What to Know Before Moving From High School Teacher to College Professor

A logical step for many teachers is to progress from teaching High School to College. But that is more complicated than it sounds. Here’s an good article from an Ask a Tech Teacher contributor on what you should know to make that a successful endeavor:

What to Know Before Moving From High School Teacher to College Professor

Teaching is one of the most fulfilling, albeit challenging, jobs you can do. No matter the location or level, there will be immense feelings of pride, moments of anguish and many tired nights and weekends.

For those who get started as a high school teacher, there comes a time when they think about moving on to teaching at the college level. If you have interest in becoming a college professor, the following questions will help you understand all the benefits, differences, challenges and steps to changing your career path.

High School or College: Which Has a Higher Earning Potential?

As most educators know, there is a salary bump at the college level. The median pay for post-secondary (college) teachers in 2020 was $80,790, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). This is well above the $62,870 median annual salary for high school teachers. In general, education isn’t the field you enter to get rich, but that extra income can be a major incentive to make the transition.

Are There Fewer Jobs Available for College Professors?

Though it may be surprising, there are actually more college professors in the United States than high school teachers. In 2020, there were 1.33 million post-secondary teachers compared to less than 1.05 million high school teachers, according to BLS. The field is also expanding faster in higher education, which BLS forecasts will add another 121,500 workers by 2029, compared to just 40,200 more in high school.

What Are the Requirements to Teach in College?

While the majority of tenure positions at four-year universities will require a doctoral degree — plus at least seven years teaching in the field for an institution — there are a range of opportunities available with a master’s degree as well. Community college teachers, for example, typically only ask for a master’s, and even well-known schools hire professors in some specialities, including the arts, without a Ph.D. 

What Types of Master Programs Are Worth Considering?

For those who go the master’s route, there are several different options. Two of the leading choices are a Master of Arts (M.A) in Teaching (sometimes offered as a Master of Science in Teaching or M.S.) and a Master of Education (M.Ed.). These days, each is widely offered by many top universities. You can even get a master of arts online or a master of education online.

The first option is generally considered more of a scholarly-focused academic degree, while the second is more of a professional, practitioner degree. The M.A./M.S. route, which usually involves targeted subject matter and specific research areas, generally works better for anyone who is considering going to chase a professor role or later enter a doctoral program. An M.Ed., by contrast, may offer more opportunities for anyone looking toward an administrative or leadership role (in high school or elsewhere).

What’s to Know Before Becoming a College Professor

If you’re a born educator, it may not matter much to you where you teach. All you know is that you need to teach. Still, there are fundamental differences between high school and college.

The higher level offers higher salaries and more jobs to choose from overall, but it may also require more education in the form of a master’s degree or event doctorate. For some, these benefits are worth the effort — and the challenge is a reward in and of itself. 


Jacqui Murray has been teaching K-18 technology for 30 years. She is the editor/author of over a hundred tech ed resources including a K-12 technology curriculum, K-8 keyboard curriculum, K-8 Digital Citizenship curriculum. She is an adjunct professor in tech ed, Master Teacher, webmaster for four blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice, CSTA presentation reviewer, freelance journalist on tech ed topics, contributor to NEA Today, and author of the tech thrillers, To Hunt a Sub and Twenty-four Days. You can find her resources at Structured Learning.

Author: Jacqui
Welcome to my virtual classroom. I've been a tech teacher for 15 years, but modern technology offers more to get my ideas across to students than at any time in my career. Drop in to my class wikis, classroom blog, our internet start pages. I'll answer your questions about how to teach tech, what to teach when, where the best virtual sites are. Need more--let's chat about issues of importance in tech ed. Want to see what I'm doing today? Click the gravatar and select the grade.

6 thoughts on “What to Know Before Moving From High School Teacher to College Professor

  1. Interesting, Jacqui. I would have expected there to be more high school teachers. I was interested to see the pay scales too. As a senior lecturer at university, my daughter earns far more than I ever did as a classroom teacher.

    1. Our HS teachers here also earn far less than University professors but it’s hard to get the professor job. It usually requires a PhD and even then, you’re more likely to end up an adjunct professor (which is what I have)–no benefits, paid per class or student. If that was prolific enough to be fulltime, it would pay much more than a HS teacher.

          1. That’s interesting. Covid increased my daughter’s workload and continues to do so. Class sizes were increased and they received less staffing support. This year she still has to pre-record her lectures as well as deliver them face-to-face – a whole lot more work. Larger classes also mean more marking and more students requiring support.
            My DIL who is an associate professor at a different university encounters similar problems.

          2. That’s interesting about your daughter. I watched videos of teachers coping with online and in-person students–complicated at first but then I suppose it became routine. Not sure about that, though. The pre-recording lectures and then delivering them in person–that sounds like a lot. Why not just let your daughter tape the class?

            I teach all online with online lessons and weekly virtual meetings. I’m not an employee (I think all adjuncts are contractors) so am paid by the student. I wish I had a mass influx of students! Sigh.

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