Which university professors are paid the most

The salary as a professor: What does a professor actually earn and how do you get a professorship?

After completing their Masters, thousands of graduates also begin a doctorate in a wide variety of fields every year. A doctorate can not only open the door to many well-paid jobs in the economy and thus a career boost, but is in most cases also an important prerequisite for starting a career in the university world.

How do you even become a professor?

In order to become a professor and gain a foothold in science, it is essential to have an excellent academic education. In addition to a very well-completed Bachelor's and Master's degree, this also includes a doctorate. While in the past it was also possible to get a call to professor without a doctorate, this possibility is usually no longer feasible today.

In most cases, those who meet the formal entry requirements must also be able to record initial scientific successes. In addition to teaching and research at colleges and universities, this also includes having already worked on the first journals or scientific papers. This is particularly relevant as universities measure themselves against published work and thus prove their research quality.

If this point also applies to you, you can apply for advertised professorships at private or public universities. In Germany, the demand for a professorship is very high and many academic staff also want to take the position. This means that you have to stand out when applying for a professorship. The decision on who will receive the professorship at the end of the application process is made by a committee. If you succeed in the application, you will usually first be considered for a junior professorship.

How is a professor paid and what are the differences?

Pay based on grade

The remuneration as a professor is usually based on the grades, since professors are civil servants. In terms of salary groups, the W group is interesting for professors, where “W” stands for science. Typically, professorial salaries fall into grades W1, W2 and W3.

Grade W1

The categorization in salary group W1 refers to so-called junior professorships, which are particularly suitable for young academics. A junior professorship can, however, also refer to the fact that the position behind it has only just been created. The salary for a W1 junior professor is of course lower than for professors who have been hired in W2 or W3.

Grade W2

The W2 grade is the salary level for original professors, i.e. full-fledged scientists with teaching assignments. The remuneration here is above the junior professors. In contrast to the W3 salary, the W2 remuneration relates to university professors. This means that professors at universities of applied sciences earn on average slightly less than their colleagues at universities.

Grade W3

The remuneration of full professors at universities is in most cases subject to the W3 salary group. In rare cases, a university professor can also be remunerated according to W2, but the reverse is not the case.

How high is the salary as a professor specifically?

Depending on the salary group, the salaries of the professors sometimes differ very significantly. In addition to the grade itself, the level (i.e. professional experience) also plays a role. There are also various surcharges for faculty and budget sizes. Last but not least, the salary of professors also differs regionally. A colleague in Berlin, for example, earns differently than a professor in southern Germany.

What is the starting salary for professors?

As already mentioned, professors do not start as a W2 or W3 professorship, but as a W1 salary group as part of a junior professorship. This means that the starting salary is between, depending on the state EUR 4,219.84 (Hesse) and EUR 4,909.04 (Baden-Württemberg). In comparison to salaries that are paid in the economy with similar qualifications, that looks low at first, of course. However, you do not pay any social security contributions through civil servant employment, so your net salary is usually very high.

As a professor, you will gradually rise every year with increasing professional experience, which in turn leads to small increases in salary.

What does a professor at grade W2 earn?

Salaries for professors in salary group W2, i.e. technical college professors or temporary professorships, range between 4,967.98 EUR (Bremen) and 6,181.58 EUR (Baden-Württemberg).

The clear differences in the salary of professors in grade W2 are due to regionally different living costs. A professor in Baden-Württemberg pays significantly more rent than a professor who is based in the Bremen area.

Junior professors who have a permanent professorship usually advance to a W2 professor (at universities of applied sciences) or to a W3 professorship (at universities) within a few years.

What is the salary as a W3 professor?

By far the best paid are professors who are subject to grade W3. The salary ranges here between EUR 6,006.79 (Bremen) and EUR 7,017.26 (Baden-Württemberg). As a W3 professor you are a civil servant for life and can gradually improve your salary, as is the case with the junior or W2 professorship.

Surcharges and discounts as a special feature of the professor's salary

If you compare the salaries of professors in the individual federal states, one important feature is missing. Professors receive many bonuses or discounts on their salaries. These lead, for example, to the fact that the real salary of Berlin professors is around 8,210 EUR, well above the stated gross salary (22% difference).

Professors can receive surcharges, for example, for housing costs or a study. As a civil servant, you will also receive a higher allowance for children. Last but not least, there are also surcharges for more budget or personnel responsibility. If you also oversee other areas of responsibility, such as an entire department, you will also receive special payments.

In order to be able to compare professors' salaries, it is therefore important to compare all salary components beyond the gross salary. Only in this way can professors be able to compare different offers.

What can professors earn in the private sector?

Even if the salary as a professor looks tempting, it should not be forgotten that it takes several years to meet the admission requirements. With an academic résumé, you could also have good chances of a steep career in the private sector.

When comparing the salaries of a professor with a manager in the private sector, however, it should be noted that civil servants have to pay significantly less social security contributions. This in turn means that a manager has to earn a significantly higher gross salary in order to get the same net salary. Professors and managers just pay the same taxes.

In the following infographic we compare the salary of a department head at a large industrial company with the salary of a W3 professor in Baden-Württemberg:

Assumption: both are in tax class I (single) and are not in the church. Although the head of department has a significantly higher gross income, the net salary as a professor is higher because the social security contributions are no longer applicable.

Conclusion: professors are also among the top earners

In order to be among the top earners in Germany, it is not absolutely necessary to be a board member or manager of a corporation. Self-employment is also not a requirement. Even professors who are paid from the public purse are clearly among the top earners in the country with their salaries according to W grade. In particular, the net income of professors is in the upper range. So anyone who enjoys research and academic teaching should consider starting a career in science.