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Articles / Applying to College / College Professors: Awesome Or Awful?

College Professors: Awesome Or Awful?

Dave Berry
Written by Dave Berry | Feb. 7, 2019
College Professors: Awesome Or Awful?

College-bound high school seniors are either waiting for their application results to come out or have been thinking about what transpired at the end of last year with Early Action (EA) and Early Decision (ED). Yes, there are some current ED programs in process right now, but the springtime Regular Decision (RD) and December ED/EA results are the two main groups of applicants. Regardless of which group you may be in, you'll be trodding the sod of a college campus in six months or so. It will be a brave new world for you and you'll find yourself sitting before college professors who will grant you access to the exciting realm of higher education across a multitude of subjects.

The thing to keep in mind about this situation is that these men and women who will be teaching you will, in most cases, be nothing like your high school teachers. This is college!

Maybe you've seen some movies or television programs about college professors -- the good, bad and indifferent. College professors have lots of advantages. Those with tenure are secure in their jobs and it would take a direct nuclear strike to remove them. In some cases, this kind of job insurance can lead to challenging behavior by professors. They can indulge their personality quirks and sometimes odd behaviors in the classroom, much to the dismay and annoyance of students.

Some professors have garnered legendary status for their bizarre and even abusive antics. This can raise a question in the minds of about-to-be college freshman: “Do I want to sit under these types of people and how can I know who's a good professor and who's probably not?" Finding out who's who on the faculty of your new school might be something to put near the top of your priority checklist before registering for your classes.

Find out How to Do Your Research

How can you do this? Obviously, you won't have the chance or know how to reach students who have already experienced certain professors. However, thanks to the internet and college websites, you will have access to course descriptions and faculty listings. If you already know which major you'll be pursuing, you can get a fairly good idea of both your major course requirements and the distribution courses you'll need to graduate. At least you can get an idea of what your first-year academic program might look like.

Back in the day, before computers and the internet, class registration was held on campus at the start of the school year and subsequent academic terms. I recall standing on the hallowed floor of Recreation Hall at Penn State in early September 1969, among thousands of my closest classmates, trying to get a registration card for classes to fill out my fall term schedule. Back then, terms at Penn State lasted 10 weeks, which was fairly brutal when trying to cover a topic comprehensively.

Today, things are a lot different. Registration can be handled from the comfort of your bedroom as early as late spring of your senior high school year or in the summer before heading to campus. That's a huge difference from standing in line on a gym floor.

While colleges do provide personalized registration guidance for their incoming first-year students, many schools provide guidelines via their websites. Here'sa typical example of that. This leads to the possibility that you may be flying blind in regard to the right courses to take, and — especially — which profs are the best and most well-behaved teachers. Classroom behavior has become an issue with some professors, unfortunately.

This leads me to the resources college students can use to help thread their way through what can be the perplexing process of planning a college career. Perhaps the most popular of these resources is RateMyProfessors.com, which we'll explore below. There are others, though. If you want to take advantage of these review sites but feel a bit confused about it, check out What to Know about Professor Rating Websites that wisely notes, “A professor can seriously set the tone for your semester." Also, if you want to explore a variety of professor review sites, you can start here with these search results for “reviews of college professors."

Use Tools During Class Registration

When you begin the process of class registration, you will usually be able to identify the professor who will be teaching a particular class, unless the usual professor is on sabbatical or leave for some reason. Your goal in registering is to walk that fine line between satisfying the requirements for your intended major (assuming that you have a concrete idea of what you want to major in) and exploring the wonderful world of elective classes. Electives were, for me, the most enjoyable aspect of college, enabling me to stretch my comfort and knowledge zone.

Although my major was music history and literature, I got to explore courses that fired up my interest in a number of eclectic areas, such as visual art, acoustics, anthropology and religious studies, among others. I still have my ancient textbooks from those courses and they have provided me with a significant amount of diversion as my moods and passions have modulated among my undergraduate topics.

Thus, your job is to figure out the best mix of these courses, in light of the specific departmental requirements for your intended field of study. Granted, that seems like a real challenge -- and it is -- but RateMyProfessors (RMP) and some other ratings sites can help you navigate these strange waters.

Let's face it; this is your first time through the loop of college course registration and you can't be blamed for feeling a bit off balance and intimidated. You may have the advantage of an older brother or sister who has already become a veteran of registration wars. However, most of you won't have this advantage. That's where RMP-type sites can be a big help. While there are multiple review sites available, as the search link above shows, for the purposes of my discussion here, I'll reference only RMP.

Navigate the Rating Sites

The idea is to first figure out which courses will comprise your initial fall senior semester or term. Next, once you have identified those courses at your college, head to RMP and select your school. If you have already determined your major, you can then go to the specific department where your concentration resides. If you have not yet decided on a major, you should have the names of the profs who will be teaching those courses you are targeting for registration. Now it's time to see what other students think of those profs.

Let's take a short road trip through RMP. NOTE: I won't mention specific schools by name, nor will I name specific professors here. That's not pertinent, since the point of this exercise is to brief you on the “inside" information that RMP can provide.

