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How to Become a Professor

We have all had classes that seemed to drag on into eternity. In these instances, we usually grin and bear it, putting up with a mediocre professor to get the class credits and nothing more.

But the mark of a truly effective educator is how well they can impart lasting knowledge on a student and make them think critically. Suppose you’ve left an English, philosophy, or engineering class feeling inspired by a talented professor’s teaching method. In that case, you know how crucial professors are to the process of education.

If the possibility of thriving in higher education’s most esteemed position attracts you, then becoming a professor may be a perfect career path to follow.

What Is a Professor?

Professors are educators who teach at the college level. Professors go through extensive schooling and earn their bachelor’s, master’s, and doctorates. The position of professor is the highest ranking in the world of higher education. Professors are experts in their field.

Professors can vary in employment type. Whether they be full-time or part-time, professors can teach at higher education settings all over the world. Professors may teach massive classes filled with hundreds of students, or lecture a room of only a few students.

What Does a Professor Do?

Professors have many duties outside of merely teaching a subject.

Educate Students

Firstly, professors educate students. In higher education, a professor works at a community college or university and educates many students per semester. Depending on the subject, some professors teach significantly more students than others.

Conduct Research in Their Field

Professors dedicate their lives to furthering knowledge. Professors will spend a lot of time conducting research. Most time spent not teaching is dedicated to applying for research grants and performing experiments. Professors also author academic articles.

To become a tenured professor, you need to keep up to date with articles, publish findings, and entrench yourself in academia.

Develop a Curriculum

Professors need a lesson plan. Without a comprehensive lesson plan or syllabus, a class can quickly fall into chaos. This is where factors like time management and a profound sense of how students learn are crucial to success.

Essential Professor Skills

High-Level Speaking and Writing Skills

As a full time or part-time professor, you will be speaking in front of large groups of people. It is only natural that a professor needs to be clear and concise when delivering lectures about a subject. Imparting knowledge on a group of people requires the ability to communicate ideas competently. Speaking is only part of a professor’s wheelhouse. Professors also need to have a strong command of language and writing.

A Deep Understanding of a Specific Specialization 

If you are going to be teaching a certain subject, it only makes sense that you are an expert in that field. At this point, professors will have specialized in their subject in a graduate program. The subjects are plentiful; you could teach subjects like art history, law, and even cooking. The sheer specificity of the specialization options should encourage anyone to try and teach at the college level.

A Passion for Education and Knowledge

Professors impart valuable knowledge and life skills for students to use in the future. The ideal professor should thrive in teaching and giving others the tools they need to further their future careers.

Professor Salaries and Job Outlook

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average salary for a post-secondary teacher was $79,540 per year in 2019.

The job outlook for professors is fantastic. The number of professor jobs in the United States in 2018 was well over 1,350,700. This is only going to grow and will increase by 11 percent in the coming decade.

How Long Does it Take to Become a Professor?

To teach at the college level, individuals must have gone through several steps in their own education process. They must first earn their bachelor’s degree. They then need to enter a graduate program to get their master’s degree.

After future professors meet these requirements, they need to pursue a doctorate. After they have earned a doctoral degree, they are then professors. This will all usually take around eight years to complete; this is an estimate as a doctoral degree and gaining work experience can add significant time to this.

Becoming a full-time professor also qualifies you for a tenure-track position. After several years, you will be able to apply for tenure. This all but ensures your job is safe in all circumstances. This is a long and sometimes stressful process that doesn’t guarantee success.

How to Become a College Professor: A Step by Step Guide

Step 1: Earn Your Undergraduate Degree

This is the first logical step in your journey to becoming a professor. Higher education is a must. After all, you will be making higher education your livelihood.

The ideal degree to major in is education. With education as a foundation, you can build upon it further in graduate programs and earn a doctorate in whatever you choose.

Step 2: Choose Your Specialization

What do you love? What is the subject that you are most interested in? Now is the time to choose it. When going into a graduate program, you will narrow your options to your specialization of choice.

If a specific point in history captivates you, a subset of mathematics, or philosophical ideas, now is the time to see what works. Ask yourself these questions:

  • What subject am I passionate about?
  • What topic could I teach at a college or university?
  • Can I see myself making this my life’s work in higher education?
  • Can I write reliably on this subject?
  • Can I see myself researching this subject?

Step 3: Go to Graduate School

Once the bachelor’s degree is out of the way, it’s time to take the next step. This is where you choose a more specialized field in education. This could be the last step if you choose: community colleges and universities sometimes hire those with only their master’s degrees.

Step 4: Earn a Doctorate

Earning a doctoral degree will likely be the most taxing of the degrees you need to become a professor. To earn a doctorate, you will fill your time with detailed work, long nights of studying, and work experience.

While a bachelor’s and master’s degree both usually take a few years to complete, a doctoral degree could take any number of years to finish. Students in a doctoral program will have to complete a dissertation, showing original research and findings. The dissertation is where the future professor’s specialization comes in handy. They will conduct research in their field of expertise.

Professors can enhance their resume with work experience in their specified subject. For example, law professors bring an extra element to their curriculum if they are a retired lawyer or judge.

Should You Become a Professor?

If you find yourself interested in a particular subject like history, health science, or mathematics, you should consider becoming a professor.

Professors are the highest-regarded teachers in the higher education system and tenured professors can enjoy an added layer of job security.

The life of a college professor is a somewhat unpredictable ride and isn’t like a typical job. It combines reading, writing, teaching, public speaking, research, fieldwork, and more. Plus, you can often get summers off.

If you are up to the challenge of earning multiple degrees and then educating students, becoming a professor could be a perfect fit for a future career.


How do educators become tenured professors? Can tenured professors be fired?
After a probationary period of varying length, professors can get tenured positions. This is their permanent job contract and provides an immense amount of job security. Getting onto the tenure track position is highly desirable and gives faculty members more freedom to conduct curriculum as they choose. A college professor will need to author multiple publications, conduct research, and apply for a rigorous application process to eventually gain tenure. It's a misconception that tenured professors aren't able to be fired, as there are certain circumstances in which they can get fired. It just prevents them from termination without just cause.
Is it difficult to become a college professor?
It may very well be difficult for many attempting to become a fully-fledged professor. While it is possible to apply for lower professor jobs with a bachelor's or master's degree, becoming a full-time professor will take a lot of effort.
What is an adjunct professor?
An adjunct professor is a professor who doesn't qualify for a tenure-track position. These professors teach classes but aren't always employed directly by the college or university. Their contracts are subject to change semester to semester. Many professors in higher education are adjunct professors.
What is the difference between lecturer and professor?
Lecturers and professors share many of the same responsibilities. Lecturers are usually individuals with different careers tasked with speaking at a specific event, class, or school due to their work experience. Colleges or universities hire lecturers in positions to teach classes and seminars, so lecturers can teach without having to earn a doctorate. Professors teach classes full time as a faculty member in a school and need their doctoral degree.
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