Professor: Executive Summary

If you land a tenure-track position at a four-year institution, you'll enjoy many advantages.

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If you can land a tenure-track position at a four-year institution, you'll enjoy many advantages. You'll get the pleasure of teaching—but only six to 15 hours a week, so you're unlikely to burn out. Outside of class, you're required to meet with students, but that too is just a few hours a week. Most of the time, you'll do research or write on a scholarly topic that interests you. And in some specialties, you can pick up extra money by consulting. You also get to work in a delightful work environment: a college campus. Plus, after seven years, you get tenure—lifetime job security.

The downside? It's tough to land a tenure-track job. It helps if you were a star in your Ph.D. program—and it helps more if that was at a prestigious university. It helps even more if you're a woman or minority with the potential to bring in grant money. Obtaining a Ph.D. typically takes five to eight years once you've got a bachelor's degree. In sciences, you may also have to excel in a postdoctoral fellowship.

Be forewarned: Some academics complain about political correctness in the awarding of jobs and tenure, arguing that if you espouse conservative or libertarian theories regarding societal problems, you have a strike or two against you. And if you don't get a tenure-track job, you could end up teaching courses part time, like almost half of faculty members at universities. You might land a full-time faculty position at a two-year community college, but some professors are frustrated by the heavier workload, and by a bigger intellectual gap between students and instructors.

Median Pay

National: $85,300. More pay data by metropolitan area

(Data provided by PayScale.com)

Training

U.S. News rankings of graduate programs by specialty (fee applies)

Smart Specialty

Health Practitioner Training Programs. Some colleges and universities offer healthcare programs in areas like nursing or respiratory therapy. Professor salaries and job availability are better than average in these fields. And knowledge in health disciplines is advancing rapidly, so you'll always have something new to teach.

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