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Ah, professors. You see them every day, even on the days when you don’t want to. They can be funny or strict, boring or brilliant, and the fate of your grade is literally in their hands. Love them or hate them, we all have to have them! Any student will tell you that a professor can either make or break your classroom experience and luckily for you, there are dozens of websites designed to help you avoid Dr. Lectures-a-Lot. Based on real students’ advice, here’s what to keep in mind when picking your professors this year.

Where to find professor ratings


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Just like you can Facebook stalk your random roomie (don’t lie, we’ve all done it!), there are dozens of websites where you can get the lowdown on your future professors. Most sites give you an overall rating for professors, but some include comments and feedback from students and even past syllabi. Here are two of the most popular sites, along with their helpful features:

Rate My Professors

Rate My Professors boasts that it is the largest destination for professor ratings, with over 14 million opinions on professors in North America and the UK. All professors are categorized by school and department, and students can rate them on a scale of one to five on the following qualities: helpfulness, clarity, and easiness. Those scores are then averaged to get the the “overall quality” score of each professor. 

Additionally, students can leave comments to explain their ratings and submit the grades they received. There’s also an option for professors to respond — some instructors thank their students for their high praise, while others break down their grading system to explain why their class isn’t just an easy A. Newer features allow students to “like” or “dislike” the helpfulness of a rating and provide descriptor tags so that it’s easier to compare professors across the board.

“I use RateMyProfessors.com religiously!” says Summer Ford, a junior at Boston University. “What I like most is when students give a general outline of the coursework. It really helps you get an idea of the workload.”

Koofers

Koofers has more than just professor ratings — in this platform, students can also access test banks, which include practice exams and study guides! You can also create your class schedule within the platform and search for jobs and internships. When using this platform, students typically rate their professors by writing short descriptions of what their class is like. And what makes this website different from others is that it provides the average GPA for the class, along with information about tests, quizzes, projects, and extra credit opportunities. Students can rank how difficult their exams are, how often professors give pop quizzes, and how much the professor “curves” their grades. I appreciate how users can rank how useful each post is, and then the site highlights the most helpful reviews so you’re not searching through a sea of comments.

“I use Koofers to find out specific information about a class,” says Krista Jacobs, a sophomore at Saint Joseph’s University. “It’s helpful to know what kinds of assignments I can expect in the class or if homework will be graded. That information makes it different from other rating websites.”

Things to keep in mind


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Now that you know where to search for different professors, it’s time to start your professor-rating research. While these sites are meant to guide you to the best of the best, there are some important things to keep in mind before you decide on your professors. Students weighed in so you can have the best classroom experience possible!

Using the difficulty scale

Let’s be real, when you see a low grade on the difficulty scale paired with comments that promise you, “this will be the easiest prof you’ll ever have,” it’s tempting to sign up for the class ASAP. But taking a class that you can apparently breeze through may not be in your best interest!

“Classes aren’t supposed to be easy; they’re supposed to challenge us to think and learn,” says Sarah Desiderio, a senior at Pennsylvania State University. “So many students bash profs because it wasn’t an ‘easy A.’ Don’t shy away from a class you want because the ratings say it won’t be a cakewalk.”

Iris Goldsztajn, a junior at the University of California, Los Angeles, reminds us that difficulty is also a personal assessment; something that might be challenging for one person could be extremely easy for another. Additionally, taking a less difficult class just because it’s easy, not because you’re interested in it, can actually be detrimental to your grade. “There might be a class that everyone says is a piece of cake, but if you’re not interested in it, it might be really difficult,” Iris tells Her Campus. “For instance, I once took ‘the easiest science requirement ever,’ but I was so bored in the class and I ended up with a B-, the lowest grade I’ve received in college.”

If a class seems interesting, don’t discount it because the professor might be ranked as difficult. Amy Way, an assistant professor in Villanova University’s communication department, encourages students to take a risk on courses that sound interesting. “Just take a chance and go for the ride,” she suggests. “Trust that the college you’ve selected has put a great deal of effort into hiring smart and talented individuals that you’ll learn something from. Yes, it might be difficult, but that doesn’t mean you can’t get something out of the course.”

That said, there are some warning signs you should be aware of to avoid a difficult professor. Elizabeth Deuel, a senior at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, says, “I look for comments about [the professor’s] grading style, how they engage students, and if they are respectful,” Elizabeth says. “If a teacher seems to get a lot of feedback about being an overly hard or unfair grader, I won’t take their class, because I hate having to fight with teachers over grades.” That being said, don’t just drop a difficult professor without really doing your research. You may have to work a little harder for an A, but if the prof is respectful and fair, you might actually gain a lot from his or her class!   


Students at table
Photo by Brooke Cagle from Unsplash

Students’ comments

One of the best things about professor rating websites is being able to review real feedback from former students. These comments can give you insight into why professors got their ratings, as well as give you advice on how to succeed in their classes. Jasmin says, “I take into consideration how many recommendations the professor has and I read through them to see tips from previous students. Your best bet is to consult the sites as a starting point to get a feel for the class,” she says, “and then try to reach out to friends at the university to get their personal opinion.”

Keep in mind that most comments come from students who either love or hate the class, and rarely those who are neutral. “People are more motivated to leave a comment if they’ve had an exceptionally good or extremely bad experience,” Way says. “So you’re just getting anecdotes from those on the extremes and not hearing from other students.” While comments can be extremely helpful (especially if you don’t know anyone at your college whom you can talk to), be sure to consider where the comments are coming from. Don’t get caught up in the extremes or overdramatic reviews. Instead, search for the ones that seem like a realistic portrayal of the professor, and then make your decision!


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Reviews from students in that major

One of the best ways to determine if you want to take a class with a certain professor is to look for reviews from students in a specific major. There are some general core classes that every student has to take, so consider who is writing the comments, because that might give the review a positive or negative twist.

“If it’s a class everyone has to take, chances are some people are going hate the class topic and rate the professor poorly regardless of teaching skills,” Krista tells Her Campus. “But if communication majors are rating communication professors harshly, you know their reviews are based on teaching style, not the topic. They hold more weight.”  

If an engineer is taking an English class, chances are she’s not going to enjoy the required reading as much as English majors. When looking for reviews of her previous English professor, Krista found a student who openly admitted to hating reading. “They rated the professor really harshly because they hated reading,” Krista says. “Just because a student hates a class’s subject doesn’t mean their professor is bad.”

While it may take a little more time to read through all of the student ratings, finding one or two reviews from someone in that major can give you a more accurate understanding of what the professor is really like. They’re definitely more helpful than a review from a bitter student who hated the required class!

One of the biggest sources of anxiety for incoming freshmen is dealing with college classes and professors. If you’re heading to college this year, know that no matter where you go to school, you’re going to encounter both awesome professors and a few not-so-good ones. With professor rating websites, you can prepare yourself when you choose your classes. Keep these tips in mind next time you’re researching a professor, and get ready to have a great semester!

Kasia (pronounced "Kasha") recently graduated from Villanova University where she studied Communication. She's a self-proclaimed Pinterest enthusiast, aspiring writer, avid reader, and constant smiler. Besides writing for HC, you can find her practicing yoga or curling up with a book at a coffee shop. She plans to pursue a career in public relations or journalism, where she can live in a city and decorate her own apartment. Follow her on Twitter or check out her blog!
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