What degree do you need to be a college professor? While many think that an education degree is strictly required to be a professor, this is far from the only way into this type of career. For those interested in this particular field of work, the scoop on the various ways to become a college professor, the job’s duties and responsibilities, and the salary and job outlook for this field are just a quick read ahead.
The Path to Professorhood
If you want to become a college professor, the first step is to decide on the field in which you want to teach. In order to teach at a college level, you will need to earn a Ph.D. degree, or doctorate, in that subject area. Start off by earning a bachelor’s degree in a related subject; if you already have a bachelor’s degree, your next step is a master’s degree in that field before pursuing your doctorate. In many cases, you can begin working as a teaching assistant or a full teacher as you complete your master’s, which is often how candidates fund their Ph.D. education. Upon entering the Ph.D. program, most of your time will be spent researching and writing a dissertation rather than on coursework. This dissertation should be on the subject in which you have the most expertise and plan to focus your career.
Great Degree Paths Today
Industry demand is the primary decider, aside from possibly personal preference, as to which are ultimately the very best degree paths into a career as a professor. Today, there are many types of professors seeing a high level of demand. Here are some of those in the highest demand right now.
Professor of Accounting
Accounting has become a significant and rapidly-growing expertise area in today’s business world. From manufacturing plants to banks and travel and dining operations. the need for money experts throughout the professions is real. As a result, courses and entire degree programs having to do with accounting are in high demand and so too are the professors able to teach these subjects. While general accounting is an important cornerstone subject here, other specific subjects of accounting that a professor may teach include forensic accounting, environmental accounting, the audit process, and ethics in accounting, among others.
Professor of English
English professors represent another group of today’s college professors who are in high and growing demand. In the US as well as many other countries, English is a core degree requirement. In a growing number of other countries where this is not the case, English is finding substantially increased demand as diverse populations seek to master this incredibly common language across the globe. English as a second language, or ESL courses, fulfill this very need, and English professors are also one of the key teaching groups that provides this academic experience to the many seeking it.
Professor of Math
Mathematics has always been a key knowledge area in the educated world. In fact, it can be very difficult to impossible to achieve any sort of vocational greatness without this driving area of proficiency in tow. To that end, mathematics professors have always been a key component of the upper educational system.
As to the subject areas found and taught within math, there are many. Algebra, trigonometry, geometry, and statistics make up just a few. While some math professors may just teach one area within the greater discipline of math, most actually teach several sub-types of math throughout their day.
Professor of Science
Even more than math, science encompasses an incredible range of sub-types beneath its greater categorical umbrella. Physics is the scientific study of how all things work within the laws and rules of the universe. Computer science studies how computers work and can be designed to work even better. Geology studies the Earth and the materials that compose it, and oceanography studies the oceans and their many, unique attributes.
Science today studies plants, animals, people, places, and all types of other things, of this world and even from outside our planet’s confines. Science professors are the experts who are willing and able to spread their knowledge to the next generation of learners. Consequently, anyone who has mastered one or more of these sciences is always a great candidate for a position as a college professor therein.
Professor of Social Studies
Social studies subjects represent yet one more area of in-demand learning that beckons for professors to fulfill today. Social studies subjects are those that seek to explore the human side of society, history, and current events of humanity. Examples of some key social studies courses right now include those surrounding politics, sports, history, and economics to name just a few. As these are undeniably important areas of understanding for all types of students today, social studies professors of all kinds are in great demand. Becoming one of these teachers doesn’t require an education degree but can easily happen through the mastery of a social studies subject.
Professor of Law
Being a professor of law means teaching a whole new generation of lawyers, legal assistants, legal scholars, and others. This highly in-demand professor position requires a great deal of legal expertise and typically a master’s degree or Ph.D. in order to first gain job entry. In some locations, applicants hoping to become law professors must also present with real-life experience in clerkship, and if possible, experience involving their respective state’s supreme court. For those able to fulfill these various requirements, a great income and respected and secure role are theirs for the taking.
Health Specialties Professor
There are many health-related disciplines taught in college today, and an important component to this greater world of healthcare know-how is that of health specialties. Health specialty areas are areas of the healthcare practice and studies that are focused on more niche, specialized areas of health concerns. Specialized subjects within dentistry, therapy, pharmacy, and other areas of medicine all count as health specialties.
Health specialties professors are in high demand right now and are expected to retain that demand status for years to come. This is due to a growing population as well as increased specialty health needs throughout that population. While an education degree can sometimes do the job in scoring the applicant this particular teaching position, an upper-level degree and experience in health specialties specifically will certainly open the door.
