particular medium. Courses in the social sciences and humanities may involve teaching a study abroad program.

You also may be required to attend faculty meetings or serve on committees, which set school-wide policies and make budgetary and hiring decisions. Finally, you'll be expected to conduct your own research, submit articles for publication and attend seminars and professional conferences.

What Could I Expect to Earn?

Multiple factors will influence your salary, including your field of study, the type of employing institution, its geographic location and your tenure at a school. The BLS reported that, as of May 2009, the five highest-paying fields were law, health specialties, engineering, economics and atmospheric, earth, marine and space sciences with mean salaries between $89,320 and $109,150. The same report indicated that the five lowest-paid professors were in vocational education, education, criminal justice, foreign languages and recreation and fitness, with average salaries between $52,030 and $63,300 in 2009.

These data are roughly comparable to the middle-half salary range of $57,642-$106,544 for professors overall, reported by Payscale.com in March 2011. A 2007-2008 survey by the College and University Professional Association for Human Resources indicated that community college professors earned an average of $51,594 (www.cupahr.org).

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