CareerExplorer’s step-by-step guide on how to become a professor.

Step 1

Is becoming a professor right for me?

The first step to choosing a career is to make sure you are actually willing to commit to pursuing the career. You don’t want to waste your time doing something you don’t want to do. If you’re new here, you should read about:

What do professors do?
Career Satisfaction
Are professors happy with their careers?
What are professors like?

Still unsure if becoming a professor is the right career path? to find out if this career is right for you. Perhaps you are well-suited to become a professor or another similar career!

Described by our users as being “shockingly accurate”, you might discover careers you haven’t thought of before.

Step 2

High School

Becoming a professor involves a significant educational journey, typically culminating in a doctoral degree. While high school courses directly don't lead to becoming a professor, they can lay a strong foundation for your future academic and career pursuits. Here are some high school courses that can help prepare you for a path toward becoming a professor:

  • Advanced Placement (AP) Courses: Taking AP courses in subjects like English, mathematics, science, social studies, and foreign languages can provide you with a rigorous academic foundation and potentially earn you college credit.
  • Mathematics and Sciences: Courses in subjects like mathematics, biology, chemistry, and physics can help develop critical thinking, analytical skills, and a strong scientific foundation that can be beneficial for many academic fields.
  • Social Sciences and Humanities: Courses in history, economics, psychology, philosophy, and literature can cultivate your analytical and critical thinking abilities, which are essential skills for academic research and writing.
  • Foreign Languages: Learning a foreign language can expand your cultural awareness, communication skills, and research opportunities, especially if you plan to work in international academic contexts.
  • Research Skills: If your high school offers courses or extracurricular activities related to research, science projects, or debate, participating in these can help develop your research, analytical, and communication skills.
  • Writing and Communication: Strong writing and communication skills are vital for academic success. English courses and extracurricular activities like debate, public speaking, and writing clubs can help hone these skills.
  • Computer Science and Technology: Proficiency in technology is increasingly important in academia. Taking computer science courses or exploring coding and programming can be valuable, especially for fields involving data analysis and research.
  • Leadership and Extracurricular Activities: Participating in leadership roles in clubs, student government, or community service can demonstrate your ability to lead and collaborate, which are essential for academic roles.
Step 3

Steps to Become a Professor

Becoming a professor is a significant achievement that requires dedication, perseverance, and a commitment to advancing knowledge and education in your chosen field. The process is challenging, but the impact you can make on students and your field of study can be immensely rewarding.

Here's a detailed overview of the process:

  • Obtain a Bachelor's Degree - Start by completing a bachelor's degree in your chosen field of study. Select a major that aligns with the area you wish to specialize in as a professor. During your undergraduate years, focus on achieving a high GPA, building strong relationships with professors, and gaining research or teaching experience through internships, research projects, or teaching assistant roles.
  • Pursue a Master's Degree (Optional) - While not always required, some fields and universities may recommend or require a master's degree for aspiring professors. If your field values advanced education, pursue a master's program that provides in-depth knowledge and research experience. It's important to research the expectations within your specific field.
  • Choose a Doctoral Program - To become a professor, you'll typically need to earn a doctoral degree (Ph.D. or equivalent) in your chosen field. Research different doctoral programs that align with your interests and career goals. Look for programs with faculty members conducting research in areas that interest you.
  • Graduate Studies and Research - Enroll in a doctoral program and focus on coursework, comprehensive exams, and research. Develop strong relationships with your advisors and mentors, as they will play an important role in guiding your research, offering support, and helping you navigate the academic landscape.
  • Research and Publish - During your doctoral studies, engage in original research and publish your findings in reputable academic journals. Building a strong publication record is vital for academic careers, as it demonstrates your expertise and contributions to your field.
  • Gain Teaching Experience - While pursuing your doctoral degree, gain teaching experience as a teaching assistant (TA) or instructor. This experience will help you develop your teaching skills, interact with students, and understand the academic environment from an educator's perspective.
  • Complete your Doctoral Dissertation - Your doctoral dissertation is a significant research project that contributes new knowledge to your field. Successfully defending your dissertation is a crucial step toward earning your doctorate.
  • Obtain your Doctoral Degree - After completing your dissertation and meeting all program requirements, you'll be awarded your doctoral degree. This achievement marks a significant milestone on your journey toward becoming a professor.
  • Apply for Postdoctoral Positions (Optional) - Many aspiring professors complete postdoctoral research positions to further develop their expertise, expand their research network, and enhance their publication record. Postdocs can also provide teaching experience and exposure to different academic institutions.
  • Seek Tenure-Track Positions - Tenure-track positions offer job security and academic freedom. Search for open positions in your field and apply to universities that align with your research interests and teaching philosophy.
  • Build a Strong Application - Prepare a comprehensive application package that includes your CV, cover letter, teaching philosophy statement, research statement, and letters of recommendation. Highlight your research, teaching experience, and contributions to your field.
  • Interview and Campus Visits - If shortlisted, you'll likely be invited for an interview and a campus visit. During this process, you'll meet with faculty, give a teaching demonstration, and discuss your research with potential colleagues.
  • Secure a Tenure-Track Position - If successful, you'll receive a job offer for a tenure-track position. This marks the beginning of your career as a professor.
  • Tenure and Promotion - Over a period of several years, you'll work toward earning tenure. This involves continued research, publishing, teaching excellence, and service to the institution. Tenure grants you job security and academic freedom.
  • Advance in your Academic Career - After earning tenure, professors continue to advance their academic careers. They may pursue leadership roles, mentor students and junior faculty, and contribute to their field through research, publications, and service.
Step 4

