Employed at colleges, universities and technical schools, professors teach students who are beyond high school. Their job duties can depend on their position and the subject they teach. Among other things, they may be responsible for all the following:
- Writing a syllabus or course outline of material to be covered in a class.
- Teaching either traditional or online courses in their area of expertise.
- Meeting with students one-on-one to provide additional instruction or academic advising.
- Conducting and publishing research related to their subject area.
College professors typically fall into one of two categories:
- Part-time professors, also known as adjunct professors, focus specifically on teaching students.
- Full-time professors often have tenure which means they can't lose their job without just cause. In addition to teaching, they may be expected to produce a certain level of research and sit on school committees.
How to become a college professor
Unlike teachers at the K-12 level, there are no state mandated college professor degree requirements. Colleges and universities are free to hire whomever they feel has the appropriate skills and knowledge. However, they usually look for faculty members who have an advanced degree or work experience in their field.
If you're interested in becoming a college professor, here's what your career path might look like.
- Earn an undergraduate degree. In most fields, this will be a bachelor's degree although if you want to teach a trade such as mechanics or welding, an associate degree might be enough to start.
- Gain experience in the workforce. This step may not be necessary if you want to teach in an academic field such as history or social sciences. However, it can be essential to becoming a college professor in fields such as nursing, education or skilled trades. Colleges and universities are often looking for instructors who have real-world experience in the subject they are teaching.
- Go back to school for further education. Most colleges and universities are looking for instructors who have the highest level of education available in their field, typically a doctoral degree. However, you may be able to teach as an adjunct professor or at a community college with a master's degree.
- Conduct research in your field: A person may be hired as an assistant professor before moving to the rank of associate professor and finally a tenured professor. To move up this ladder of advancement, it is helpful if you have conducted research in your field or been published in an academic journal.
Skills and abilities needed for a college professor career
Becoming a college professor isn't right for everyone. Those who are successful not only have the right education but the following skills and abilities as well.
- Speaking: From teaching a class to meeting with students individually, a college professor spends a great deal of time talking to others to convey information.
- Learning Strategies: College professors may teach both introductory and advanced classes, and they must be able to select the right teaching method for the students and subject matter.
- Written Expression: Whether it's composing emails or drafting research reports, professors need to be able to communicate clearly in writing. This is particularly important for those teaching online courses in distance education degree programs.
- Oral Comprehension: College professors also must understand information conveyed to them verbally, such as student questions or presentations.
- Speech Clarity: When talking to others, a college professor needs to speak in clear language so they are understood.
Career outlook and salary for college professors
In general, the salary of a college professor can vary based on factors like location, experience, and education completed. Take a look at the table below for an idea of what salary and job growth numbers college professors might expect in the coming years:
|Career||Total Employment||Annual Mean Wage||Projected Job Growth Rate|
|Postsecondary Teachers, All Other||183,750||$76,990||4%|
Professional organizations for college professors
- American Association of University Professors aims to bring together educators, from faculty to teachers, and fight for higher education quality and access.
- American College Personnel Assocation educates professionals in higher education on student learning and student affairs.
- American Council on Education (ACE)coordinates the nation's higher education institutions, providing leadership on key college issues and working on public policy through research, advocacy, and program initiatives.