College Professor Careers: Salary Information & Job Description

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What are the pros and cons of a career as a college professor? Get real job descriptions, career prospects and salary info to see if becoming a college professor is right for you.
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Pros and Cons of a College Professor Career

College professors teach and research topics they are passionate about, and they can influence and enrich the lives of thousands of students over the course of their careers. Read below for some more pros and cons associated with this field:

Pros of Being a College Professor
Good salary (mean salary of around $75,780 at colleges and universities as of 2014)*
Work in an intellectually stimulating environment*
Faster-than-average expected job growth (19% from 2012-2022)*
Opportunities for research and publication*
Help students learn new skills and concepts*
Enjoy a flexible schedule*

Cons of Being a College Professor
Competition for jobs and tenure-track positions is strong*
Many years of schooling are needed (up to six years after a bachelor's degree)*
Professors are often under pressure to research and publish*
May be subject to job loss due to state or local government budget deficits*
Many postsecondary institutions are shifting away from the tenure system*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Essential Career Information

Job Description and Duties

Professors teach courses in their respective areas of expertise under the employ of colleges and universities. They lecture, plan lessons and grade the assignments of their students. They often must develop curricula that meet various departmental standards. As professors gain seniority, they may have increased flexibility in the courses they teach.

Some professors dedicate most of their time to teaching, whereas others who work at research-oriented universities may divide their time between teaching, research and publishing. Professors also attend faculty meetings and might serve on various academic or administrative committees that discuss hiring decisions, fiscal situations and departmental policies. In academic institutions that support graduate studies, professors may dedicate time to advising students on their theses or dissertations.

Job Growth and Salary

Salaries for postsecondary teachers can vary widely based on the subject they teach. For example, according to 2014 figures from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), postsecondary law teachers earned a mean annual salary of $126,270, while postsecondary engineering teachers made $102,000. At the same time, postsecondary psychology teachers earned $76,390 a year on average, and postsecondary vocational education teachers had an average salary of $53,130 (www.bls.gov).

Between 2012 and 2022, employment of postsecondary teachers was expected to rise by 19%, which was faster than the average among all occupations. Teaching jobs outside of the humanities, such as nursing and engineering, could experience stronger job growth than specialties that fall within the humanities, such as philosophy and history. In the coming years, professors could experience less job security due to a lessened availability of tenure-track positions.

Education and Training Requirements

Most professors need a Ph.D. to teach at a four-year university; however, some two-year colleges hire those who hold master's degrees. A master's program typically takes two years to complete, while a Ph.D. program can take six years or longer. While earning an advanced degree, students often gain teaching experience through graduate teaching assistantships.

In general, the following achievements, skills and talents are needed to become a professor:

  • An advanced degree in a specialized subject
  • The ability to lecture, organize lessons and grade papers
  • A drive to conduct research and publish original work
  • Strong interpersonal skills and a dedication to communicating with students
  • A willingness to compete for jobs and to relocate if necessary

Job Postings from Real Employers

Departments generally look for individuals who have not only earned advanced degrees, but who have published or have an interest in publishing and/or research. In order to get a better sense of the jobs available to professors, see the following job postings from April 2012:

  • A mining and technology school in New Mexico was hiring a professor for a tenure-track position. Candidates were required to have a Ph.D. in Petroleum Engineering or a related field and to be able to demonstrate expertise through publications and work experience. Job duties included conducting research and teaching both undergraduate- and graduate-level courses.
  • A university in North Carolina was seeking a professor to teach in the area of analytical chemistry. Candidates were expected to have a Ph.D. in Chemistry, Materials Science or a related field with a strong focus in analytical chemistry and knowledge of the judicial system. Job duties included mentoring students, conducting research and publishing.
  • A department of accountancy at a college in New York was seeking a professor. This employer required candidates to have a Ph.D. and expertise in financial and managerial accounting, taxation, auditing and accounting information systems. This employer also emphasized that employees were expected to teach students and remain interested in scholarship.

How to Stand Out in the Field

One effective way to stand out in this field is to conduct innovative research and publish books and papers in academic journals. Publications may be a strong factor in determining eligibility for tenure-track positions. In addition to publishing, professors can benefit by having an excellent teaching record. By having a strong background in teaching and publication, professors can move up through the ranks of assistant professor, associate professor and full professor.

If you're looking for a teaching position at a two-year community college, you can stand out by earning a Ph.D. According to the BLS, community colleges hiring for positions in which there are an abundance of applicants might pick someone with a Ph.D. over a candidate with just a master's degree.

Alternative Career Paths

Technical Education Teacher

If you enjoy working with students, but don't want to spend ten years in school yourself, an alternative might be to become a technical education teacher. Technical education teachers teach various specific trades, such as automotive repair or information technology (IT), to middle and high school students. These teachers may coordinate their curricula in accordance with local community colleges and trade schools. Those who work in public schools must have a state-issued license or certification; requirements vary by location. Most states require a bachelor's degree or extensive work experience and completion of a teacher preparation program. According to the BLS, as of May 2011, mean annual wages for both middle school and secondary school instructors in this field were just over $56,000. Between 2010 and 2020, occupation in this field was expected to experience little or no change, rising by about 2%.

Historian

If you enjoy conducting important research, but do not wish to dedicate much of your time to teaching students, you might enjoy a career as a historian. Historians analyze, research and present historical data that reveal the past. They are employed by federal and local governments and professional, technical and scientific services. They also work in historical societies, museums and archives. Historians need a Ph.D. or a master's degree for most positions, although individuals with bachelor's degrees can qualify for a limited number of positions. The BLS reports that, as of May 2011, the mean annual pay for historians was around $58,000. Between 2010 and 2020, job growth in this field was expected to rise by 18%.

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Featured Schools

Northcentral University

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  • Education Specialist - Early Childhood Education

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Kaplan University

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  • Master: Higher Education - College Teaching/Learning
  • BS in Early Childhood Administration
  • Undergraduate in Early Childhood

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Saint Joseph's University

  • MS - Secondary Education with Autism Specialization
  • MS in Education - Special Education and Wilson Reading System Certification

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Concordia University Portland

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  • M.S. - Career and Technical Education (CTE)
  • MEd in Curriculum and Instruction - Early Childhood Education

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Grand Canyon University

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  • BS in Early Childhood

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American InterContinental University

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  • Master: Education - Curriculum and Instruction
  • Master: Education - Leadership in Educational Organizations

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Penn Foster High School

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