Roles and Responsibilities of a College Professor
In addition to teaching courses within their subject areas, college professors are also responsible for guiding and mentoring students within the major field of study where they teach. College professors must develop a curriculum and lesson plan, schedule the course syllabus and assignments, grade assigned work, and evaluate each student in each course. In addition to the work of teaching, some institutions require college professors to conduct original research and publish on their topic of expertise, as well as serve on academic committees. College professors typically have a flexible schedule, and many devote the school year to teaching and the summer to research and writing.
A closer look at a typical day in the life of a college professor while school is in can tell us a few more, interesting facts about this job role. Professors can be seen working a range of hours. Classes themselves only take up a relatively small portion of the professor’s time, as much more of their time is actually spent in administrative functions such as holding meetings, meeting with students, conducting research, working on classroom materials, and other, various, out-of-class duties. At the end of the typical daytime business hours, professors often do continue work in some capacity or another in relation to their classes or school.
So, what does the life of a professor look like 10 years out from the start of their teaching work? For those curious to ask this question, the successful professor, by this point, has likely established a solid name for themselves through their teaching, tenure, experience, and personal contributions to their respective fields of study. They will likely know of many student’s outcomes of whom they taught, and they will have developed their own personal style and teaching preferences over time. At 10 years in, most college professors have been very successful and are as secure as ever in their job roles.
Another common question regarding the future of the professor at this point in their tenure is that of upward movement. Is there any other position the professor can find themselves promoted to? Within their school of employment, professors can sometimes find opportunities and offers to work in higher administrative roles. The role of a school dean is one of those great possibilities.
Aside from employer-based opportunities to gain a vocational position, professors are often able to branch off into other areas of work. With their foundation of upper-level expertise, they are already suited well for a number of great positions in many different industries, in most cases. Going on to work as writers, consultants, business owners, CEOs, and CFOs are all, common, eventual outcomes we see in professors today.
Salary and Job Outlook
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual salary for college professors is $78,470. However, there is a wide range within this field, largely based on the subject area. For example, law professors typically earn an average of $113,530 or more, while foreign language and education teachers earn an average of less than $70,000 per year.
This career field is expected to grow by 11 percent by 2028, reflecting the increased number of students who choose to pursue a college education. However, competition for tenured professorships will continue to be fierce as there are many more applicants than available spots. Choosing a niche subject where few others are studying is key to being marketable as a college professor. The areas that will see the highest growth in employment are health sciences, nursing, and business. Social sciences, mathematical sciences, and English literature are among the smallest growing areas (but will not see a decrease).
Additional Factors to Consider
When it comes to college-level teaching, there are a few, additional factors that can have a significant effect on one’s success, the demand they experience, possible pay rates, and more. One of these factors is that of the professor’s personal degree of interest and studies in their subject of expertise. As opposed to the professor who simply teaches a class and then goes home each day, those who engage in the deeper, additional studies of their discipline become the real greats.
To that end, many professors who work that extra mile also produce and benefit greatly from creating and taking place in various academic research studies as well as writing and publishing books about their understanding, theories, and more. This also often creates a reputation for foremost knowledge and being active in a subject area. This, in turn, then generates a whole host of benefits for the professor and even their school and other, close associates.
Another element that can also have a significant bearing on the college professor’s success and personal level of industry demand and respect is that of the professional association. By being involved in or a member of various, appropriate professional associations, professors vastly expand the resources available to them, their professional networking capabilities, access to cutting-edge breakthroughs and industry news, and more. Such membership and involvement adds to the professor’s professional credibility on many levels.
Finally, the college professor who is involved in a reasonable amount of charitable and/or community outreach work can also see some great career and personal benefits as a direct result. Professors themselves can get involved in philanthropic efforts related or unrelated to their subject of teaching. Beyond their own personal involvement, however, professors can act as highly effective stewards of their chosen causes by employing their students to also become involved. This can be done through simple spreading of word to their student classes. It can also be facilitated through grades-based incentives through which student participation in philanthropic causes is incentivized through extra credit, extra perks and allowances in class, and more.
In conclusion, the truth is that there are numerous ways with which to become a successful and respected college professor. An education degree is one way in, but this is just one way among many. For those seeking even more guidance in answering the question of “What degree do you need to be a college professor?,” the American Association of University Professors and the American Council on Education represent two, leading organizations in this very area of scholastic concern.