Professor Degree Level Requirements

There is no specific degree that qualifies one to be a professor. Most academic departments require applicants to hold a Ph.D in the field in which they plan to teach, but in some creative fields an MFA qualifies one to teach at the university level.

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Essential Information

The most common route to a professorship is a Ph.D., and Ph.D. programs have one thing in common: research. The goal of research in doctoral programs is to add knowledge to the field in which one studies. As such, Ph.D. programs typically culminate in a dissertation, which is a book-length work of original research. Master's degrees are sometimes enough to quality one to teach in creative fields.


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Doctor of Philosophy

Applicants to doctoral programs must have at least a bachelor's degree to be considered for admission, and some programs require students to hold a master's degree. Standardized test scores are also almost always required. While some programs only require the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) general test, others require a specific GRE subject test as well, like the GRE Literature test. Letters of recommendation and a personal statement are among the other common requirements.

The majority of Ph.D. programs include courses intended to enhance students' abilities in research and data collection; subject matter may include research methodologies, qualitative analysis, quantitative analysis, and statistics. Beyond that, coursework can vary greatly among Ph.D. programs according to the field of study. For example, here are some courses that might appear in a doctoral program in engineering:

  • Applied physics
  • Thermodynamics
  • Mechanical and electrical energy transfer
  • Materials science
  • Chemical engineering

Employment Outlook and Salary Information

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS, www.bls.gov) predicted that the employment rate for all postsecondary teachers (professors) would grow 13% between 2014 and 2024, which is faster than average. Salaries can vary greatly, depending on field. For example, the median annual salary for postsecondary teachers of art, drama, and music was $65,340 as of May 2015. Chemistry professors did better at a median of $75,060. The median annual salary for all postsecondary teachers was $63,000 in 2015.

Students aspiring to teach at the postsecondary level will usually need to complete Ph.D programs, though in certain creative subjects a master's-level degree may qualify them. These advanced programs typically involve academic research and dissertation projects.

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