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College Professor Careers

If you are seeking a career that encourages lifelong learning and allows you to teach and influence young minds, consider a career as a college professor.

College professors and postsecondary teachers teach beyond the high school level in a wide variety of academic and vocational subjects. They may work for public and private colleges and universities, junior and community colleges, and career and vocational schools, on campus, online or a combination.

The median salary for college professors was $78,470 in 2018. The field is growing at a much faster than average rate of 15 percent, but openings may be dependent on your discipline. College professors typically need a doctorate to teach, although some schools hire teachers with master’s degrees.

Education requirements

Education requirements often depend on the subject you teach and the type of institution where you work. To teach courses like culinary arts, cosmetology or automotive technology at technical and trade schools, work experience may be a prerequisite. Your hands-on experience and certification are more valuable than formal education in this environment.

Earning your doctorate takes an average of six to eight years of intense study after you receive your bachelor's degree, with additional education costs ranging from $125,000 to $200,000 depending on whether you attend a public or private school.

As a military spouse, you may find it difficult to obtain your doctorate from a single school or find a teaching position that leads to tenure until your military member has retired and you settle in one location. However, you may find a wide range of teaching opportunities, gain experience, build credentials and use your education outside the academic world with organizations including pharmaceutical companies, law firms, management consulting firms and government agencies.

Licensing and certification

College professors typically are not required to have a teaching certification like elementary and high school teachers, but they must have completed the prerequisite education and training for the position. Some schools may prefer professors who have a professional certification in their area of expertise, such as an accounting instructor holding a Certified Public Accountant designation. Many technical and vocational schools require certifications, such as an automotive instructor having Automotive Service Excellence certifications in automatic transmissions, braking systems, etc. Review the requirements in your specialty field to make sure you have the credentials you need for employment.

Getting started

As a college professor, you should be a critical thinker, have excellent communication skills, enjoy writing and be able to work with little supervision. You will need to gain teaching and research experience as a graduate assistant or working in government, private or nonprofit sectors related to your chosen field. You should also have good computer skills because your workload may include teaching online courses. You may be responsible for duties like the following:

  • Designing and teaching classes
  • Demonstrating tasks and conducting laboratory experiments
  • Advising students, attending meetings and grading papers
  • Conducting research and publishing papers

To get started on your career path, take the following steps:

  1. Choose an education field based on your preference. Consider availability of positions to increase your chance of finding jobs. Some fields, like philosophy, have heavy competition for limited slots that might offer tenure.
  2. Earn your bachelor’s degree. As an undergraduate student, try to network with professors and graduate assistants to get a better understanding of their roles, responsibilities and challenges. Pay attention to how your professors instruct. Recognize teaching styles and techniques that engage and motivate you and your classmates and store the information for future use.
  3. Enroll in graduate school. Contact your college of choice early to determine and complete requirements for admission. Once in graduate school, stay engaged by doing great work and encouraging mentoring. Additional tips to prepare for success after graduate school include the following:
    • Co-write papers, if possible. To be more competitive when applying for employment, answer calls to write articles to establish your publication record while in graduate school. Use your coursework papers and outside writing to build a foundation for your dissertation.
    • Learn how to teach online classes on one or more platforms to increase your possibilities for employment after you graduate.
  4. Begin working as a college professor. During each step of your education journey, you should continually search for internships and employment opportunities to build your teaching and research experience. Expand your network and create good academic and working relationships with professors and administrators inside and outside of your school, gaining references and referrals as you start your search for full-time employment.

To learn more about postsecondary teaching careers, review the Research Occupations tool on MySECO and investigate your options. Take self-assessments to make sure your skills and interests align with your career choice. Talk to others in the field and get their feedback.

College Scorecard is a great starting point for researching and selecting an education institution. You can also use the Scholarship Finder to locate funding relevant to the military community to pay for classes. See if you are eligible for the My Career Advancement Account Scholarship to help with education or licensure costs.

Finding employment

Once you’ve met the requirements to become a college professor, it’s time to find a job in your occupation. One of the first places to look is the Military Spouse Employment Partnership Job Search. Hundreds of partner employers have made the commitment to recruit, hire, promote and retain military spouses in portable careers, including Central Texas College and University of Maryland University College.

Professional organizations and networking

You may wish to consider joining a professional organization in your career field to gain a better understanding of current industry trends in teaching at the postsecondary level. Professional organizations are great ways to continue your education through workshops and conferences, which will add to your transferable skill set as you move. Networking with other professionals will give you an edge in meeting the right people who may have the connections you need to obtain an interview or restart your career at your new location. They may provide important information about available internships and jobs, additional learning opportunities, seminars, networking events, hiring fairs and more. Read The Value of Professional Associations for more information on how becoming a member can help enhance your career.

Consider volunteering, doing an internship or student teaching and proactively network to build your teaching experience. Tell family, friends, coworkers and all others that you are hoping to be a college professor and ask for contacts they might have who can help you build and expand your network.

Next steps

Call Military OneSource at 800-342-9647 and speak with a SECO career coach to discuss career or education choices, searching for a job or overcoming challenges. Coaches are available to review your resume, practice interviewing, discuss networking or assist you in understanding employer requirements for this field. For additional guidance, use the Live Chat feature on the MySECO website. 

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