How to Become a College Professor

College Professor Key Stats
Avg. Salary / year $93,660
Education 4+ Years
Job Outlook 11%

If you think you would enjoy teaching, researching, and writing then you might like to become a college professor.

If there is a subject you are truly passionate about, and you would like to spend your life exploring it, then a career in education could be right for you.

Most college professors are passionate about their work, and enjoy being surrounded by colleagues and students who feel the same way.

That being said, if you do decide to become a college professor, you do not have an easy task ahead of you.

Be prepared for quite a bit of academics.

Some areas can be very competitive, and to get a job at a college or university, you’ll have to be among the best in your field.

The good news is that if you love what you are doing, it won’t feel like hard work.

Education Requirements to Become a College Professor

When you become a college professor, you will find yourself faced with many years of education ahead of you.

While you’re at high school, concentrate on getting good grades, particularly in the topic you wish to teach.

You’ll need to start your education with a four year bachelor’s degree with a major in the field of your choice.

If possible, complete a dissertation.

You might also like to get involved with the college community, and get to know the teachers and staff there.

If you can, offer to help your teachers with their research projects.

After this, you’ll need to complete a doctorate to become a college professor.

You may be able to move into a doctoral program right away, or you may need to complete a master’s degree first.

A master’s degree takes one to two years to complete, while a doctorate takes three to four years.

While you are completing your postgraduate study, take up the opportunity to tutor younger students, or work as a teacher’s assistant.

This will give you valuable experience and also look good when you are applying for roles later on.

College Professor Job Description

For their teaching work, a college professor will spend time developing courses, set exercises for smaller classes, and prepare material for lectures.

They will also work with students individually to help them with their coursework.

They will mark papers and grade work.

When you become a college professor, you are also expected to complete your own research.

This may involve reading a lot, field work, or in-depth research projects.

You will write papers on your findings and attempt to get them published.

Here are some of the tasks of a college professor:

  • Teaching classes and lectures
  • Preparing teaching material
  • Helping individual students
  • Marking papers
  • Conducting research
  • Publishing findings and essays
  • Attending professional conferences

College Professor Salary and Career Path

When you become a college professor, it’s likely your first paid job will be as a research assistant, or a graduate teaching assistant.

Once you have completed a doctorate, you will be eligible for positions as an instructor.

To become a professor, you need to achieve tenure.

This takes around seven years.

You progress from an instructor, to assistant professor, to associate professor, to professor.

Advancement is based on a regular performance review.

When you become a college professor, you may also consider other advanced roles in academia, such as head of school, or dean.

Job prospects are good, and employment is growing faster than average.

Employment is dependent on student interests and enrollments, in more popular areas of study, there is more opportunity.

The current median salary for a college professor is $58,000.

This takes into consideration the 29% of college professors who work part-time.

Full time professors can make in excess of $100,000 annually.

Some similar roles to a college professor you may find interesting include:

If you are truly passionate about your subject, and have a desire to teach then you should become a college professor.

The world of colleges and education can sometimes seem overwhelming and unintelligible to an outsider, but once you commence your post-secondary education you will feel more at home.

Getting to the top of your field may take hard work, but the rewards of doing something you really enjoy make it worthwhile.

BLSThe below information is based on the 2021 BLS national averages.

  • Annually
  • Monthly
  • Hourly

National Average Salary


Average Salary by State

StateAvg. Annual Salary
District of Columbia$87,960
New Hampshire$78,000
New Jersey$88,170
New York$102,560
North Carolina$62,990
North Dakota$82,050
Rhode Island$92,880
West Virginia$46,110
Puerto Rico$39,960

The top earning state in the field is Alaska, where the average salary is $205,700.

These are the top 5 earning states in the field:

Alaska - $205,700
Massachusetts - $111,960
Vermont - $111,760
New York - $102,560
Alabama - $93,660
* Salary information based on the May 2021 Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) Survey for Postsecondary Teachers, OCC Code 25-1199, BLS.
* Employment conditions in your area may vary.

Frequently Asked Questions

What does a college professor do?

A college professor is an educator who provides graduate and undergraduate education to students helping them prepare for the workforce and grow intellectually.

The professors that teach college courses do not focus on the age of the students; the main concern is the purpose of a college education.

Those professors who are employed permanently are hired on to a tenure track; other professionals can be invited to the educational facility for a limited period of time.

The typical responsibilities of a tenured college professor usually include preparing course syllabi; building a course curriculum; presenting lectures; mentoring students; grading and evaluating students’ progress; researching and publishing; creating supplementing instructional materials, and so on.

How much do college professors make?

On average, a college professor can make a little more than $78.000 per year in the United States.

In case you decide to choose this career path, you can expect to earn anywhere between $39.500 and $175.000 annually.

The salary would certainly depend on a variety of factors – your education and experience level, the facility you work in, the location and so on.

A limited number of professors achieve tenure, while the majority are hired for fellowships within universities (they might work as a teacher and a lab researcher).

How much does it cost to become a college professor?

In most cases, you would need a master’s degree or a Ph.D. in one or more fields, in order to become a college professor.

A year in a university can cost you anywhere between $8.000 and $45.000 (and more); the cost depends on a variety of factors (the books, supplies, and accommodation expenses are not included).

A master’s degree typically costs over $30.000; while a Ph.D. can cost $4.000-$20.000 (for an online doctorate degree).

What is the demand for college professors?

Between 2018 and 2028, the college professor job market is expected to grow by 11%, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

That is a little faster than the average for all occupations in the United States.

Those who possess a Ph.D. and are ready to work part-time will have the best job prospects.

You can also consider learning how to teach online, as more and more universities are creating online programs.

How long does it take to become a college professor?

It will take you 4 years to obtain a bachelor’s degree and 1-2 years to earn a master’s degree.

You can consider seeking an internship during your last year in university to get that on-job experience as the majority of employers prefer the candidates to have at least a few years of experience.

It will take you anywhere between 3 and 8 years to earn a doctorate degree.

Bear in mind that publication is important for those who want to become a college professor; make sure to establish a publication record while you are still in university.

Jamie Willis
Career Specialist at BecomeopediaHi, my name is Jamie Willis, and I have been helping students find their perfect internships and education paths for the last ten years. It is a passion of mine, and there really is nothing better than seeing students of mine succeed with further studies.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *