What’s the Difference Between an Assistant, Associate and Full Professor? And Why Should You Care?

Do you know the difference between assistant, associate and full professors?    And most importantly, do you know why it matters to YOU when you are looking for people to write your letters of recommendation for graduate school?

An assistant professor is a faculty member who does not yet have tenure.  This probationary period lasts for 6 years in most cases.

An associate professor is a faculty member who has received tenure.

A full professor is a faculty member who has received tenure and who has produced a significant body of work post-tenure to qualify to be promoted to the highest faculty status.

All three of these kinds of professors are legitimate, full-time faculty members who can serve as your advisors and write your letters of recommendation.

While full professors have the most status to bring to their letters, an assistant or associate professor who knows your work intimately and enthusiastically supports you may well write a more effective letter.  The key is that the best letter will be specific, detailed, substantial in length, and warmly focused on you and your talents and potential.  A letter that is short, vague, and general, even if written by a high status professor, will ultimately carry less weight.

If you have a full professor writing you that lengthy, detailed, specific, and warm letter, then you’re golden!


About karenkelsky

I am the McNair Advisor in the University of Oregon McNair Scholars Program. I have a Ph.D. in Anthropology and have had tenured positions in four departments. I have helped scores of students get into and succeed in graduate programs around the country. I'll be sharing 20 years of information and skills here. When I'm not doing this, I make and sell jewelry and explore Eugene with my partner and two kids. View all posts by karenkelsky

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