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

by Dr. Mary Dowd, studioD

Professors are dedicated to educating students and discovering new knowledge. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, a doctorate is generally needed to secure a faculty position at a four-year college or university, with the exception of fine-arts instruction, which requires a master of fine arts. Many teaching jobs at community colleges are available to qualified applicants with a master’s degree. Some schools also hire instructors with a bachelor’s degree for adjunct teaching assignments.

Doctor of Philosophy

A Doctor of Philosophy is valued in higher education because of the research orientation of the degree. Professors with a Ph.D. are well-equipped to teach, undertake research studies, publish findings and advise graduate students. A Ph.D. from a prestigious institution can be advantageous in landing a teaching job, especially in subject areas such as the humanities, where openings are scarce, according to the Princeton Review.

Other Doctorates

A Doctor of Education is often held by professors who teach courses such as educational administration, assessment, curriculum design and public policy. An Ed.D. is an applied research degree that appeals to high school principals, superintendents and student services professionals. Other disciplines also offer terminal degrees that can lead to a teaching career. For example, law school professors hold a Juris Doctor, or J.D.

Master of Fine Arts

Accrediting agencies view the Master of Fine Arts as the terminal degree for art and design, theater and dance. An M.F.A. involves at least 60 semester credits and creation of a final project that demonstrates mastery of the specialization. Graduates of an M.F.A. program are eligible for hire, tenure and promotion as college faculty members.

Master's Degree

Faculty positions at two-year schools are an option for qualified professionals with a master’s degree. Previous teaching experience is helpful. Fifty-five percent of nursing professors at two-year schools hold a master’s degree, according to O*NET, a database that outlines work duties and statistical trends for a variety of professions. The Bureau of Labor Statistics suggests that a doctorate may be preferred if the applicant pool is large. Teaching part-time at a community college is a way to gain experience, possibly increasing the odds of being hired full-time.

Bachelor’s Degree

A bachelor’s degree and practical experience may meet the minimum qualifications for teaching in certain fields with an occupational focus. For example, adjunct assistant professors in the medical dosimetry department at the University of Wisconsin, La Crosse are required to have a bachelor’s degree and clinical expertise. O*NET indicates that 16 percent of postsecondary communications instructors hold a bachelor’s degree. For instance, a seasoned reporter with a bachelor’s degree may teach mass communication courses.


When applying for a faculty position, applicants must submit a curriculum vitae that describes their scholarly achievements. To be competitive, your CV should list classes taught, research projects, conference presentations, publications, fellowships, awards, study abroad, community service and committee assignments. The Association of Modern Languages suggests that applicants for community college jobs should stress teaching and advising expertise over research activities because classroom instruction is central to the mission of two-year institutions.

About the Author

Mary Dowd holds a doctorate in educational leadership and a master's degree in counseling and student personnel from Minnesota State University, Mankato. In her 20 years of higher education experience, she has taught classes, served as interim dean of students, and worked in many areas of student affairs, including student discipline, career advising, orientation and violence prevention.

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