How to Become an English Professor

Classrooms Team

Aug 2, 2021

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Whether you’re already an English major in school, you’re still deciding on your major, or you’re still in high school looking forward to the days of college that lay ahead of you, the idea of being a college professor can be intriguing. While teaching is a skill in itself, being a professor is an entirely different ball game, as teaching college students and holding a position at a university usually involves independent study and academic research. If this kind of life appeals to you, being on the track to becoming a professor could be perfect for you.

Additionally, becoming a professor could also be the perfect opportunity to dive deeper into the study of your preferred specialty you want to pursue within the English language. Working with your students can often be an enriching experience for everyone involved — but before you do that, you need to know how to become an English professor in the first place. Here are the steps you need to take in order to get there.

Major in English or Something Related

Your very first step in becoming an English professor is probably something you’re already doing — or at least, you’re probably close to doing — and that’s majoring in English in your undergraduate studies! Even if you aren’t an English major, other majors like writing, communications, and journalism that coincide with English, literature, and languages can put you on the track to the English graduate studies of your dreams. While, ideally, English is the best major to start your journey to professorial work, you can use a related major to get your foot in the door.

Get a Taste of Academic Research

While this isn’t required, it can be helpful to get a taste of what academic research is like before you pursue your graduate studies. This can help you create an understanding for what kinds of specialties you want to pursue going into your master’s program when you eventually go, as they usually prefer you to have a focus for your studies. Ask your professors about conference opportunities, work further on papers you’re passionate about from class, and even try submitting them for publication after you’ve worked hard on them. By doing this, you can figure out what time periods and subject matters interest you most.

Pick a Focus for Your Studies

After getting a taste of academic research, picking a direction or discipline you enjoy and feel passionate about is likely your next step. As you move up the chain in your studies, you’ll get more specific, so you don’t need to have it all figured out just yet. 

Go for Your Master’s Degree

Everyone’s graduate studies are different, but the first step in moving forward after undergrad is to start on your master’s degree. For English, you’ll have to take the GRE test in order to apply for most programs, though there are some that don’t require it. Your master’s degree will likely take two or three years depending on the program, and some people even have it incorporated into the Ph.D. program — for those who know they’re going all the way. However, some people stop after they get their master’s, as many community colleges and smaller schools allow you to teach without a terminal degree.

Get Your Ph.D. Too

Whether you’re finished with your master’s degree or you’ve just gotten your bachelor’s degree, you can enter a Ph.D. program — either with your master’s incorporated or to finish up. During your Ph.D. you will intensify your studies, write a dissertation, and explore your area of interest with your cohort. Most Ph.D. programs take around six years to complete, however, there are so many options for making your graduate studies work with your lifestyle and needs. 

Find a Permanent Teaching Position

So, where does the teaching come in? Well, that depends. In most graduate studies programs, you’ll teach undergraduate classes while you work towards your graduate degree — that’s right, you’ll get your first experience of teaching while you’re still studying! Often, graduate students teach classes for tuition arrangements and financial aid, especially at larger schools. That way, by the time you finish your graduate program, you’ll already know what it’s like to be in front of a classroom. Once you finish your graduate studies, you can search for a more permanent teaching arrangement and begin your life as a college professor!

Becoming an English Professor

If you’re looking to become a professor of English literature, it all starts with a love of words. Whether you’re an English major now or you plan to be one, you can start on the path to your graduate studies and become the professor you want to be.

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