Online Professor Education Requirements and Career Outlook

Learn about the education and preparation needed to become an online professor. Get a quick view of the requirements as well as details about degree programs, job duties and certification.

Becoming an online professor is an attractive choice for those who enjoy the social aspects of teaching and wish to keep up with the latest advances in technology. To stay competitive, practitioners need to obtain advanced degrees and special certification, and complete courses that teach the specific tools needed to do the job. They should be eager to step into the role of the student to understand how to maintain engagement at a distance!

Essential Information

The requirements mandatory for an online professor are much the same as for a classroom teacher. The only difference is that the online professor teaches from home. Those who wish to teach online for a post-secondary institution must possess a master's degree or a doctorate. In most cases, teacher certification and at least one year's experience teaching is mandatory. Those familiar with education technology wishing freedom from the commute may be drawn to this career.

Required Education Master's degree to teach for a 2-year institution; Doctorate to teach for a 4-year institution
Other Requirements Licensure or certification required depending upon subject area
Projected Job Growth (2014-2024)* 13% for postsecondary teachers
Average Salary (2015)* $ 71,060 for postsecondary teachers

Source: * U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Online Professor Education Requirements

In order to begin a career as an online professor, a person must have at least a master's degree in education or the field he or she wishes to teach. They may also have to acquire teaching licensure, the qualifications for which vary by state. In general, enrolling in some distance-learning undergraduate or graduate classes may help prepare individuals for careers as online professors.

A master's degree program usually takes about 2-4 years to complete, based on the area of study. Applicants to master's degree programs typically must have completed a bachelor's degree in a relevant subject with an exemplary GPA. With a master's degree and the appropriate teaching qualifications, aspiring online professors may aim for employment with a brick-and-mortar school that offers online programs, or they may apply to private schools that are entirely based online. Job opportunities for those with a master's degree may be more ample at 2-year than 4-year schools.

Those looking for full-time work as an online professor at a 4-year university, particularly those ultimately seeking tenure positions, need to attain a doctorate in their field. Doctoral degree programs require the completion of a master's degree program and take about 2-6 years to complete, depending on previous education, research time allotted and area of study. These programs usually end with a mandatory dissertation that can take up to two years of work, including defense of dissertation. Many Ph.D. program graduates complete independent research and aim to publish work in their field before seeking full-time teaching positions. Because most professors are required to continually contribute to new research and writings in their field, this background and quality of work may factor heavily into potential employers' decision-making.

While enrolled in graduate school, those who wish to act as postsecondary instructors should seek teaching assistant positions. Gaining experience while enrolled in school may give them an advantage in the teaching field upon graduation. Although many schools require incoming professors to have experience with technology, and distance-learning applications in particular, prospective online professors may benefit from additional certificates or training in computer software and communication platforms on the Web.

Even for those with a doctorate, full-time tenure positions at 4-year universities are incredibly competitive. Those aiming to be online professors might wish to complete a Ph.D. program and then look into job opportunities with 2-year schools, where many of their competitors may only have master's degrees.

Career Outlook

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employment for postsecondary education professions is expected to grow 13% from 2014-2024. This fast growth rate comes from a projected increase in student enrollment. Because tenured positions are particularly competitive, the BLS expects career opportunities to be better for part-time or non-tenure positions.

The BLS also shows that the average earnings for post-secondary professors were approximately $71,060 per year as of May 2015. Salary varies according to experience, job duties and rank. Because online professors are hired by the same institutions as traditional classroom-based professors, salary data applies to them as well.

The field of distance teaching is expected to have a strong growth rate but educational requirements for the career of online professor are stringent. For those eager for a lasting career, an advanced terminal degree such as a master's or doctorate may be the best option as well as updated certifications. In addition, it's important to maintain an excellent academic record as evidence of subject matter expertise.


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