Can You Be a Professor Without a Ph.D.?

Good college and university professors inspire and challenge young minds while dedicating their lives to scholarship. Though getting tenure at a major university in the United States is competitive, certain fields of studies and schools hire faculty members that do not have their Ph.D.s. When preparing for your career track to become a professor, consider the field of study and where you want to teach to determine your educational options.

  1. Career Track

    • Becoming a tenured faculty is a multi-stepped process that requires many years of teaching and often requires a record research and publishing articles in scholarly journals. Entry level faculty members begin as an assistant professors and hold that rank for up to eight years. Assistant professors generally teach lower-level undergraduate classes, until they get tenure. With tenure, they get the rank of associate professor. The associate professor continues publishing and teaching mid-level university classes and he or she can be promoted to the rank of professor. Assistant professors who are denied tenure usually don't get to stay on as faculty members at the school where they failed to get tenure.

    Community Colleges

    • Most universities require professors to have a Ph.D. to begin a tenure-track position. Community colleges, however, frequently allow teachers who have gotten their master's degrees to teach and become tenured. Community colleges are characterized by providing two year, or associate's degree tracks for undergraduate students. Frequently students enrolled in community colleges transfer to larger universities to complete studies towards a bachelor's degree. Though having a Ph.D. when applying for positions at community colleges increases the competitiveness of your application, many schools will hire candidates with master's degrees who have experience teaching and good publishing records.

    Master of Fine Arts

    • A master of fine arts, or MFA, is a terminal degree, in that you can not pursue doctoral studies in the practice of fine arts. Because of this, professors who teach classes related to fine arts at both the undergraduate and graduate levels teach without a Ph.D. MFA degrees can be pursued in a wide variety of fields, including film production, studio art, fine art, painting, photography, graphic design and printmaking. Additionally, non-visual areas of art, including theater, creative writing, poetry and fiction writing, are all fields of study for a terminal MFA.

    Teaching Assistants

    • Teaching assistants perform many of the same duties as a full-fledged faculty member without a Ph.D. Teaching assistantships are assigned to graduate students who have received financial aid packages in the form of teaching fellowships. Many graduate students, specifically those on track to receive their Ph.D.s begin teaching after their first or second year of graduate school, or after getting their master's degrees. Graduate students usually get teaching assignments of entry-level undergraduate classes in their field of study. These classes will frequently be large lectures with a tenured professor, followed by a smaller group session led by the teaching assistant.

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