How to Become a College Professor

There are various opinions on the profession of a college or university professor. Yes, it’s an interesting career, and it is important in the lives of many students. But one shouldn’t forget that the profession is quite difficult. First of all, it’s a great responsibility, and certain students may give you a hard time. 

At the same time, it’s quite rewarding, as, on average, workers with a professor qualification get between $50,000 and $115,000 per year, depending on the field of their study. That’s one of the reasons why Google gives close to one billion results for the “how to become a college professor” search. Let’s check out how much do college professors make, based on the subjects.

  • Criminal Justice and Law Enforcement – over $62,000;
  • Art, Drama, and Music – over $68,000;
  • Ethnic and Cultural Studies – over $77,000;
  • Architecture – over $87,000;
  • Space Sciences – over $92,000;
  • Health Specialists – over $97,000;
  • Engineering – over $100,000;

The annual salaries for these fields of study may seem surprising to some, but that’s the way they are as of 2021. Those annual salaries may seem tempting, and make the question “how to be a professor?” quite appropriate, when planning your future career. And you can start with the following simple steps.

Obtaining a Degree

If your first question is how to become a college professor without a Ph.D., you should consider teaching at a college. While you may need to obtain a doctoral degree to become a university professor, teaching at a university doesn’t require it. That’s the first and most basic step to answering the question of “how to be a university professor?”.

You can start teaching by acquiring a Master’s degree in the field of study you want to be a professor of. That is how to become a professor at a community college or a technical school. Creative programs allow teaching with a Master of Fine Arts degree. 

Other institutions, however, will require you to have a doctoral degree in the subject you want to teach. Doctoral programs generally last between five and seven years. Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees are required to get a Ph.D. in the field, but certain doctoral programs allow one to get a Master’s degree while pursuing the doctoral one. 

Build a Network

The next step on your way to becoming a professor is building your network. You should build connections with your professors and classmates. You can collaborate with your classmates on assignments, as well as assist your professor with certain tasks. This will effectively build your credibility and propel you to career opportunities. 

You should not forget to get connections with publishers and academics. Publishing your works will impact your future professor career. You will find more about it later. Anyway, if you can get useful connections, you have a higher chance of landing your first job as a college professor. 

Acquiring Teaching Experience

Another important aspect on your way to becoming a professor is gaining teaching experience. You need to have experience in instructing students or reading lectures to classes. You can easily get this experience as a graduate student. In most of the Master’s and doctoral programs, students are encouraged to lead undergraduate classes. 

Certain programs even require students to assist professors with undergraduate classes or lead them. In some colleges, you can get a part-time teaching job. You can become a Graduate Student Instructor. In this position, you will teach undergraduate classes with the supervision of a faculty member. 

Another option is to become a TA – Teaching Assistant or, as it is also known, Teacher’s Aide. The work of TA requires assisting a full-time faculty member with various tasks, which include grading papers, material preparations, as well as leading discussion-based classes. 

Getting Certified

The next step after assisting professors is obtaining a certification. The certification depends on the field you want to teach in. A certificate or a license is required when you’re teaching in a technical or occupational field. If you want to teach in the fields of health, education, or accounting, you will need a license to do so. 

Moreover, a license is required if you’re going to become a teacher in middle or high school. At the same time, you may not require certification if you want to teach at the college, in fields that are not connected to health or education. 

But it is better to get a certificate anyway. Even if you’re not required to have one. Getting the license showcases your commitment and dedication to your profession. Thus, if you want to enhance your career prospects, it is better to get certified. 

To acquire the certification, you need to pass a State Teachers examination, and in case you succeed, you can apply for the license. But you need to check the requirements for the certification, as each state has its own. Moreover, a license valid in Georgia, will not grant you permission to teach in the colleges of Michigan or Texas. 

Publication of Academic Works

In order to land your first teaching job, you need to make sure that you have a strong academic presence. The best way to achieve it is by publishing your academic works. That’s why building a network of publishers is important. The level of your publications depends on your career preferences. 

Publishing a few scholarly articles is a strong point in how to become a community college professor. But if you want to get a tenure-track position, you must meet higher requirements. The competition is way too high, and you won’t get off easily with several articles in magazines. Here you need to have several published books on your field of study under your belt. 

Preparing Early On

And those are the main aspects of how to become a university professor. But there are other things you need to consider early on. The very first thing you need to think of is whether it is a profession you really want. You need to be passionate about teaching to succeed in this career. 

If you’re not sure about what career path to choose, there are several free career exploring tests online that may help you make your mind. If teaching is your thing, they will surely show it. 

But to become a professor, you need to keep your high school grades under control. While it is normal to aim for strong GPAs, you need to pay extra attention to your grades. This will showcase not only that you are self-determined, but that you treat education as a whole with respect.

If you are sure about the subject that you want to teach, you need to take as many classes in that field as possible. If you see your future in teaching English, pick extra classes, like creative writing. If you see yourself as a future professor in the scientific field, take extra classes in astronomy or geology. 

If you want to train yourself early on to figure out the best teaching methods, you can earn pocket money by tutoring in your free time. You can explain math to your neighbor’s kids, or help them with foreign languages. Or you can offer after-class tutoring services for your classmates with lower grades. 

This will attract the attention of the school professors, which may reflect in your future college applications. You may get a recommendation from your high school, which will propel you to get accepted to the college that you prefer. 

You should also take the SAT test. An impressive SAT score will help you to get into a great college. The main point, though, is that only lucky ones pass it successfully the first time. But you can take it at the beginning of your junior year, just to figure out what’s what. Even if you fail or get satisfying results you will understand the system of the test. 

Then you can retake it the second time in spring. And if that doesn’t lead to the desired score, you can retake it the third time in the summer before your senior year. An impressive SAT score is an important aspect of your application to college. With good grades and strong SAT scores, as well as recommendations from your school, you will easily get accepted. 

Conclusion

Becoming a professor is a hard task. In many respects, it’s even tougher than being a college professor. But, when you think of it, it’s just a set of simple steps. Getting good grades. Getting a degree in the field you want to teach. Acquiring a professional certification, and publishing articles and books. 

This will bring you an interesting profession that pays between $60,000 and $100,000 per year. But if you are truly passionate about teaching, the salary becomes less of a matter, as you really enjoy your work.