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How to Become a College Professor

Education is not the filling of a pail but the lighting of a fire. William Butler Yeats

College professors instruct students in a variety of different areas at the post-secondary level. They can produce scholarly articles, perform research, and teach. Many college professors find their work rewarding since they are usually interested in the course of study they have chosen.

Full-time university professors typically have the goal of obtaining tenure. This allows professors to maintain their job permanently without fear of being fired for unjust cause.

The U.S Labor and Statistics reports that the average salary for college professors, based on 2010 data, is $62,050 per year.

Qualities of a College Professor

Those interested in becoming a college professor should have excellent verbal and communication skills; they should have a high level of knowledge and be well organized. Good personality traits for college professors include a high level of enthusiasm, self-confidence, and the willingness to mentor students.

What are the Requirements for Becoming a College Professor?

Those interested in becoming a college professor should first choose an area to specialize in.

The next step would be to earn a Bachelor's Degree in your desired field. While obtaining this Bachelor's Degree, one should consider the requirements necessary to enter into a graduate program.

Education Requirements for Becoming a College Professor

Upon completion of a Bachelor's Degree, you would need to enter into Graduate School. College professors need at least a Master's Degree. However, in many cases, a Doctoral Degree is required as well. While in school, those desiring to become a college professor should participate in available internships or employment opportunities that could enhance their teaching and research experience. This could include holding an assistantship in Graduate School (TA) and maintaining good academic and working relationships with professors.

Many educators at the college level may earn a degree in Adult Education.

Experience Requirements for Teaching at the College Level

After completing Graduate School, you should be able to begin climbing the ranks in order to become a college professor. Many universities require a specified number of years of teaching at the college level as an associate professor or other position prior to earning the title of college professor. In addition, each university may have their own additional requirements, such as publications and more.

What Does A College Professor Do?

College professors are responsible for preparing course materials and teaching classes to graduate and undergraduate students. These courses may be in lecture, seminar, field study, or laboratory formats. Many university professors also conduct related research in their field of expertise.

College professors tend to spend a lot of time in a classroom setting conducting lectures, or in an office setting meeting with students, colleagues, and preparing materials. College professor's work anywhere from 9-12 hours a week teaching classes, an additional 20-30 hours preparing for classes, and around 10 hours a week grading, reviewing, and evaluating course assignments.

Often times, college professors conduct research in order to publish work in their field. In addition, many college professors take on more responsibility by seeking positions such as Department Chairs.

College Professor Jobs & Job Description

College professors come from all different backgrounds and are drawn to teaching - some after they attain their masters or PhD in their chosen field, and some not until years later. College professor careers do vary in scope depending on what college and what field they're in; below is a typical job description for a college professor without tenure, and with tenure.

Untenured College Professor

The first 2 - 7 years on average that a professor teaches for a college or university is considered to be untenured, meaning that he or she is an associate or adjunct professor. Some institutions offer tenured positions and others offer untenured only. A typical untenured professor's job description will look like the following:

  • Demonstrate excellence in teaching
  • Show commitment to integrating coursework in the learning process
  • Showcase the ability to inspire, motivate, and empower students to think critically about coursework
  • Develop curriculum and program planning
  • Evaluate students and their academic progress
  • Engage in research in chosen field
  • Collaborate with colleagues regarding their research interests
  • Publish in scholarly journals
  • Present findings and research at academic conferences
  • Advise students regarding coursework, time management, and assignments
  • Participate in collegiate faculty meetings
  • Participate in departmental faculty meetings
  • Participate in committees
  • Actively serve college and community.
  • Teach advanced classes
  • Mentor teaching assistants
  • Model a service leadership mind-set in all activities and interactions with stakeholders
  • Design, revise, and update courses and materials based on new developments in current events and research findings
  • Consult with program and course directors, other faculty members, advisory committees, industry partners, potential employers and students.
  • Define, evaluate and validate course objectives
  • Specify or approve learning approaches and necessary resources.
  • Develop individualized instruction using a variety of well-designed instructional material including multimedia presentations and current interactive technologies, focusing primarily on experiential and project-based learning.
  • Select or improve textbooks and learning materials
  • Ensure student engagement, awareness of course objectives, approach and evaluation techniques
  • Support faculty-student channels for dialogue
  • Carry out regularly scheduled instruction
  • Provide tutoring and academic counselling to students
  • Provide a learning environment that makes effective use of available resources, work experience, and field trips
  • Evaluate student progress/achievement and is responsible for the timely overall assessment of the student's work within assigned courses.
  • Contribute to other areas as well as professorial role, such as student recruitment and selection, timetabling, facility design, professional development, student employment and control of supplies and equipment

