How do I Become a College Professor?

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  • Written By: wiseGEEK Writer
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 27 February 2018
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There are college professors in many different fields and people can choose from a vast variety of disciplines to major in if they want to become a college professor. No matter what field chosen, there are usually some basic methods to pursue this career path. It typically starts with education, and lots of it.

First it should be noted, that under most circumstances, a person who wants to become a college professor needs a terminal degree. This could be a PhD, MD, JD or in some cases a master’s degree if no higher degree can be earned, which might be the case in some of the fine arts and occasionally in some medical teaching in nursing school or medical technologist training programs, though this last is not always set in stone. Initially then, it’s necessary to earn an undergraduate degree in a field of interest.


Undergraduate work is followed by graduate work, usually in the same or a related field. Some people stop after having earned a master’s degree, even is this not the terminal degree in their field, and they may be able to find work as a college professor at a community college or some four-year colleges. This isn’t always the case, and in competitive schools doctorate level work may be preferred, even at the community college level. To get a good sense of how easy it will be to become a college professor with a master’s degree only, it’s a good idea to look at the recent hirees at local community colleges to determine what present trends are.

For those who don’t want to hedge their bets, finishing a PhD or equivalent program is likely to leave more options open. This work becomes important too, since so many colleges have an expectation that professors will publish work. Even before a doctoral dissertation or master’s thesis is completed, students are often encouraged to try to publish, and these publications may prove very valuable on a curriculum vitae.

At the graduate level, another important part of training to become a college professor can take place. Many schools have teaching fellowships or require their master’s and doctoral students to teach. This is where people can begin to get the training needed to teach at the college level. If these programs are not available, students should take every opportunity possible to work for teacher in teaching assistant roles. Such work, when done well, opens the possibility of glowing letters of recommendation, which are useful when applying for work and which can attest to teaching skills.

Lastly, graduate work is an opportunity to gain expertise that will be needed to become a college professor. People can’t teach material they don’t know well. Graduate work is the means by which people develop significant and weighty knowledge in their subject.

Once through a program, and especially after having published, taught, and gained knowledge people are ready to seek jobs. They may not need to search far. Some people join the faculty of the school that they have attended. Others might have to do significant looking to find available jobs, and this may vary by discipline chosen. Online job searching may be useful in this respect so that people can start making applications.

A person that would like to become a professor should be sure to have a very well written CV, and ought to obtain letters of recommendation or the permission of people they can use as references for job applications. Getting a good outfit of clothing in which to interview is a wise choice too once applications start. With all of these things in place many soon reach their goal and become at least an assistant professor (tenure takes a little longer), though again hiring for jobs is partly influenced by things like changing student enrollment or changes in a school’s economic status.



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