How to Become an English Professor: Career Roadmap

Learn how to become an English professor. Research the job description and education requirements, and find out how to start a career teaching English at the postsecondary level. View article »

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Video Transcript

Should I Become an English Professor?

English professors instruct students in literature, writing and English at the community college or university level. They also produce scholarly articles and books and might carry out others ventures like speaking engagements. These professionals often have flexible teaching schedules, although some classes take place on weekends and evenings. The job can be rewarding since instructors can discuss the topics they're interested in with students who are also passionate about the material. However, the pressure to publish original research while also teaching can be overwhelming.

Career Requirements

Degree Level Master's degree; doctorate may be required
Degree Field(s) English, creative writing, composition, or rhetoric
Experience Graduate assistant teaching and research
Key Skills Critical thinking, communication, and writing skills
Salary $61,990 (2015 median for post-secondary English language and literary teachers)

Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, University of Nebraska-Lincoln

Graduate-level education in English, creative writing or composition and rhetoric is required for this profession. An individual who has earned a master's degree is qualified to teach English at a community college. Generally, a doctoral degree is required to work as a full-time, tenure-track university English professor.

English professors usually also have graduate assistant teaching and research experience, along with critical thinking, communication and writing skills. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, post-secondary English language and literary teachers earned a median salary of $61,990 as of May 2015.

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Steps to Become an English Professor

Let's go over the steps needed to become an English professor.

Step 1: Earn a Bachelor's Degree

A bachelor's degree in English or American literature builds the critical thinking and writing skills needed to pursue a career. This program trains students in the interpretation and analysis of literature within a work's historical and cultural context. Students also develop research and communication skills. Many programs enable English majors to focus on creative writing or world literature, which can include everything from drama to Caribbean studies.

Since most English graduate degree programs require students to be competent in a foreign language, students may want to begin acquiring these skills during undergraduate studies. Some programs may require foreign language coursework.

Step 2: Enroll in Graduate School

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, English professors need a master's and, in many cases, a doctoral degree. Individuals in a master's program explore critical theory, linguistics, literature, mythology and creative writing. Master's programs may offer a teaching component that will help prepare prospective professors. A special project, comprehensive exam or thesis will generally be needed for graduation.

Doctoral students usually work as teaching assistants, which builds useful practical experience for aspiring English professors. Ph.D. programs often have core requirements that must be augmented by a project or dissertation tailored individually to the degree candidate. Ph.D. students are typically required to have proficiency in at least one foreign language. The capstone requirement is a doctoral thesis and defense.

While working as graduate assistants, students should use the interaction with English professors in the department to establish professional relationships. These relationships may lead to job opportunities.

Step 3: Begin Working as an English Professor

An individual who is hired by a 4-year university will often begin as an assistant or adjunct professor. After several years, these professors may eventually acquire tenure and have more permanent positions. In most research universities, college professors must continue to contribute to the discipline and publish articles in addition to their teaching duties. Therefore, it is important for anybody who wants to be a professor to answer calls for articles. Community colleges may focus more on an individual's teaching ability.

In summary, becoming an English professor involves earning an English-related bachelor's degree, pursuing a related graduate degree and often gaining some experience as a teacher's assistant.

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