What Degree Do I Need To Become A Professor?

"I am keen on teaching, but I really, really don’t want to teach high school students or anyone below that level. I remember high school, and frankly I hated it, and I could tell how unhappy a lot of the teachers and administrators were. I feel like I would be a better fit for a university setting, maybe even the one I am attending. A couple of my professors have indicated I should consider becoming a professor as well, and I have to admit there is some appeal in the idea. I know I will need a teaching certification if I decide to go this route, but what degree do I need? Do I need a doctoral degree, or can I just shoot for a master’s degree and start teaching college directly?"

asked by Bill from Fort Worth, TX

You theoretically can teach at a community college with nothing more than a bachelor’s degree and work experience—but it is unlikely, and not the best course of action. By “experience,” I mean that your relevant experience in the field should be ten years or more. And you are still likely to end up as an adjunct (look up the pay difference and you will see immediately why this is so undesirable). A bachelor’s degree is most likely going to result in you teaching secondary school.

Is a master’s degree sufficient? Possibly. That is certainly a big step up from the bachelor’s degree. There are a fair number of master’s degree holders working in community colleges, though you will rarely encounter them at four year universities. Even these teachers still often find themselves in the adjunct position. You may be able to get away with it, so if you are really eager to get into the workforce, then check into the possibilities.

The best possible approach however is to receive a terminal degree in your field. Terminal means whatever degree is the absolute highest you can obtain.

Generally, in most fields, that means a doctoral degree. It’s a big investment of time and money, but it does tend to result in the most extensive employment opportunities in colleges and universities.

There may be other advantages as well, since a doctoral student will be spending a lot of time in university and forging a lot of academic and professional connections. Those connections and that sense of community may ultimately lead to a job offer, whether at your college or at another.

So can you stop before you reach your doctoral degree? You can, but ideally you should continue on, and were I in your position, I would plan on it. You are far more likely to be happy with your position and your salary after you enter the workforce if you have a doctoral degree.

That’s the most competitive degree you can get, and demonstrates that you have the academic knowledge and experience to pass on your expertise to bright young minds in the college classroom.

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