Employment Opportunities

Professors have a wide range of employment opportunities within academia and beyond. Their expertise in research, teaching, and specialized knowledge makes them valuable contributors to various sectors. Here are some employment opportunities for professors:

  • University and College Faculty: The most traditional role for professors is within universities and colleges, where they teach courses, conduct research, and contribute to academic communities. They can be assistant professors, associate professors, or full professors, each with varying levels of responsibility and tenure.
  • Research Institutions: Professors often collaborate with research institutions, think tanks, and research centers. They engage in cutting-edge research, publish papers, and contribute to advancements in their field.
  • Postdoctoral Positions: Early-career academics might take on postdoctoral positions to further develop their research skills, build a strong publication record, and gain additional experience before securing a tenure-track role.
  • Teaching Universities and Community Colleges: Professors can work at teaching-focused institutions that prioritize high-quality instruction. These institutions might place a greater emphasis on teaching excellence than research output.
  • Online and Distance Learning: With the rise of online education, professors can teach courses in virtual classrooms, reaching students across the globe. Many universities offer online programs that require professors to adapt their teaching methods for virtual environments.
  • Librarians and Information Specialists: Professors with expertise in library sciences can work as academic librarians, helping students and faculty access research materials and navigate information resources.
  • Academic Administration: Professors may transition into administrative roles within academia, such as department chairs, deans, provosts, or other leadership positions. These roles involve overseeing academic programs, budgets, and strategic planning.
  • Consulting and Corporate Training: Professors can lend their expertise to consulting firms or corporations, providing specialized knowledge, training, and insights in areas relevant to their field.
  • Government and Nonprofit Organizations: Professors with expertise in areas such as policy, economics, and social sciences might work for government agencies or nonprofit organizations, contributing to research, policy analysis, and program development.
  • Publishing and Editing: Professors can work as editors for academic journals or publishing houses, reviewing research papers and contributing to the dissemination of knowledge in their field.
  • Entrepreneurship and Startups: Professors with expertise in fields like business, technology, and engineering might engage in entrepreneurial ventures or collaborate with startups to bring their research and knowledge to practical applications.
  • International Organizations: Professors can contribute their expertise to international organizations, such as the United Nations, World Bank, or UNESCO, in roles related to research, policy, and development.
  • Media and Journalism: Professors with expertise in various fields can serve as expert commentators, contributing insights to media outlets and journalists seeking specialized knowledge.
  • Museums and Cultural Institutions: Professors with expertise in history, art, anthropology, and related fields might work with museums and cultural institutions as curators, researchers, or educators.
  • Professional Associations: Professors can join professional organizations related to their field, where they might contribute to research, training, conferences, and policy initiatives.