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How to Become a College Professor

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Professors are former students who decided to turn college into a career. To become a professor, you must master the content area you want to teach. This usually requires a doctorate degree -- and lots of research.

Be Educated

You don't have to be the best student in every class to teach one. However, you do need to become an expert in the area you want to teach. For a community college, you should earn a minimum of a master's degree in the content area, such as Psychology or Economics. If you want to teach at a four-year college or university, a doctorate degree is the standard requirement. Programs at vocational schools, such as auto mechanics or print technology, may only require a bachelor's degree and work experience. If your content area is strongly governed by a specialized accrediting agency -- such as the American Psychological Association for psychology programs, or the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business for business programs -- choose an accredited college program to enhance your changes of finding the right job.

Do Research

Professors do more than teach. They are also required to do research in their respective fields. Unless you plan to teach at a community college or two-year school, your research will be an important part of your job -- especially at research universities. The Center for Measuring University Performance publishes an annual report ranking universities by their research. High-performing universities, or those whose professors are active and contributing researchers in their fields, are considered more prestigious and competitive. To prepare for a career as a professor, get involved in research opportunities as an undergraduate and continue your research throughout your studies. Having your research published or presented at academic conferences will improve your chances of becoming a professor.

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Get Experience

Professors typically become experts in their content areas, but not necessarily in teaching. However, teaching experience is still valued. You might be asked to give a guest lecture as a part of the hiring process and you don't want that to be the first lecture you ever give. Instead, while you are still a student, talk to your department about teaching assistant opportunities. You might even teach entry-level courses for your department while you are in graduate school. This experience will help you develop as a teacher. It also provides an opportunity to network with other faculty in your field. Additionally, if your field requires certification or a license to practice the profession you want to teach in, you should earn this requirement.

Be Involved

Top candidates for faculty positions are those who are involved in their communities, on their campuses and in their professions. Take initiative early by joining professional organizations associated with your field, including both national and local chapters. If you join as a student, you will likely get a significant student discount. Use these organizations to network, keep abreast of research in your field, and keep tabs on the job market. Most professional organizations maintain a job board and have industry-specific job advice. Some even offer leadership roles. Also, take advantage of opportunities to practice or apply what you master as a community service. For example, if you are a mathematics major, volunteer locally to help teach youth math programs.

2016 Salary Information for Postsecondary Teachers

Postsecondary teachers earned a median annual salary of $78,050 in 2016, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. On the low end, postsecondary teachers earned a 25th percentile salary of $54,710, meaning 75 percent earned more than this amount. The 75th percentile salary is $114,710, meaning 25 percent earn more. In 2016, 1,314,500 people were employed in the U.S. as postsecondary teachers.

About the Author

Sara Mahuron specializes in adult/higher education, parenting, budget travel and personal finance. She earned an M.S. in adult/organizational learning and leadership, as well as an Ed.S. in educational leadership, both from the University of Idaho. Mahuron also holds a B.S. in psychology and a B.A. in international studies-business and economics.

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