How to Become a Higher Education Professor: Career Advice & Information

Overview & Salaries


College professors teach classes in colleges, universities, and other educational institutions people attend after high school. Professors have a specialty they’ve trained in, such as math, chemistry, English, or fine art. Full-time professors at universities are expected to be experts in their chosen subject and to publish academic papers and books. Other college professors, such as adjunct professors or at professors at technical schools, focus entirely on teaching.


Annual salaries for college professors will vary depending on your experience, education level, and expertise. In 2013, the average annual salary for college professors working in the U.S. was $74,420 per year.

For more information on what parts of the country have the most opportunity for college professors, click through to our Best Places to Work tab for information on the number of people employed and the average salary in each state.

Discover the Best Cities and States to Work as a College Professor

California has the highest levels of employment across the nation, yet it does not offer the highest mean wage, where college professors make $68,160 annually. New York is second nationwide, where college professors earn a yearly average salary of $85,530. Virginia has the highest average salary of all the states at $88,950 for those serving as college professors.

Employment and Salary Information for College Professors

Use our interactive map below to find out which areas of the United States are currently experiencing the greatest amount of growth and job availability for graduates looking for a career as a college professor. The associated information has been gathered from Bureau of Labor statistics, representing data collected in 2012.

Why Become A College Professor?

College professors train the next generation of scientists, doctors, lawyers, writers, and businesspeople. Here are a few other reasons to become a college professor:

  • Be an expert. Not only will you know a lot about your chosen field, people will look to you to help explain it to them.
  • Good pay. Postsecondary teachers across colleges, universities and other institutions earn an average of $74,420 per year.
  • Practice what you teach. Especially in professional and vocational subjects, it’s possible to teach others and continue to work in your field.
  • Make original contributions. If you’re a full-time academic, you won’t just be learning about your subject, you’ll be shaping it through your own work and publications.
  • Demand is growing fast. Education is a growth industry. There were roughly 1.3 million college professors in 2012. The projected growth rate for college professors is 19% over the next decade—much faster than the average rate of jobs nationwide.
  • Inspire others. It’s no secret that the best teachers change lives. Exciting teaching inspires students to learn more and to achieve great things.

College Professor: What You Need To Know

To be a great college professor, you need two skill sets. You need to be an expert at your chosen subject—and if you’re a university professor, you’ll need to publish original works on that subject—and you’ll need to be a great teacher. A basic working knowledge of these skill sets will help to set you apart from other candidates.

  • Teaching
  • Writing Skills
  • Curriculum Design
  • Knowledge of Chosen Subject
  • Public Speaking
  • Facilitating Discussions

Feel like you’ve got a lot to learn? Get more information about careers, degrees, and applicable courses for college professors from one of the schools below.

Degree Options for College Professor Careers

Master’s degree

College professors sometimes hold a master’s degree. Most often master’s graduates teach in community colleges, technical and trade schools, and vocational institutions. College professors in these institutions may also be asked to have a certain amount of work experience relating to their field. Some college professors have terminal master’s degrees, such as a Master of Fine Arts.


University professors generally hold PhDs, and are expected to publish articles or books in their field of expertise. Professors who teach a course that leads to professional certification may need to hold that certification themselves (a professor of education may need to be certified as a teacher).

Work experience and certification

In certain fields, especially in technical or trade schools, work experience and certification may be more important than formal qualifications. In fields like cosmetology or culinary arts, for example, practical skills may be more important than having a degree.