How to Become a Professor

Become Team
Become Team
February 17, 2022

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Five Steps to Becoming a Professor

Step 1
Earn an undergraduate degree
The path to becoming a professor begins with a bachelor's degree. It is a prerequisite to entering graduate school. A student may know the subject they want to specialize in from their first day of college, or may discover it later on.
Step 2
Choose a subject to specialize in
People who want to become a professor must choose a subject to teach and begin gaining expertise in that area, usually by studying the subject while pursuing their undergraduate degree but not always. In addition to taking coursework in a specific subject matter area, participating in an internship program in their undergraduate years can also help future professors develop their knowledge and skills.
Step 3
Earn a graduate degree
Hopeful professors must continue their education with a graduate degree. Generally, those who want to work as professors at community colleges are required to earn a master's degree, while those who want to teach at four-year colleges and universities should earn a doctorate. However, when there are a lot of job candidates to choose from, community colleges may also favor those who have earned a doctoral degree.
Step 4
Participate in an assistantship
During their graduate years, students who want to become professors should participate in an assistantship program at their school, which is a kind of financial aid that allows students to get full or partial tuition remission and a stipend as they gain work experience under the supervision of a professor. In some cases, students may also be able to earn graduate credit hours toward their degree when they participate in an assistantship.
There are different kinds of assistantships available, depending on the students' academic department. Research assistantships allow students to perform certain duties, such as collecting, documenting, and analyzing research data. Those in teaching assistantships participate in instructional activities that may include grading tests and assignments, meeting with students during office hours, and giving class lectures. Those in an administrative assistantship work with the staff of an academic department and perform duties such as providing academic advising and career counseling to students, giving presentations, and evaluating programs in the department.
No matter what kind of assistantship students participate in, they will be expected to work a certain number of hours each week and maintain a minimum GPA.
Step 5
Get post-doctoral experience
In order to successfully compete for professor positions, people should obtain post-doctoral experience. This allows those who completed their Ph.D. to conduct original research and begin to amass a catalog of studies published in academic journals.
Post-doctoral jobs are generally positions at a college or university that last two or three years. Those who want to teach in scientific disciplines, such as biological science, chemistry, and physics, may be expected to have this type of experience in order to land a position.

Do I need work experience in the area I want to teach in?

Some colleges not only want professors who have academic experience, they also want those who have hands-on experience in their subject of expertise. This means prospective educators should have a work history in the area they want to teach. For example, professors who want to teach law, health specialties, art, and education are usually expected to bring some real-world experience to the classroom.

Do I need a license to become a professor?

Professors who work with students who have to earn a license in order to get employment—such as nurses or teachers—should also hold the same license. The license requirements depend on what field the professor specializes in and the state where they work.

Should I join a professional organization?

Professional organizations are a great way for professors to network with each other, get to know potential employers, and stay abreast of developments in their subject matter area. Some professional associations they can join include the American Association of University Professors, the National Education Association, the American Association of Adjunct Education, the Academy for Academic Leadership, and the American College Personnel Association.

Professor Salary & Job Growth

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, in May 2017 the median salary for professors was $76,000 a year, with the bottom ten percent earning around $39,000 and the top ten percent earning $170,160. There are several factors that go into how much professors earn, including the type of institution they work for. For example, professors at private colleges and universities earn a median income of $77,170 and those at state schools earn $79,340. In addition, professors who work for local junior colleges make a median income of $76,890 and educators at state junior colleges make $56,030.

Also, the agency reports that the subject professors teach can influence their earning potential. The following are some examples of the median annual income of educators in different disciplines.

