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Articles / Preparing for College / Know Thy Professors

May 5, 2015

Know Thy Professors

Well, May 1 is history. Most high school seniors have sent their enrollment deposits and are now focused on having a strong finish to their senior year. It’s also time to start thinking about signing up for classes at college.

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 States were 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 spring of your senior high school year. Quite a 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 Web sites. Here’s a typical example of that. This leads to the possibility that you may be flying blind in regards to the right courses to take and — especially — which profs are the best teachers.

This leads me to a resource that I have mentioned before: RateMyProfessors.com.

 

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 other 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.

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 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) 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 gun shy. 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 can be a big help.

The idea here 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 are 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 first chose a lower-rated prof to see what kinds of comments s/he would accumulate. Here are some samples (keep in mind that these comments could have been generated for any number of subjective reasons, so caveat emptor):

– 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% of the time along with her borderline yelling the other 30%. 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.  

***

Okay, then. 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, anyway. 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 thinks it’s fairly easy to tell.

RMP also includes an interesting rebuttal forum where professors “strike back” at their critics. Here’s what it says:

Humorous, enthusiastic, ridiculous. These are some of the words used to describe the professors at Albion College. Check out our latest video of Professors Read Their Ratings, and find out if they agree with your assessment! … Interested in seeing professors at your school read their ratings? Submit your own video, and we’ll consider it for a big debut on Rate My Professors.

***

I hope you may be able to find something useful among the contents of RMP. An old advertising slogan once said, “Ask the man who owns one.” The analog to that as it applies to shopping for your higher education professors might be, “Read what their students have to say.” Intelligence is the best defense. Don’t enter into college course registration without some insights into the kind of person under whom you will be studying. It’s your college education!

**********

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

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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