How to Become a College Professor

College Professors teach students in post-secondary institutions. Unlike primary, middle, and high school teachers, college professors teach in one subject that they specialize in. They are very knowledgeable and passionate about their specialty subject, and usually conduct research and write academic papers and books on their findings.

What do College Professors Do?

College professors usually create and implement lesson plans. Some colleges, such as community colleges may provide lesson plans to their professors ahead of time. In addition to teaching, it is their responsibility to obtain grant funding to conduct research in their field of study. Many colleges will fund these professors with grants and as a stipulation; they are required to publish a certain amount of papers or books on their research findings.

Work Environment

The work environment for college professors are usually in a college or university setting. They have their own offices, but their hours may be different from the usual 40 hour work week of other jobs. They set their own office hours which can range greatly, and they have to of course, teach their courses. Most universities in America run on semesters, and classes are set on a Monday/Wednesday, Tuesday/Thursday, or Monday/Wednesday/Friday schedule. Times slots for classes vary from 50 minutes to over 3 hours depending on the amount of credit hours per class. Overall, the stress load is much less for professors, and their day is varied unlike other office jobs.


Salaries for college professors can vary greatly depending on whether they are an associate or tenured professor, the subject they teach, and the school that they teach at. Tenured professors who teach subjects such as Math, Science, and Economics at the top universities make the most money. Associate professors at community colleges that teach liberal arts make the least amount of money.


Average Salary

Entry Level (0-5 yrs)


Mid Career (5-10 yrs)


Experienced (10-20 yrs)


20 percent discount
20 percent discount

Source: Payscale

Education and Training

Future professors must first obtain their undergraduate or bachelor’s degree, preferably in the subject they wish to teach. All professors must also attend graduate school and have at least a master’s degree in the subject they wish to teach. If they didn’t major in their master’s program in their undergraduate program, they may be required to take some perquisites before taking their master’s courses.

With a masters degree one can only become an associate professor at a community college. There are three types of professors. First one becomes an associate professor and then they become a tenured professor. A professor could also work part-time or what is called adjunct. This means they only teach a few courses a semester or they may teach online courses. An associate professor teaches a full load of courses, but they are usually paid less than tenured professors. A professor that obtains tenure means that, they are guaranteed employment for life. This is usually the goal of all professors. To obtain tenure is competitive, and some associate professors never are able to obtain it. A PhD (Doctor of Philosophy) is however, required to even become considered for a tenure track position.

It usually takes 4-7 years to obtain a PhD in any subject. While there is not much funding for master programs, there are many more funding programs for PhD students. You could obtain funding from your university for your entire PhD program along with a stipend (living funds) in exchange for teaching a few introduction college courses. This is called being a TA (Teacher’s Assistant) and there are many students who have had the experience of being taught by a TA in their collegiate careers. There are also various fellowships available which is funding from various schools, companies, and think tanks that pay for your PhD program in exchange for you conducting research in benefit of their organization. After the completion of your program, you may go to work for your fellowship funder as a postdoctoral fellow, or simply a research assistant with a doctoral degree. This guided research experience will train you for your career pathway.

Employment Prospects

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the employment rate of college professors is expected to grow 19% from 2012 to 2022, which is faster than average for all other jobs. The faster than average rate could be attributed to the fact that enrollment in colleges is higher than any other time in history. A recent article by Inside Higher Ed says that enrollment in college is expected to grow by nearly 14% from now until 2022. It is also important to consider the amount of debt one will accrue by going to school for such a long period of time. It will take a minimum of eight years to obtain a PhD and while one is in school, it is unlikely they will be able to work forcing them to take out loans. Master programs tend to be very expensive. The good news is that there are many grants and fellowships available to people seeking to gain their PhDs. They are however, competitive and one must have top grades, research experience, and recommendations from former professors.



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