Teaching at the college level means you can teach a wide variety of courses in your field, develop your own curriculum and continue your own independent research. Knowing the qualifications necessary to becoming a college instructor or professor is the first step toward a career in post-secondary education.
The first step toward becoming a college level educator is the completion of your undergraduate degree. Ideally, you should major in the academic field that you wish to eventually teach or a closely related field. For example, if you want to become a college instructor or professor of economics, an undergraduate degree in economics or the related field of mathematics would be good preliminary preparation.
Most, if not all, colleges and universities also require advanced graduate study in your field. The required graduate degree depends on the type of position and school to which you are applying. Teaching positions at many community colleges and adjunct, lecturer or instructor positions at larger four-year universities require a minimum of a master's degree. However, if you are seeking a tenure-track or full professorship, you will need to first complete your doctorate or, at a minimum, have achieved your doctoral candidacy. Some community colleges also prefer, though do not require, doctoral degrees.
Many universities offer teaching assistantships, which provide valuable experience for designing your lessons plans as you work closely with tenured faculty, for their master's and doctoral students. Once you have the appropriate academic credentials, you can also pursue adjunct or lecturer positions at nearby universities while you complete your graduate study. This can afford you even greater hands-on experience in curriculum development and classroom management. Having teaching experience prior to applying to college level teaching positions not only makes you a more competitive candidate, but can also help you negotiate for a higher starting salary.
A tenure-tracked college level teaching position comes with the added benefit of job security, because once you have achieved tenure, it is much more difficult, though not impossible, to fire you. Applying for tenure cannot occur until roughly your fourth or fifth year of teaching, but you should begin to prepare your tenure file as soon as your teaching appointment begins. Tenure applications require that applicants provide a strong record of excellence in teaching, research and university involvement. To develop these areas, maintain a file of your student course evaluations, continue your independent research as well as participation in conferences and journal publications, and seek out positions in committees both within your academic department and university-wide.
- Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook: Postsecondary Teachers
- The Graduate College at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign: Applying for Teaching Positions at Community Colleges
- Modern Language Association: A Community College Teaching Career
- Carleton College: Preparing Yourself for the Tenure Process
Teresa J. Siskin has been a researcher, writer and editor since 2009. She holds a doctorate in art history.