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Shopping for College Professors

When I first went to college (briefly after The Big Bang), I had no idea that I had some choice about which professors and, therefore, which courses to select. I also had no idea that there may have been some way to make my passage through the curriculum a bit easier, if not more enjoyable.

Today, with the all-inclusive power of the Internet and such interesting sites as, it has become more of a buyer's market when shopping for college courses. This should be good news for those of you high school seniors who will be embarking on your college venture this fall.

The consequence of college students having access to their peers' ratings of professors are interesting. Here's some information from the "DUH!" file: Profs who grade easier tend to attract more students. It ain't rocket science, folks. Let me document that for you.

The Kaplan company did a survey about student course selection. Here are the obvious (yet interesting) results:

Do Public Student Reviews Penalize Tough Grading Professors?

While online teacher ratings sites are nothing new – RateMyProfessors, the most widely known of these sites, is more than ten years old – they may be contributing to grade inflation. A new Kaplan Test Prep survey of 1,229 college students and recent college graduates* showed that of those who have visited professor rating sites, nearly half (46%) were influenced to take courses based on the “easy grading reputation of a professor." This supports previous research conducted by Cornell University which found that students shop for classes where the median grade is higher. In fact, a 2009 analysis on grade inflation by a retired Duke University professor that found the average college GPA rose from 2.93 in 1991 to 3.11 in 2006.

“Our research shows that many of today's college students are looking at multiple factors when picking out courses: overall teacher quality that will result in a good learning experience, but also instructors who don't like to award a lot of C's and D's," said Jeff Olson, vice president of research at Kaplan Test Prep. “While it makes sense that students would opt for more lenient graders, it also helps explain the recent prevalence of grade inflation."

Although grading leniency is a consideration for many, within the RateMyProfessors category options, peer opinion seemed to be the greatest influencer, with “Prior student comments about the professor" as the element most often cited by Kaplan survey respondents (77%) as the factor they most consider in choosing classes. “Overall quality of a professor" was the second most considered factor (70%), and “engaging teaching style of professor" was third (66%), followed by “easy grading reputation."

Other survey highlights:

* On a scale of 1 – 10, with 0 being “Not at all reliable" and 10 being “Very reliable," students consider RateMyProfessors to be more reliable than not, with an average ranking of 5.8

* Only 8% of students who visit professor rating sites say that writing a review is the primary reason they log on; 71% says it's to select classes.

* Just 3% of students say that a professor's “hotness" factors into their decision of which classes to take.

* Pre-Law students place a much higher premium on how engaging an instructor is (73%) than Pre-Med students do (57%).

*Based on responses from 804 Kaplan students who took the LSAT in December 2009 and 425 Kaplan students who took the MCAT in January 2010.

*** ("Over 6,000 schools, 1 million professors, 10 million opinions") is an interesting site. Here are a few random comments I found there about some profs (who shall remain anonymous):

- worst professor at cornell. too arrogant and vain for really easy stuff he has done most of his life...math major not impressed..sorry prof.

- His lectures are very intense and can range from 30-45 slides in one 50 Minute lecture. He is a very good professor when it comes to making you learn the material, but he is more difficult than other professors teaching this course.

- mean spirited, did not seem to really care about students who needed help like i did

- Amazing. Simply the best class I have taken in 4 semesters of college. Her knowledge on the subject is impressive and her willingness to help student is refreshing. She really had a desire to know everyone in class, and at the end she even gave us holiday presents! The bright spot in a semester of HORRIBLE classes, I recommend this class/prof!!

- [She] may be a nice person at heart, but teaching style in a large group is confusing and her testing style causes some people to have panic attacks. She is not clear or concise and she doesn't emphasize any general concepts.

- I really liked her, she was helpful to those wanted to learn but some of the students simply didn't want to do the work to learn. She could be a little obscure in her humor but, again, if you were paying attention you'd get the humor, she's not a "joketeller" but can be very witty. Maybe she aims her classes at more mature students.

- Incredible waste of my time and money. Rambles and gets off topic and rarely makes it back. Grades seem to be decided almost at random. Is a Nazi about grammar in written work but then doesn't proof read her handouts, etc. Totally incapable of keeping control of a class discussion. I will change my major or transfer if I have to take her again.

- his english is so hard to understand and his powerpoint presentations are so quick you can't take down notes. he stopped posting his lectures online so class attendance is crucial. it's basically an hour out of your life you'll never get back each class. the labs are even more pointless.

- HORRID! Aviod him with all your might! HE singles students out and is very short with them!


. . . and so on. Interesting stuff, huh? Be careful, though. You could spend a whole day (or more!) just imagining what these profs are really like. Have fun shopping for your profs.


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