What Education Is Needed for College Professors?
The requirements to teach college vary by institution and content area. Here, we explore how to become a college professor and explain some of the different titles and terms for professors.
How to Become a College Professor
College professors are postsecondary educators that teach courses in a particular field or subject area at a community college, college. or university. Education is the primary requirement for becoming a college professor, followed by work experience and/or possible licenses or certifications. Below we discuss each requirement in more detail.
Do You Need a PhD to Be a Professor?
The exact requirements to teach college typically vary by institution, subject area, and/or course level. While most universities and 4-year colleges require full-time professors to hold a doctorate in their given field to teach and/or conduct research, other postsecondary teachers may be hired with a master's degree or lower.
Some career and technical schools or community colleges may only require instructors to hold a master's degree and/or have relevant work experience. For instance, a position as a clinical instructor for dental hygiene may only require instructors to have an associate's degree or higher. In addition, some universities that may only require a master's degree for part-time faculty who teach introductory and/or undergraduate-level courses.
What Kind of Experience Do You Need?
As mentioned, some schools and/or subject areas may require or prefer candidates who have some prior work experience in the field. Work experience is especially important for hands-on subject areas, like dental hygiene, law, art, or education. Some schools may also like to see prior teaching experience.
Research experience may be important for aspiring professors in different fields of science. Usually these professors need to have completed a 2- to 3-year postdoctoral research experience at an institution to demonstrate their research abilities.
Although one does not typically need certification to become a college professor, some subject areas may require or prefer professional certification. For example, a nursing teacher may need to be a Registered Nurse (RN) or an accounting professor may need to be a Certified Public Accountant (CPA).
Lecturer vs. Professor
A lecturer is a term generally used for part-time or adjunct professors. These educators usually need their contract renewed on an annual basis. To become an adjunct professor you often need at least a master's degree.
In contrast, the professor title is used for full-time, tenured (or tenure-tracked) positions. It may take multiple years to secure tenure, or the promise of not being fired without a cause. To obtain tenure, educators must hold the title of assistant professor, then associate professor, and finally professor.
Professor vs. Teacher
As discussed above, professors are usually postsecondary educators who are tenure eligible. Teachers on the other hand teach at the pre-school, elementary, middle, and high school levels. Some teachers may go on to be professors later in their careers.
Postsecondary Teacher Career Overview
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that employment of all postsecondary teachers is expected to grow by 15% from 2016 to 2026. This is much faster than the national average and is based on the increasing number of students attending college. The BLS also reported that the average annual salary for postsecondary teachers was $76,990 in 2018.