Alabama

Currently Employed: 3,370

Change in Employment (2016-2026): 5%

Amount: Mean wage annual: $29,640 Learn More

Alaska

Currently Employed: 290

Change in Employment (2016-2026): 1%

Amount: Mean wage annual: $79,300 Learn More

Arizona

Currently Employed: 1,780

Change in Employment (2016-2026): N/A

Amount: Mean wage annual: $74,210 Learn More

Arkansas

Currently Employed: 790

Change in Employment (2016-2026): N/A

Amount: Mean wage annual: $56,410 Learn More

California

Currently Employed: N/A

Change in Employment (2016-2026): 10%

Amount: Mean wage annual: N/A Learn More

Colorado

Currently Employed: 440

Change in Employment (2016-2026): N/A

Amount: Mean wage annual: $63,650 Learn More

Connecticut

Currently Employed: N/A

Change in Employment (2016-2026): 1%

Amount: Mean wage annual: N/A Learn More

Delaware

Currently Employed: 50

Change in Employment (2016-2026): 9%

Amount: Mean wage annual: $66,000 Learn More

Florida

Currently Employed: 14,970

Change in Employment (2016-2026): 16%

Amount: Mean wage annual: $60,300 Learn More

Georgia

Currently Employed: 5,540

Change in Employment (2016-2026): 15%

Amount: Mean wage annual: $80,260 Learn More

Hawaii

Currently Employed: 500

Change in Employment (2016-2026): 8%

Amount: Mean wage annual: $53,710 Learn More

Idaho

Currently Employed: 230

Change in Employment (2016-2026): 12%

Amount: Mean wage annual: $66,550 Learn More

Illinois

Currently Employed: N/A

Change in Employment (2016-2026): 5%

Amount: Mean wage annual: N/A Learn More

Indiana

Currently Employed: N/A

Change in Employment (2016-2026): 9%

Amount: Mean wage annual: N/A Learn More

Iowa

Currently Employed: 2,470

Change in Employment (2016-2026): 9%

Amount: Mean wage annual: $68,900 Learn More

Kansas

Currently Employed: N/A

Change in Employment (2016-2026): 7%

Amount: Mean wage annual: N/A Learn More

Kentucky

Currently Employed: 1,330

Change in Employment (2016-2026): N/A

Amount: Mean wage annual: $57,580 Learn More

Louisiana

Currently Employed: N/A

Change in Employment (2016-2026): 10%

Amount: Mean wage annual: N/A Learn More

Maine

Currently Employed: 460

Change in Employment (2016-2026): -2%

Amount: Mean wage annual: $58,400 Learn More

Maryland

Currently Employed: N/A

Change in Employment (2016-2026): 7%

Amount: Mean wage annual: N/A Learn More

Massachusetts

Currently Employed: N/A

Change in Employment (2016-2026): 13%

Amount: Mean wage annual: N/A Learn More

Michigan

Currently Employed: N/A

Change in Employment (2016-2026): N/A

Amount: Mean wage annual: N/A Learn More

Minnesota

Currently Employed: 580

Change in Employment (2016-2026): 12%

Amount: Mean wage annual: $57,280 Learn More

Mississippi

Currently Employed: N/A

Change in Employment (2016-2026): 11%

Amount: Mean wage annual: N/A Learn More

Missouri

Currently Employed: N/A

Change in Employment (2016-2026): 8%

Amount: Mean wage annual: N/A Learn More

Montana

Currently Employed: 80

Change in Employment (2016-2026): 5%

Amount: Mean wage annual: $53,640 Learn More

Nebraska

Currently Employed: 2,550

Change in Employment (2016-2026): 7%

Amount: Mean wage annual: $55,460 Learn More

Nevada

Currently Employed: 920

Change in Employment (2016-2026): 16%

Amount: Mean wage annual: $57,000 Learn More

New Hampshire

Currently Employed: N/A

Change in Employment (2016-2026): 4%

Amount: Mean wage annual: N/A Learn More

New Jersey

Currently Employed: N/A

Change in Employment (2016-2026): 6%

Amount: Mean wage annual: N/A Learn More

New Mexico

Currently Employed: N/A

Change in Employment (2016-2026): 7%

Amount: Mean wage annual: N/A Learn More

New York

Currently Employed: 6,150

Change in Employment (2016-2026): 14%

Amount: Mean wage annual: $103,910 Learn More

North Carolina

Currently Employed: 4,890

Change in Employment (2016-2026): 10%

Amount: Mean wage annual: $76,890 Learn More

North Dakota

Currently Employed: 610

