How To Become a College Professor

By Indeed Editorial Team

Updated March 9, 2021 | Published February 25, 2020

Updated March 9, 2021

Published February 25, 2020

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

People who are passionate about one area of study may be interested in pursuing a career as a college professor. Teaching at the college level requires a high level of skill and knowledge and can be an excellent career path for someone who enjoys both learning in a classroom environment and helping others. College professors have the opportunity to share their interests in the classroom and can make a direct impact on students.

In this article, we discuss the different parts of being a college professor as well as provide steps on how to earn a college professor position.

What do college professors do?

College professors design course curriculum and instruct students in their academic specialty at a higher education institution. They also regularly do research in their area of interest and publish articles and books to develop their academic reputation.

Many college professors teach part-time in addition to another career in their field, while others might focus exclusively on teaching and academic research. College professors also provide support and motivation for their students.

Requirements of a college professor

College professors are expected to be experts in their field of study and must prove that they are qualified to teach students earning their college degrees. They should be able to quickly find information for students and discuss the theory of their subject at an advanced level. Although different types of colleges and subjects have different requirements, some higher education and teaching experience is required for any professor position.

Education

Most college professors are required to have a Ph.D. in their field. However, some colleges will accept a master's degree combined with impressive work experience or publishing history. Many college professors earn multiple master's degrees or Ph.D.s throughout their careers. While in school, aspiring professors should aim for a high GPA to earn admission to a good graduate program.

Related: Key Differences Between Undergraduate and Graduate Degrees

Experience

If you are interested in becoming a college professor, you should apply for teaching assistant positions to gain experience. Teaching assistantships also serve as a form of financial aid and can sometimes count as credits toward graduation. Also, you should focus on producing post-doctoral research and publishing as many works as possible in respected journals and books.

Steps to become a college professor

There are a wide variety of subjects that college professors can teach, but they generally follow a similar process when gaining their qualifications. Academic careers focus on building knowledge and establishing yourself as an expert on a subject. Use these steps as a guide when planning to achieve your goal of becoming a college professor:

  1. Earn a bachelor's degree.

  2. Earn a master's degree or Ph.D.

  3. Focus on networking.

  4. Gain teaching experience.

  5. Get certified.

  6. Publish in your field.

1. Earn a bachelor's degree

Before earning an advanced degree, apply to a college or university and earn a bachelor's degree. During your undergraduate studies, you can decide on the subject you would like to pursue. Although you can specialize further when earning your postgraduate degree, you should select a major that is related to the subject you eventually want to teach. While earning your bachelor's degree, focus on creating a strong application for graduate school by working closely with professors and completing research projects.

Related: How To Write a Graduate School Resume

2. Earn a master's degree or Ph.D.

Once you have decided on a more specific specialization, research graduate programs in that area. You should select a graduate school that has a good reputation, interesting classes and professors you would like to work with. During your postgraduate education, you will most likely complete one or more major thesis projects that prove your proficiency in a subject.

3. Focus on networking

Building connections with your professors and classmates is an important part of becoming a professor yourself. You should work to build a network of publishers, academics and industry experts. Collaborating with others can be an effective method of building your credibility and gaining career opportunities. Your ability to network will often determine your success in finding a job as a professor.

4. Gain teaching experience

During and after your college education, pursue opportunities to teach or tutor others. Working as a teaching assistant on the graduate level will give you the most hands-on experience in a classroom environment before becoming a professor. You can also work with high schoolers or your classmates to develop your teaching skills.

Related: Teaching Assistant Cover Letter Sample

5. Get certified

Depending on your subject and the state you live in, you may need to get certified to teach college classes. Research the necessary teaching licenses or other certifications that are required in your specific field. Even when an employer does not ask for certifications, taking the time to get certified in your field demonstrates your commitment and knowledge.

6. Publish in your field

To become a college professor, you should publish multiple pieces of writing or research that directly relate to the subject you want to teach. The more peer-reviewed publications you have on your resume, the more impressive you will be to a university.

Many colleges expect professors to be well-known in their community and bring recognition to their programs. By publishing regularly, you can stay relevant in the academic job market.

Useful skills for college professors

In addition to knowledge in their subject area, college professors must have strong research and teaching skills. They also need to have a variety of soft skills to connect with students and collaborate with other teachers. Some of the most important skills for a college professor to have are:

  • Open-mindedness

  • Oral and written communication

  • Integrity

  • Patience

  • Enthusiasm

  • Analytical thinking

  • Curiosity

Sample college professor job description

Midwestern University is currently seeking an experienced English professor to join our School of Humanities. This is a tenure-track position that involves regularly teaching assigned intro and advanced courses.

Job duties include coordinating with other professors to provide a wide variety of courses, conducting independent research and regularly publishing academic works in your subject. The ideal candidate has at least one Ph.D. in English literature, composition or related subjects and should bring a unique perspective to their classes while adhering to Midwestern's rigorous academic standards.

Explore more articles