Tenured College Professor

After the first 2 - 7 years of employment as a college professor, often there is an option to be granted tenure, or job security which allows further development in research, teaching, and service as they align with the values of a particular university, college or department. Some institutions offer tenured positions and others offer untenured only. A typical tenured professor's job description will look like the following:

  • Contribute in departmental staff meetings
  • Join relevant committees
  • Enthusiastically serve college and community obligations
  • Teach advanced classes and seminars
  • Mentor and support teaching assistants
  • Specify or approve learning approaches and required resources.
  • Use a variety of well-designed instructional material including multimedia presentations and current interactive technologies, focusing primarily on experiential and project-based learning.
  • Support student engagement, awareness of course objectives, approach and evaluation techniques
  • Empower students to think critically about coursework and its applications
  • Develop course curriculum
  • Plan program arcs and timelines
  • Objectively evaluate students' academic progress
  • Collaborate with colleagues regarding their research in the interest of generating new academic lines of inquiry
  • Present findings and research at academic conferences
  • Design, revise, and update courses and materials based on new developments in current events and research findings
  • Consult with program and course directors, other faculty members, advisory committees, industry partners, potential employers and students
  • Support college-student channels for dialogue
  • Lecture on a regular basis
  • Support graduate students
  • Demonstrate excellence in research
  • Direct research and publish findings at regular intervals
  • Integrate relevant course materials in the learning process
  • Define and evaluate course objectives in light of research
  • Advise students regarding coursework, team skills, time management, and assignments
  • Provide tutoring and academic counselling to students
  • Provide a learning environment that makes effective use of available resources, work experience, and fieldwork
  • Evaluate student achievement and assess the student's work within assigned courses
  • Contribute to other administrative areas to support students, department and institution such as student recruitment and selection, timetabling, facility design, professional development, student employment and control of supplies and equipment

Both tenured and untenured college professors have many types of institutions open to them for employment opportunities - read on to learn more.

Where Can Certified College Professors Work?

College professors can work in state universities, private universities, community colleges, and in trade colleges.

State Universities

This type of university receives support from state funding as well as tuition. Since funding is given by the state, often times the state may dictate curriculum taught. Class size can be high, but pay is typically higher compared to private and community colleges.

Private Universities

This type of university mainly relies on tuition, fees, and contributions from private donors. Some private universities may have strict guidelines or statements of faith in regards to whom they hire as part of their staff.

Community Colleges

Students in community college typically attend to save money before attending a state university. Sometimes this type of college will offer an Associate's Degree after the completion of two years of study. Community colleges may offer technical or vocational programs for their students that offer a more hands on approach.

What is the salary of a College Professor?

On average, college professors earn between $68,970 (BLS.gov) to $86,798 (Payscale.com). The gap between salaries of public and private college professors runs counter to that of the elementary and secondary roles, that is, professors at private colleges make on average $18,000 more (aaup.org). Experience is an important factor for post-secondary educators. Most come to the role with more than 10 years of experience and are compensated up to $154,000 for that experience, depending on field and location. In order to teach at this level, a Doctorate Degree or at the very least a Master's Degree are required. Additional bonuses and income streams become available the more a professor researches and publishes.

College Professor Organizations & Associations