Change in Employment (2016-2026): 8%

Amount: Mean wage annual: $70,030 Learn More

Ohio

Currently Employed: N/A

Change in Employment (2016-2026): 13%

Amount: Mean wage annual: $ Learn More

Oklahoma

Currently Employed: 1,540

Change in Employment (2016-2026): 8%

Amount: Mean wage annual: $71,530 Learn More

Oregon

Currently Employed: N/A

Change in Employment (2016-2026): N/A

Amount: Mean wage annual: $ Learn More

Pennsylvania

Currently Employed: 3,640

Change in Employment (2016-2026): 8%

Amount: Mean wage annual: $71,080 Learn More

Rhode Island

Currently Employed: 450

Change in Employment (2016-2026): 5%

Amount: Mean wage annual: $88,370 Learn More

South Carolina

Currently Employed: N/A

Change in Employment (2016-2026): N/A

Amount: Mean wage annual: $ Learn More

South Dakota

Currently Employed: N/A

Change in Employment (2016-2026): N/A

Amount: Mean wage annual: $ Learn More

Tennessee

Currently Employed: 1,690

Change in Employment (2016-2026): 12%

Amount: Mean wage annual: $53,720 Learn More

Texas

Currently Employed: 3,200

Change in Employment (2016-2026): N/A

Amount: Mean wage annual: $63,120 Learn More

Utah

Currently Employed: N/A

Change in Employment (2016-2026): 34%

Amount: Mean wage annual: $ Learn More

Vermont

Currently Employed: 210

Change in Employment (2016-2026): -1%

Amount: Mean wage annual: $72,650 Learn More

Virginia

Currently Employed: N/A

Change in Employment (2016-2026): 14%

Amount: Mean wage annual: $ Learn More

Washington

Currently Employed: 1,020

Change in Employment (2016-2026): 19%

Amount: Mean wage annual: $72,180 Learn More

West Virginia

Currently Employed: 150

Change in Employment (2016-2026): 10%

Amount: Mean wage annual: $56,460 Learn More

Wisconsin

Currently Employed: 3,300

Change in Employment (2016-2026): 6%

Amount: Mean wage annual: $70,450 Learn More

Wyoming

Currently Employed: 430

Change in Employment (2016-2026): 4%

Amount: Mean wage annual: $53,310 Learn More

The job outlook for professors is bright. Projections from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics state that the growth for professors will be 15 percent between 2016 and 2026, which is faster growth than the average of all other occupations. The reason for this boom in professor jobs can be attributed to the expected increase in students who will be seeking higher education in the coming years.

These projections come with a few caveats, however. It's important to consider that many of these positions will be for part-time instructors, rather than full-time tenured professors. In addition, available jobs at public colleges and universities will be closely tied to state budgets. Also, different academic disciplines will see different rates of growth.

Finding a Postsecondary Teaching Program

Those preparing to become professors must enroll in strong education programs themselves. This section includes information on the programs that prepare hopeful postsecondary teachers for their career.

Choosing the right school is one of the most important decisions a future postsecondary school teacher will ever make. Students are weighing their options based on tuition cost, the length of the program, and the licenses and certifications they can earn as they complete their studies. Use the following search tool to compare programs.

Higher Education Associations & Groups

Joining higher education associations and groups can help future and current professors expand their networks and get information about the latest research in the field. The following are some examples of the organizations professors can join to enhance their careers.

Resources for Professors

In order to be successful in an education career, professionals must have strong learning skills. The following are some resources that professors can use to get the latest information about their field.

Become Team
Become Team
Contributing Writer

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