Students vs. College Professors

Getting excited about going to college and actually being there studying are two different worlds. It’s the old battle between anticipation and the moment of truth. Anticipation can be deceptive because sometimes we tend to idealize situations about which we have little to no experience. For example, we might envision college life to include sitting in classrooms or lecture halls presided over by professors of towering stature, who are spellbinding in their presentations. We may also fantasize about long sessions with them during office hours, where they are fascinated by all our questions and needs.

In many cases, perhaps 90-95% of the time, these anticipatory visions are just that: pipe dreams that we imagine in order to soothe any anxieties we may have about this strange and exciting new world into which we’re about to wade: college.

Enter Rate My Professors. I’ve touched on this “consumer”-based site before. It’s a highly subjective source of college students’ opinions about the men and women who teach them. Of course, the caveat here is that some (it’s hard to tell how many) students have an ax to grind. Maybe a certain professor gave them a bad grade, which the student felt was unfair. Others comment upon personal aspects such as appearance, mannerisms, language issues, demeanor, etc.

professor in class

Students can have issues with professors regardless of the reputation of their school. I thought it might be fun to sample some comments from students who experienced, for better or worse, the professors at the so-called Big Three universities, Princeton, Harvard, and Yale. They don’t get any “classier” than that trio. So, let’s take a peek at some professorial ratings there.

First up: Princeton University. Here are some snippets chosen from among a range of good and not so good ratings. I won’t mention the professors’ names and will obfuscate their gender.

– I switched majors because of Dr. ______. The midterm was horrific and the final was literally a bloodbath. Yes, I mean *literally*. I would be very surprised if s/he were allowed to teach this class ever again.

– Absolutely the worst professor I have had at Princeton. S/he has made me reconsider my major because of his/her incompetence and complete disinterest in any sort of engagement with the material. S/he constantly makes mistakes. I don’t understand why s/he is still teaching this course, as everyone complains about him/her.  

– Brilliant, accessible, loves what s/he teaches and really cares about his/her students. Don’t miss this wo/man – his/her enthusiasm for his/her subject is infectious!  

– ___ is EXCELLENT- one of the only professors who truly had an impact on me at Pton. S/he’s very tough, but you’ll appreciate it down the road when you see how much s/he can change both your academics and your life. Besides, underneath the tough exterior is an amazingly caring teacher who repeatedly goes to great lengths for his/her students.  

And at Harvard:

– Wanted to give him/her the benefit of the doubt – but it is true – s/he is not a good teacher. Wanted to go for the degree in psychology but heard s/he is a nightmare to deal with as an advisor. I know of 5 people who had him/her as an advisor and 2 who left after spending thousands of dollars towards the degree because of him/her.  

– The only instructor worse than him/her is the [person] who teaches in the spring. They should both be fired … Community college quality course with the Harvard name. Oh, but 100 times harder just for funsies. Better off learning from textbook. Run away. And, I did NOT find this prepared me well for the MCAT! I had to relearn everything.  

– Easily the best class I’ve ever taken. Professor _______ is exemplary in his/her adeptness at the Socratic method; it’s never about him/her, it’s always about making the student justify his/her position. If Professor _______ is representative of Harvard faculty, I understand the high reputation of that establishment (if, not so much, the high price tag).  

– ________ is great! His/her lectures are balanced and fair-minded. The people who complain about him/her are whiny Harvard liberals.  

Finally, Yale:

– Destroyed my interest in economics. Proves that maybe the policy isn’t right, not all professors should have to teach undergrads. Stay away.  

– _______ comes across as funny and friendly, but be careful – s/he has claws. S/he also has a poor ability to communicate his/her ideas and rambles nonsensically. Be prepared to repeat his/her ramblings back at him/her on his/her absurd exams. _______’s classes are a waste of time. Avoid them.  

– ______________ is the most wonderful professor I have ever had the pleasure of sitting in front of. S/he makes difficult Czech concepts manageable and never ceases to provide encouragement and motivation. I have thoroughly enjoyed being under his/her instruction for the past two semesters and look forward to furthering my skills through L3 and beyond.

– Prof aches the class as s/he stumbles around shamefacedly in his/her explanations as if s/he were constantly bumping into things: in other words, s/he speaks as if s/he’s in the dark. Pretends to know a little about everything but can’t excite you about anything. SUPER Boring. Tends to over-agree, but his nodding is like a bobble head ornament’s.


What you should take away from this tiny sampling of student evaluations should be obvious: There’s a bell curve of professorial quality at every college. I know that I just wrote a so-called “must” statement there, but chalk it up to human nature. There will be excellent, average, and lousy faculty at any school.

However, as an alleged discriminating consumer of ultra-expensive higher education, you should at least sample some of the comments made from actual students at the schools on your candidate list. It’s the prudent thing to do.


Be sure to check out all my admissions-related articles on College Confidential.