College professors, also called postsecondary teachers, are academic professionals who educate students beyond the high school level. Most college professors work at universities, four-year colleges and professional schools. Some find employment in community colleges, trade schools, technical schools and business schools. No matter where a college professor works, his or her main responsibility is to teach students. Some college classes contain only a few students, while others address hundreds of students in giant lecture halls. Like primary and secondary teachers, postsecondary teachers must plan lessons, though at the college level such a plan is called a course outline, instructional plan or syllabus. Professors must develop or procure course material such as classwork and homework assignments and examinations. They evaluate student performance and compile grades accordingly.
Teaching is a crucial part of a college professor’s job duties, but it might not be the only responsibility. Postsecondary teachers at universities, for example, are often responsible for conducting research into their field of expertise and publishing their findings. Professors are also involved with their school community in other ways. Some professors serve as advisors, guiding students to take the right courses to help them graduate and achieve their goals, while others oversee thesis or doctoral work by graduate students. Professors can work on committees to improve course curriculum, alter school and department policies and contribute to hiring decisions.
College professors must have a thorough background in the subject they teach. That means there is no one degree program that will prepare students to become postsecondary teachers. Instead, an aspiring English professor would study English or a related subject, while an aspiring physics teacher would spend his or her undergraduate years majoring in physics.
With the exception of professors who work in technical and trade schools, for whom career experience is a major factor for employment, an advanced degree is required for most college professor positions. At junior and community colleges, a master’s degree in the subject the candidate wants to teach (or a similar subject) is necessary. Four-year colleges and universities more often require candidates to hold doctoral degrees. Depending on the subject area, professors may also need a license, registration or certification.
Many postsecondary teachers start out as part-time or adjunct professors. They may work at a few different schools in order to teach more classes, gain more experience and develop their résumés. Full-time college professors are often required to complete a good deal of research and publish their findings in order to attain tenure, which prevents them from losing their jobs without just cause. Achieving tenure is a long process that can take seven years or more.
College professors earn a median salary of $68,970 per year, according to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). The job outlook for this career is positive. The BLS predicts faster than average job growth with a 19 percent increase in opportunities over a decade. Though job search site CareerCast once ranked college professor as “the least stressful job in America,” these academic professionals have no shortage of challenges to keep them busy. They might not spend much time actually in the classroom, but in addition to preparing lessons, evaluating students’ work and compiling grades, they take on responsibilities such as advising students, performing research and writing papers for publication in their field.
In higher education, college professors instruct and advise students in the classroom and beyond. They conduct and publish research into their fields and contribute to the college’s curricula and policies.