How To Become a Professor

By Jordan Fabel •  Updated: November 3, 2021  •  8 min read  •  Education
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If you enjoy teaching and doing research, becoming a professor might be for you. This type of position is often found at a college or university. You will do more than teach classes, however.

Most professors will teach and perform research. They will likely work with students along the way, as well. Those interested in learning how to become a professor can use the steps outlined below.

How To Become a Professor

How to Become a College Professor in 7 Steps

Step #1 – Get Your Bachelor’s Degree

The path to becoming a college professor starts with your bachelor’s degree. Therefore, it’s important to choose a major in the same area you would like to teach when you become a professor.

Of course, getting a high GPA and SAT score in high school can help you get into a great bachelor’s degree program. With the right SAT prep course, you can score very high on the SAT. This will help to open up more opportunities for better college and university programs.

Step #2 – Choose Your Subject Specialization

When you first start on the path towards becoming a professor, you want to choose your specialization early. This allows more time to gain expertise in the area. While it will also determine your undergraduate major, it can also help you choose the right internship and job opportunities along the way.

Gaining experience in your area of specialization can help you better teach when you become a professor. Therefore, you want to take on jobs in this area, internships, and even volunteer opportunities.

Step #3 – Get your Graduate Degree

You will need to get a graduate degree if you want to become a professor. It’s common to teach at a community college with a master’s degree. However, if you want to teach at a four-year college or university, you will need a doctorate. With a doctoral degree, you will certainly open up more job opportunities.

Step #4 – Complete an Assistantship Program

As you go through graduate school, you want to enter an assistantship program if you want to become a professor. This type of financial aid allows you to get some or all of your tuition paid for. It can also provide a stipend and valuable work experience under a supervising professor.

In some cases, you can earn graduate credit hours when you participate in an assistantship. You can choose from multiple types of assistantships for research and teaching. Each will come with different types of duties and will provide a different type of experience.

Step #5 – Gain Experience

After completing your doctorate, you will need to gain post-doctoral experience. First, you want to take on a job at a college or university, if possible. This step normally takes two or three years. If you plan to teach biological science, physics, or chemistry, you will likely need this type of experience to become a professor.

Step #6 – Become Certified

In some states, you will need to become certified to teach in college. In addition, you may need to get a teaching license or a certification, depending on your field and location. Make sure you understand what is required when you get closer to becoming a college professor.

Step #7 – Get Published

It’s common for college professors to have multiple studies and articles published. Since part of the job is research, you will likely need to have been published in peer-reviewed publications to gain employment.

The Progression of a College Professor

If you decide to become a college professor and complete the education requirements, you will likely start as an assistant professor. From here, you will gain promotion to an associate professor. Getting this promotion is based on your performance as an instructor and the quality of your published work.

After a certain number of years, you can gain tenure. If you’re on the tenure track and gain tenure, you cannot be let go without just cause. It’s also common for professors to take on academic leadership roles within their departments.

Common rankings are as follows:

It can take years to work through these levels, and some professors never get to what is considered the highest level.

Job Duties of a Professor

You might think college professors teach classes, grade papers, and hold office hours. However, this is just the start of what a actually do day-to-day. Some of the common duties include:

There are many different duties you may perform outside of the classroom if you become a college professor.

Frequently Asked Questions About Becoming a Professor

How much can I make as a professor?

When you first start out, you will likely be a part-time faculty member or an assistant professor. After gaining some experience, you can work your way up to an associate professor position or even a full professor position. Each of these levels pays a different annual salary.

As a part-time faculty member, you will likely make around $3,500 per standard course selection. When you work your way up to an assistant professor position, the average annual salary is about $80K. Associate professors earn around $95K per year, and full professors can earn a salary of around $140K per year, on average.

Your pay can range quite a bit, depending on the field of study and the college or university. The highest-paid professor positions are in engineering, law, economics, health specialties, and atmospheric, earth, marine, and space sciences. The average salary for all of these areas of study is more than $90K per year.

Will I need job experience in the area I plan to teach as a professor?

It depends on the college or university you want to work for. In some cases, you will only need academic experience. However, many colleges and universities value those with hands-on experience. For example, professors looking to teach art, education, law, or any health specialties, will likely be expected to have hands-on experience.

Will I need to get a license to become a professor?

Your license requirements will depend on the subject matter you will teach. For example, if you plan to teach education or nursing, you will need to hold the same license your students will earn to gain employment. The license requirements will vary based on the subject matter and the state you work in.

Which professional associations should I join?

If you want to become a professor, you should join a few professional organizations. Some of the best options include:

All of these associations offer support for professors.

How many years will I need to go to school to become a professor?

You will need plenty of training and education to become a professor. Most colleges and universities want you to have a doctoral degree, while some may accept a master’s degree.

It starts with a bachelor’s degree, which will take four to five years. Then, your master’s degree will take another one to three years. Then, if you get your Ph.D., you will need to complete another three years of schooling.

Typically, if you want to become a college professor, you can expect the process to take eight to ten years.

Is the career of a college professor growing?

Yes. If you want to become a college professor, you will be entering into a growing career. The growth for this career is expected to be more than the average across all occupations, especially in health sciences.

What are the most common skills that make a good professor?

As a professor, you will likely need to have good research and critical thinking skills. It’s also important to have great communication skills as you will be lecturing regularly. Good writing and computer skills are helpful too.

If you want to become a college professor, you will need to spend several years in school. Expect to earn a bachelor’s and a graduate degree. Those looking to climb to the top of their field as a professor will need a doctorate. Make sure you’re also gaining experience and publishing any research findings along the way.

Jordan Fabel

Jordan Fabel

Covering different 'paths' that people's lives can take. Creative, foster parent, ticket dismissal, you get the idea. Exploring the requirements, certifications, exams, and obviously, approved courses along each path.