People get into teaching for a wide variety of reasons. Some folks are passionate about a particular subject matter, and teaching gives them the opportunity to become immersed in that subject each and every day. Others love children, and feel strongly it is their duty to help prepare the next generation for a leadership role in our country. Yet others love the idea of a job that guarantees summers off, and look forward to using that time to travel the world. Regardless of your reasoning, teaching is a noble enterprise and a valuable contribution to society. But working as a college professor is something of a different beast. It does have its own very real appeal, but you must consider all the pros and cons before heading down what is a very difficult path. So just ask yourself, are you cut out to work as a college professor?
The most important factor is education. Teachers at the high school level or lower can have long, full careers with only a bachelor’s degree. Some teachers will complete a five-year degree program for a little more specialized learning, or highly motivated individuals will go two more years for a master’s degree in a particular discipline. But that’s it. To be a college professor you almost always need to complete a Ph.d program. That doctorate could take you four-to-six additional years of schooling after your undergraduate degree. It is costly, and it is difficult, and even after that you will have to start as a teacher’s aide and work your way up the ladder. If you don’t have the financial ability or determination to complete that much education, becoming a college professor is probably not for you. But if you want to know all there is to know about a subject and truly lead your field, this is the way to do it.
Another element you must keep in mind is the focus on research. As a college professor, only part of your job is about teaching students. And regardless of how well you perform in that capacity, you will not get anywhere in your career if you don’t publish. There’s an old saying in the world of higher education, “publish or perish”. That basically means if you don’t spend at least part of your time in research that gets published, you won’t receive tenure from a university and won’t enjoy the higher pay and job security that provides. You will be expected to further the knowledge and understanding in your chosen field, and bring the university some amount of praise and recognition for your efforts. If you are only interested in teaching and don’t see yourself as a researcher, you should probably stick to the lower grades.
The drive to garner prestige for the university doesn’t only stop with publishing either. The modern system of secondary education is a popularity contest, built on the name and reputation of an institution. The better a school looks, the more students will apply, the higher the tuition rates they can charge, and the more private donations they will receive. Public and private schools both rely heavily on large contributions from wealthy alumni, and the school often uses popular professors to help secure those funds. You will have to network, to attend cocktail parties and woo donors. If you don’t consider yourself a social person, or are uncomfortable using your talents to help bring funding into an institution this will not be the life for you. You could squeeze by as a professor without doing these things, just as those who get a degree through one of those online mha programs accredited by the state may be able to find a job, though it won’t be prestigious or high paying. There are no shortcuts for this type of lifestyle, and the perks come with a price. Go into it with eyes wide open and you’ll know in your heart if it is right for you.