Have you ever wondered what it takes to become a college professor? Is it your dream to instruct students and equip them to go out into the world to make a difference in their respective fields?

The road to becoming a college professor is long, requiring extensive educational credentials and expertise in your chosen field. To help you decide if this job is the right one for you, we have put together a detailed career overview, including the duties and responsibilities associated with the role. We will also cover the career potential and average salary of a college professor.

College Professor Career Overview

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College professors, also known as post-secondary teachers, may teach and specialize in any number of subjects within an array of fields. These subjects may be academic or vocational in nature. For instance, some college professors teach philosophy or English, while others train students in nursing or law.

College professors can work for a variety of academic institutions, with their responsibilities diverging based on the setting they work in. Many professors are employed by big universities, requiring them to spend much of their workday doing research, conducting experiments, and obtaining grants to coordinate further research efforts. It might surprise you to learn that many college professors who work for universities actually spend more time focusing on these key research aspects rather than teaching. In fact, graduate teaching assistants might lead classes, with the professor acting in a supervisory capacity.

When working for a college or university, professors, known collectively as faculty, are divided into departments according to the subject they specialize in. The professors may teach multiple classes in their respective department. Sometimes, professors manage very large classes encompassing hundreds of students, or much smaller ones containing only 40 to 50 students or fewer.

Professors are obliged to engage in continuous education regarding their respective fields by studying scholarly works, liaising with other professors, and going to conferences. In order to reach a tenured position, a professor must conduct original research and be published.

Aside from larger educational institutions, a college professor might instead be employed by an online university, conducting all student interaction and facilitating learning in a completely virtual environment. The time spent teaching, sitting on school boards, and conducting research completely depends on the exact role the professor fills. Full-time and tenured professors tend to focus more on research. Part-time professors, also referred to as adjunct professors, focus more on the teaching aspect of the job.



While the educational credentials required to become a college professor may depend on the subject you teach and the environment you work in, most professors need to have their doctoral degree. However, there are some community colleges who will hire professors to teach with a master’s degree alone.

In general, 4-year institutions require professors to have a doctoral degree in their subject of specialty in order to teach. Some universities may bring professors on board if they have a master’s degree or are working on their doctoral degree in a certain field. Community colleges, technical colleges, and career schools are the institutions that typically hire professors who have only a master’s degree. For competitive positions, candidates with a doctoral degree are more likely to be chosen over those who do not.

Besides advanced degrees in their field, college professors may be required to have a registration, certification, or license in their area of specialty. For instance, a professor teaching nursing may be required to have a nursing license.



Most of the time, experience is not required for a college professor to be brought on board at an educational institution. Some universities and schools prefer professors with teaching experience or a background in their chosen field, but this is not always essential.

Certain fields, such as biological science or chemistry may require professors to have experience in postdoctoral research. A number of professors build their work experience by working for a time as graduate teaching assistants.


Work Setting

The vast majority of college professors are employed by universities, colleges, and professional schools. The minority work for junior colleges. Very few professors are employed by institutions like trade schools, technical schools, and business schools.



Most college professors teach classes during the daytime, but some courses may be held during the nights and weekends as well. Generally, professors do not teach during the summer. Instead, they become involved in research and professional development during that time. Some professors may opt to teach summer school.

Professors have considerable latitude with their work schedule. They need to report to campus for classes and required office hours. Besides that, they can make their own schedule, determining when and where they conduct class preparations and review assignments.

Most professors fulfill administrative duties during their work week, in addition to teaching, research, etc. Many college professors work a part-time schedule, with some teaching at multiple colleges to make a full-time schedule. Part-time, adjunct professors often fill the rest of their schedule by working for entities like businesses, government agencies, and nonprofits.

Job Duties & Responsibilities

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Key Tasks

While the job duties of a college professor vary depending on their area of specialty and the institution they work at, there are some key tasks they typically fulfill. Professors must teach classes in their area of specialty, assisting students working towards a degree or other credential to increase their knowledge and skill set.

Professors create a syllabus for each class they teach according to institution standards, develop lesson plans and assignments, liaise with the professors to create or fine-tune course curriculum, and identify student advancement through grading assignments and tests.

It is the professor’s job to offer advice to students regarding which classes they should enroll in and ways to reach their academic and career objectives. College professors must stay up to date regarding developments in their chosen field, doing research and conducting experiments to increase their knowledge in their area of specialty. This may involve composing and publishing original research for books and journals. Professors oversee students in graduate school who are earning their doctoral degree. They also serve as members of academic and administrative boards.


Important Skills

Besides the requisite educational credentials and experience as required by a particular college or university, there are some important skills college professors need to have to succeed in their chosen field. Professors must be expert oral and written communicators, able to compose papers, offer lectures, and serve on boards.

They must possess strong critical thinking abilities to conduct and develop research, confront accepted theories in academia and pose new ones, and create experiments. To offer knowledge to students in an accessible,


understandable way, professors must not only be good communicators but resourceful. It is important for professors to be able to adjust their teaching habits to students’ learning needs

Career Path & Salary

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Career Mobility

Many college professors aspire to reach tenure over the course of their career. Competition for these roles is ever increasing, particularly as educational institutions transition the majority of available positions to part-time and adjunct opportunities. As such, it is expected that there will plenty of job opportunities for part-time and adjunct roles in the coming years while reaching tenure will be a greater challenge than in the past.

However, as some professors retire, there will be roles opening for new professors. Not all openings will be for tenured or full-time positions, but these will level out the playing field somewhat. Certain specialties like health and nursing are projected to offer better job opportunities than other fields.


Career Outlook

Job opportunities for college professors were expected to increase by 19% in the decade between 2012 and 2022, which is ahead of the national average for other fields. This correlates with a projected increase in individuals achieving higher education, requiring more professors to meet these needs. Job opportunities in institutions like universities and public colleges will depend somewhat on the funding available while for-profit schools are projected to have less employment growth due to lowered enrollment numbers.


Average Salary

The average salary for college professors differs based on the institution you work for, your area of specialty, your credentials, and your experience in a chosen field. On average, professors earn about $69,000 per year. This means that half of professors earn more than this amount and half earn less. Professors earning on the lowest end of the spectrum may bring home less than $36,000 per year, while those earning above the median wage might earn as high as $142,000 per annum.


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Working as a college professor is a very rewarding, driven career choice. The job is multi-faceted, combining research, writing, and experimentation components with in-class teaching and administrative tasks.

Over the next few years, competition for full-time and tenure-track roles will continue to increase and job opportunities will become more geared towards part-time and adjunct positions. Higher educational credentials like a doctoral degree and the area of specialty will determine which positions show the greatest demand for new professors entering the field.

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