I chose a certain state university and went to its English department to scan the list of professors and their cumulative numerical ratings. I chose a lower-rated prof to see what kinds of comments s/he had accumulated. Here are some samples of actual student reviews. Keep in mind that these comments could have been inspired by any number of subjective reasons (low grades, personality clashes, politics, sexism, etc.), so caveat emptor. The comments appear as written, revealing all bad usage, misspellings and flubs:

– She is one of the absolute worst professors I have ever had. She is also one of the rudest professors Ive encountered as well. Attendance is required, and duly so because its like listening to a female Ben Stein 70 percent of the time along with her borderline yelling the other 30 percent. Find another professor if possible. Run. Save Yourselves.

– She was not a very pleasant teacher and would occasionally sit at her desk glaring at us. we wasted a lot of class time just reading example essays or sitting around. she was sometimes very unclear about what she was looking for but graded very harshly.

– Ok she knows what shes talking about when it comes to English, I'll give her that, but she does not stop talking. Literally the entire class she will sit down facing the class and talk your ears numb. Very easy to dose off, and she makes attendance mandatory (I wonder why). She got pretty annoying by the end of the semester.

[name withheld] is not inconsiderate/rude. The people who write this are the slow-pokes who can't distinguish college from high school and expect professors to hold their helpless hands throughout the semester. Hold your own, pay attention and you'll learn a lot. Even better, you'll feel really confident about your English skills and possible teaching.

– She is rude, inconsiderate, and does not care of her students' success. She is not there to help you. If you ask her to repeat herself or go back to a slide very quickly, she will flip out and go on a rant about getting the info. Her study guides are her test. The 3rd test had choices A through F, so hard. Avoid her if u can.

– This professor is hands down the most rude and inconsiderate person I have ever met in my entire life! She doesn't care about her students at all and treats us like we should already know everything she is teaching. She goes over her study guide for exams in class but reads the answers so fast you can't get them down anyway. Try to avoid if you can.

– She wants you to succeed. She has all the slides on ANGEL with some words emitted, she has lengthy study guides, reviews before tests and LOTS of extra credit. It's a little bit boring, but just go to class and do the study guide and you'll get an A.

– Very fair. Answers all e-mails. Offers 14 points of extra credit that are added to test scores. Always there to help. Lectures are a bit boring, but has powerpoints where you just fill in the blanks. Good person.

– She's very fair and gives you information that you will need to know. People who discredit her probably didn't take her seriously enough. She offers extra credit. What else could you ask for?

– Her lectures are boring, but the projects are easy, and she knows what she's talking about. She grades fairly easily, and allows you to revise all the projects for a better grade…can't get much better than that.

– Worst class ever. Very unclear about grades and attendance. Very hard to get ahold of outside of class, doesn't answer emails or show up for office hours. She makes it really hard to get a good grade because she is unhelpful. Worst teacher i have ever had in college. she should be fired!

– UGH! She is a terrible teacher, if there are other possibilities, try to avoid her class! She unclear about grades and expectations throughout the whole semester. Plus, it is hard to stay awake listening to her boring lectures.

That's just one example of a professor at a large university. There were more comments, but I probably sampled too many for you to digest. You can see that there are some positive comments among the negatives, but the trend is not positive. Should you sign up for this class taught by this prof? It depends. Maybe you are the kind of student who would write a positive comment, similar to those posted. However, if you're looking to see which way the wind is blowing in this course, I think it's fairly easy to tell.

RMP also includes the Highest Rated University Professors of 2017-2018. “Each year RateMyProfessors.com, the largest online destination for professor ratings, compiles a list of the top professors based on ratings from you, the students," the site says. "Check out the list below to see who made the 2017-2018 list of Highest Rated University Professors." These are the superstars of RMP. Check out the comments written about some of these stellar teachers. Maybe you're going to the school where one of these great profs holds court.

I hope you find something useful among the contents of RMP or other rating sites. Read what professors' students have to say. Don't enter into college course registration without some insights into the kind of person under whom you will be studying. Be a well-prepared and informed consumer of higher education!

Written by

Dave Berry

Dave Berry

Dave is co-founder of College Confidential and College Karma Consulting, co-author of America's Elite Colleges: The Smart Buyer's Guide to the Ivy League and Other Top Schools, and has over 30 years of experience helping high schoolers gain admission to Ivy League and other ultra-selective schools. He is an expert in the areas application strategies, stats evaluation, college matching, student profile marketing, essays, personality and temperament assessments and web-based admissions counseling. Dave is a graduate of The Pennsylvania State University and has won national awards for his writing on higher education issues, marketing campaigns and communications programs. He brings this expertise to the discipline of college admissions and his role as a student advocate. His College Quest newspaper page won the Newspaper Association of America's Program Excellence Award, the Pennsylvania Newspaper Publisher's Association Newspapers in Education Award, the Thomson Newspapers President's Award for Marketing Excellence and the Inland Press Association-University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Mass Communications Inland Innovation Award for the Best New Page. His pioneering journalism program for teenagers, PRO-TEENS, also received national media attention. In addition, Dave won the Newspaper Association of America's Program Excellence Award for Celebrate Diversity!, a program teaching junior high school students about issues of tolerance. His College Knowledge question-and-answer columns have been published in newspapers throughout the United States. Dave loves Corvettes, classical music, computers, and miniature dachshunds. He and his wife Sharon have a daughter, son and four grandchildren.

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