Job Profiles

What Can You Expect to Earn as a College Professor?

For many students going into academia, taking a professorship is the dream. The thought of passing along the knowledge you’ve gained in your studies can be highly appealing — as can the lure of a college professor’s salary. But salary alone may not be the only reason to pursue becoming a professor.

In this article, we’ll delve into what it takes to become a professor in the first place, how much you can expect to earn on average, and some other reasons why you might want to choose (or rethink) pursuing a career as a college professor.

college professor

Becoming a College Professor

So what does it take to become a college professor? It’s not a career path for everyone — it will take a lot of dedication and hard work.

First, most teaching positions at four-year universities require aspiring professors to have a doctorate in their chosen field. Doctoral programs can take anywhere from five to seven years to complete after you’ve achieved your bachelor’s and master’s. Some doctoral programs allow you to earn your master’s as you go. Also, some community colleges and trade schools might have more relaxed rules about the required degree.

A major asset to landing the professor job you want is having some practical teaching experience. A lot of professors get this experience during their time as graduate students — some programs require a student to assist with, or lead, undergrad classes. One might also take part-time teaching jobs as they pursue their doctorate.

After achieving a doctorate degree, you may have to acquire some professional certification, depending on the field you choose to work in. Any occupation that requires a license, registration, or certification will require getting those credentials. This typically applies to things like education, health, or accounting.

Another necessary stepping stone to a professorship is having a prominent academic presence and having worked successfully submitted to academic publications. Full-time teaching jobs are highly competitive, and there are more aspiring professors than there are positions. Having academic publications means having a way to set yourself apart and make yourself more prominent. This is especially important for those hoping to take a tenure-track position, which is even more rare and competitive. Being published doesn’t just mean a few academic articles, either — bigger publications like books can also be extremely useful for getting attention.

What Can You Expect to Earn?

In general, college professor salaries average around the $100,000 / year mark, although the exact figure depends on the profession. Law professors, for example, earn significantly more than the average, at $176,000 / year. Dentistry professors earn around $138,214, and psychology and history professors around $103,000. Some of the lesser-paid professorships include nursing ($98,876 ), and drama ($95,447). How much you’re paid isn’t dependent solely on the subject being taught; it also depends on how many years you’ve worked as a professor and which college or university you’re working for. In some states, college professor ranks as one of the highest-paid jobs. 

Pros and Cons of Becoming a College Professor

As mentioned above, there are some reasons beyond money to take on a career as a college professor. Here are some of the perks (and drawbacks) of acquiring a professorship.

Pros

  • The enjoyment of teaching older students who can engage in more stimulating debate or offer fresh perspectives on a subject .
  • More time and flexibility to embark on research projects that interest you (and can further bolster your career). The flexibility of hours and workload can sometimes mean more time to spend with family.
  • The opportunity for sabbaticals for professors who want to write a book or undertake some other project, knowing that their job will be waiting for them when they come back.
  • Depending on the research project, a professor might be able to travel the world and experience new cultures, cuisines, and languages as part of a research project or book-writing expedition.

Cons

  • Supply and demand can be a major obstacle to achieving a position as a professor. Even for hard-working and talented researchers with a large number of publications under their belt, it may not be enough to get a permanent position. There are simply too many aspiring professors and too few positions (and that number may be going down even further).
  • Educational trends may result in professor jobs declining even further — remote learning, AI and VR avatars, web courses, and pre-recorded lessons are already a part of the educational landscape, and are likely to become even more common.
  • Although college professors are amply compensated, a person with equivalent skill could potentially make much more money in the private sector, depending on what field they’re working in.
  • Even though professors do have flexible hours, those hours can also be long. College professors are expected to work evenings and weekends, and in some instances, even taking their earned vacation time can be challenging. This can mean losing time with friends and family, even with sabbaticals and travel for research.

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