English Professor Careers: Job Description & Salary Info

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An English professor's median salary is around $60,000. Is it worth the education requirements? See real job duties and get the truth about career prospects to find out if becoming an English professor is right for you.
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Pros and Cons of an English Professor Career

A career as an English professor can appeal to those who love literature and the written word. Learn the pros and cons of this career field to find out if becoming an English professor is the right choice for you.

Pros of Being an English Professor
Create your own schedule outside of the classroom*
Leadership position that is often independent of supervision**
Teach material you enjoy surrounded by like-minded co-workers*
Summers free to pursue research and travel*

Cons of Being an English Professor
Can take up to ten years of college to become a professor*
Many job openings between 2012-2022 will be adjunct or part-time positions as schools cut back on tenured positions*
Humanities professors may not experience as many employment opportunities as professors of science-related subjects in the 2012-2022 decade*
Employment opportunities can depend on the school type; smaller schools tend to offer part-time and adjunct positions, while larger schools often have tenured positions*

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **O*NET OnLine.

Essential Career Information

Job Description and Duties

As an English professor, you'll moderate classroom discussions on subjects such as comparative literature or linguistics and lecture about course material. You may help students develop research skills and advise them on the different ways to approach subject matter. Subjects you may cover, among others, include poetry, writing, or novel structure. Depending on the school, you may have graduate students who assist you in your teaching and research duties.

Salary and Employment Prospects

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), English professors earned a median annual salary of $60,160 as of May 2014 (www.bls.gov). Those working at junior colleges and universities or professional schools, two of the top-paying industries, earned closest to this figure. English professors at technical schools earned almost $48,900, and those working at business schools averaged approximately $53,030, according to the BLS.

Employment projections between 2012 and 2022 for English professors are expected to increase by 12%, which is faster than the average among all occupations. However, the BLS indicated that many positions in postsecondary education could be in science and healthcare-related fields. Stiff competition is expected for tenured positions during this period, as many schools eliminate them in favor of adjunct or part-time positions in an effort to cut costs.

What Are the Requirements?

Education and Training Requirements

According to the BLS, to become a postsecondary teacher, you'll either need a master's degree or a Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) in your field of study, depending on the school's requirements. A graduate program in an English-related field can allow you to focus on a specific niche area that will become important in your career as an English professor. For example, many English departments prefer professors who are experts in a particular era, genre or person, such as medieval literature, Shakespeare, 19th century American literature or postmodern writing.

As part of your graduate education, you may be required to teach undergraduate English courses. This can provide you with valuable teaching experience that may help with your future job prospects. In most programs, you'll also be required to write and defend a dissertation in your area of expertise, which can aid you in researching and writing the scholarly papers and articles often required of English professors. If you're interested in becoming a tenured professor, you will need strong research skills as publishing scholarly papers is often a requirement for getting and keeping a tenured position.

What Do Employers Look For?

Colleges and universities often look for potential professors who are able to teach a specific field in English, such as technical writing, composition and rhetoric, linguistics or journalism. Often, professors must start in part-time assistant or adjunct positions before becoming eligible for tenured positions. The following jobs were advertised in April and May of 2012:

  • A Jesuit university in West Virginia needed an assistant professor for its English department. The candidate for this tenure-track position would teach writing and composition. A Ph.D. was required and the candidate would need to contribute to the school's overall mission.
  • A community college in Tennessee sought an instructor to teach freshman composition. A master's degree was required and full-time teaching experience was preferred.
  • A college in Florida had an opening for a tenure-track literature and composition professor. The position involved night and weekend classes and was a yearly, two-semester contract position. A master's degree in an English-related field was required, as well as some postsecondary teaching experience.

How to Stand Out in the Field

Develop Related Skills

Based on job postings, employers tend to desire professors with teaching experience, as well as strong research skills. You can gain teaching experience through many on-campus graduate programs or you can volunteer at community centers where you teach basic reading and writing skills.

Develop your research skills as a graduate student by researching a topic within your field of expertise and submitting an article to a scholarly journal. You can also hone your research and writing skills and professionally network by presenting a paper at an English conference. This often requires submitting your paper prior to the conference, and you may need a faculty member to sponsor your work.


Since job postings demonstrate that employers look for applicants who are familiar with particular emphases, you can study a specific area within English. Specializations within English can vary from a specific genre of writing to the analysis of literary work or author. Just of a few of the specializations available in English graduate programs include:

  • Gender studies
  • Cinema studies
  • Interpretative theory
  • Modern studies
  • Restoration literature
  • Victorian literature

Other Careers to Consider


If you're interested in history, but don't want to focus on the literary aspects, you can become a historian. Historians are academics who analyze and interpret history and human culture over time, according to the BLS. Historians can be professors, but they can also work for governments, non-profits and historical societies.

Since not all historians are professors, some only need a master's degree. Employment growth for historians outside of academia was projected to similar to that of professors at 18% from 2010 to 2020. The BLS noted that there would be tough competition for jobs in this field. Historians, as of May 2011, earned an average income of almost $58,000, according to the BLS.

Writer or Author

If you enjoy writing but aren't interested in teaching, you can become a writer or an author. Writers can be grouped in any number of occupational sectors, ranging from magazine writers to book authors. Since there is a large range of occupational options, there are typically no requirements to hold a graduate degree. In fact, the BLS stated that most salaried writing positions only required a bachelor's degree.

Although the BLS indicated that writers and authors would experience a slow job growth of 6% between 2010 and 2020, writers specializing in online media would have an advantage. As of May 2011, writers and authors earned an average salary of about $68,000, according to the BLS.

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