Associate Professor Vs. Professor: What's The Difference?

By Indeed Editorial Team

Updated 14 December 2022

Published 27 September 2021

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Education professionals provide valuable services to students of all age groups, from kindergarten to graduate school. Despite similar-sounding job titles, the duties, qualifications and experience of assistant professors and professors vary. The biggest difference is that an associate professor gets promoted to the role of a professor only after the required experience. If you want to enter this field, it is important to understand the expectations of each role.

In this article, we discuss the differences and similarities between associate professors and professors and how to become a professor from an associate professor.

Associate Professor Vs. Professor

Both associate professors and professors teach at universities or colleges. They both have professional degrees and are experts in their area. There are many similarities in their responsibilities and the work they do, but the difference is in their rank, research work and administrative and teaching functions.

The major difference between both is the recognition they earn in their field. Professors may get opportunities at the national and international level, whereas associate professors may be an expert in their area but might not receive the same level of recognition.

Here are the differences between an associate professor and a professor:

Associate professor

Associate professors establish their name in an area of their research. They gain funding for their research through grants and write quality research papers. They usually work under the guidance of a professor and try to establish their name by focusing on research. Associate professors may be lesser involved in non-academic activities at their college or university.

The job responsibilities of an associate professor are:

  • Represent their university at various conferences

  • Reach and mentor students

  • Publish their research

  • Be a member of faculty committees

  • Oversee invigilation during exams

  • Grade the students' work

  • Assign project work or assignments to students


At most universities, a professor is a top-ranked position. Professors have a flexible schedule and also have job security. Professors generally have administrative and educational duties, conduct research and may have a few people working under their leadership. They instruct classes that range in number from a few students to hundreds of students.

The job responsibilities of a professor are:

  • Write textbooks or study material

  • Prepare course curriculum for various classes

  • Lead or supervise internships and work studies

  • Issue grants for research projects of associate professors or students

  • Advise students on which subjects to choose

  • Give lectures or guest lectures

  • Represent their university at national or international conferences

  • Evaluate the performance of the students

  • Participate in departmental planning and faculty meetings

  • Assign project work to students

Related: How To Become a Lecturer: A Complete Guide

How Does An Associate Professor Become A Professor?

Associate professors generally require a bachelor's degree with an aggregate of a minimum of 55% marks. They also appear for the competitive exam (G.A.T.E.) to do a master's degree in their subject of teaching.

They should maintain a good academic record and may require to appear for other competitive exams to become an associate professor. They have experience of six to eight years in the education field along with a minimum of five research papers published in high-quality recognised journals.

To progress in your career and to become a professor, along with the above qualifications, you may follow these steps:

1. Get a doctoral degree

To become a professor from an associate professor, it is important to pursue Ph.D. and get a doctoral degree. By obtaining this degree, you can skip other required competitive exams to apply for the position of professor. Research the different doctoral programmes available to you to find one that suits your schedule.

2. Gain experience

To be a professor, you require extensive years of experience in the field of your interest. Some universities may require candidates to have 12 to 14 years of experience in the teaching or research field. Perform some research to see where you can earn experience so you can increase your knowledge and grow your confident in your field.

3. Publish research and academic papers

To progress from associate professor to professor may require active work in the research field with at least 10 published research papers or publications. Once you complete your PhD, you may be required to write at least two research papers and have a minimum of two external evaluators evaluate your work. Your continued contribution in the research field, like writing blogs in specific academic areas, may help you establish your name in the education field.

4. Apply to open positions

Once you qualify for the minimum criteria to become eligible for becoming a professor, apply for open positions on universities or college websites and through professional groups and online job portals. It is advisable to customise your resume as per the job position and practice the interview question that may be relevant to your academic background. By adequately preparing, you can show a hiring team how you are the ideal candidate.

Related: How To Become a Professor: A Complete Step-by-Step Guide

Can Associate Professors Be Called Professors?

For students and other practical purposes, there might be no difference between an associate professor and a professor. This is because the duties of associate professors perform are very similar to that of a professor. It is very normal to address an associate professor as a professor when you are talking to them face to face. But they mention their title as 'associate professor' on the college letterhead, publications or any formal document or emails.

What Is Higher Than An Associate Professor In The Ranking?

A professor is the top-most academic title in the university, college or any educational institute. Professors are recognised as experts in their areas of the field. They may head departments or become deans or principals after years of experience.

A professor performs lectures in undergraduate and graduate colleges. They may also get invitations to hold guest lectures in other universities. Some professors are also part of the leadership position of their department or university. Most professors have ongoing research in the field of their interest.

Related: How To Become an Educational Consultant: A Complete Guide

Similarities Between Associate Professors And Professors

Here are some similarities between these two roles:

Work environment

The work environment of both associate professors and professors is similar. They typically have an office in one building but hold their classes in different rooms around the campus depending on the availability, class size and instruction needs. For example, a film professor would need a class with a projector, while an economics professor might only require a marker board. The schedule of a professor may change depending on how many courses they teach but often comprises a few hours of instruction a week, with office hours in between.

The age group of students

Professors and associate professors instruct mostly older teens and adult students. This means they can focus more on instruction rather than on the overall wellbeing of their students. Students also pass general education exams to enter most colleges, so professors can teach more advanced or specialised courses and expect their classes to understand. Professors and associate professors often act as guides and mentors for their students. They may also be required to work closely with students to organise extracurricular events and college festivals.

Related: 10 Important Skills of a Teacher and How To Develop Them

Classroom responsibilities

A college professor or associate professor focuses more on instruction rather than directing behaviour. They often consider providing students with information to be their most important task and their students typically engage with the instruction without support. But, they may still remind their students to concentrate when distracted or enforce certain rules to maintain class harmony. Both are responsible for assigning and evaluating student assignments, projects, papers and presentations.

Relationship with parents

As college students are adults, professors or associate professors do not expect to meet with their students' parents. Both associate professors and professors work directly with their students to discuss academic progress and goals. Many college students also study in colleges in cities other than their hometown, so there are fewer opportunities for them to form relationships with parents.

Skills Of An Associate Professor And A Professor

Here are a few important skills for associate professors or professors:

  • Communication skills: It is imperative that both associate professors and professors have strong writing and speaking skills. Good communication skills will help others understand what they are teaching and proposing in academic documents, plus for them to understand student queries and resolve them.

  • Reasoning and problem-solving skills: It is essential for both to reason and understand the materials they study and solve problems, if any. It is also important to have good reasoning and problem-solving skills for research purposes.

  • Interpersonal skills: As a professor or associate professor, it is vital to work with students, their coworkers and interact with inter-department officials. Good interpersonal skills help ensure they have healthy interactions with students and colleagues.

Please note that none of the companies, institutions or organisations mentioned in this article are associated with Indeed.


  • How To Write An Assistant Professor Resume (With Examples)

  • Associate Position Vs. Assistant Position: Major Differences

  • Guide: How To Write An Assistant Professor Cover Letter

  • How To Write An Objective For A College Professor Resume

  • Online PhD Programmes And Specialisations (With Benefits)

  • How To Become A Guest Lecturer (With Salary, Skills And FAQs)

  • Benefits Of Jobs At A University (And How To Get One)

  • How To Write A PhD Proposal With 11 Steps (With Tips)

Explore more articles