Preparing for College

Picking Your Professors

Okay, seniors. Most of you who have applied to college have received your acceptances, denials, waitlistings, or deferred enrollment notices by now. The time has come to make your decision about where you will attend, come this fall. As entering first-year college students, you'll have much to learn, and that will involve a lot of non-academic areas, such as roommate dynamics, social circumstances, and other crucial college lifestyle elements.

Perhaps one of the most important (in the long run) issues that will help you is knowing which professors to take for which courses. Granted, in some cases, you won't have a choice, depending on your major and distribution requirements. Those distribution requirements sometimes offer your best shot at "shopping" for a particular professor. After all, we live in a consumer age and reports from college "consumers" can be a very helpful tool.


Have you ever heard of RateMyProfessors.com? This appears to be the Web's best source for comments and evaluations of specific professors, a kind of Consumer Reports of college teaching. One has to be careful about taking every comment as gospel, though. Who knows what motives are behind the comments registered there? In my experience, however, I have found the tone and content of most of the student comments there to be sincere. It's reasonably easy to detect a "revenge" comment, so don't worry too much about being duped.

If you're interested in finding out about your possible professors in from a hardcopy document, you may be interested in a new book that just came out. The Princeton Review's The Best 300 Professors relies on a somewhat expanded methodology and approach than partnering RateMy Professor.com uses. For example, here's a sample comment:

Univ. of Georgia Prof. John Knox - The sole Geography professor in the book, Prof. Knox is an award-winning teacher, meteorologist, and published poet. His courses – including Weather Forecasting and Atmospheric Hazards -- are described as "chock-full of compelling material that keeps students interested…years after the course has ended."  "If you are not excited about geography after his class," wrote one of his students, "you are not breathing."

And, here's some deeper background about this new resource, excerpted from the press release:

The Best 300 Professors profiles outstanding professors at 122 colleges. All of the professors won high praise from their most important audiences: the undergraduates they teach and inspire, class after class, year after year, in fields from Ancient Studies to Neuroscience to Sport Management ...

... The book's profiles of professors are organized by academic fields. More than 60 fields are represented from Accounting to Engineering to Writing. The Best 300 Professors also includes profiles of colleges at which the professors teach. The school profiles give students considering attending these colleges information on applications, admissions, and other useful data ... Neither the professors nor the colleges are ranked in this book ...

... The Princeton Review and RateMyProfessors.com annually collect data from students at thousands of colleges across the country (and abroad) about their classroom experiences and assessments of their professors. For this project, The Princeton Review culled an initial list using its surveys of hundreds of thousands of students that revealed colleges at which students highly rated their professors' teaching ability and accessibility. Data from RateMyProfessors.com identified more than 42,000 professors at those schools that students had rated on its site.  Combining this info, a base list of 1,000 professors was formed.  After obtaining further input from school administrators and students, as well as from surveys of professors under consideration, the Princeton Review editors made the final choices of the professors in the book ...

To give you the flavor of RateMyProfessors.com's comments, consider these samples (professors' names and schools have been excluded):

Where should I start? This class was beyond confusing. He is just not suited for teaching, though I am pretty sure he is very knowledgeable. This was an online course and though it is a graduate-level course, there was just too much to do. The course is required for the TPC certificate, so brace yourself!! It will be rough :| ...

He was a great teacher. Very fun and was very interested with his students and there understanding would highly suggest his lab very good teacher ...

He seems like he doesn't really know what he's talking about. He reads straight from the text book. Attendance was mandatory, and the class was pointless. He basically made things up as he went along and didn't really have any structure throughout the course. You can learn if you read the book on your own, but he wasn't really any help. =/ ...

This guy was probably one of my favorite teachers EVER. Easy class, very informative and interesting. He's a really funny guy too, which made class quite enjoyable. We watched videos on some topics, and had a lot of open discussions which I liked. Get this guy and you won't regret it, I swear. Then again, if you do, good luck trying to find me. :-) ...

SHE EXPECTS TOO MUCH! You would think she were teaching chemistry or something. The in class powerpoints are usless because the tests are based on the book. Volunteer project is ridiculous because you have to base your schedule on others. She uses the entire class time and honestly talks about nothing...boring! ...

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So, I hope you can see that it can make a difference under whose teaching you sit. It can also make the difference between a rewarding college experience and one of agony. The actual outcome of your college career will likely be somewhere between the extremes of ecstatic and awful. However, you may care to take advantage of the resources offered by this book, this Web site, and/or their partnering.

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Be sure to check out all my college-related articles and book reviews at College Confidential.