A professor can seriously set the tone for your semester. Anyone who has ever had either a great professor (hopefully you), a not-so-great professor (hopefully not you) or with the slightest bit of common sense can tell you that.
It’s also common sense to know that one of the best ways to learn about a potential situation is from someone who has already experienced it.
Applied here: you getting a review on a course from a real, live student who has taken that same course with that very same professor. Yep, it’s not rocket science.
Where it does become a little dicey is in determining what to do with the information given. Do you take their word as fact? Look for more student opinions? Ask to see their other grades to ensure they are a credible student source?
Check out the following guide to help you learn about popular professor rating websites and what to keep in mind while reading each site’s ratings and reviews.
What Should I Know Before Using These Sites?
Yes, professor rating websites can be a helpful tool, but there are a few things to keep in mind while using them. Ultimately, it’s best to check multiple sources – to see what seems to be the consensus – as well as a professor’s credentials and form your own educated option.
Take Comments with a Gain of Salt…
• The majority of students that take the time to rate professors have extreme opinions of them, whether they are positive or negative.
Take each opinion with a grain of salt because such extreme opinions are often biased and somewhat of an inaccurate portrayal of the professor’s teaching methods.
It’s also much more common for people to write negative reviews than positive. (Think about how much you complain about services versus complimenting them, for example.)
It’s always best to read a lot of reviews to see what the general consensus is and form your own opinion, rather than just taking one opinion as fact.
Remember, you’re just getting a one-sided story. Students who complain about poor grades but didn’t work to achieve higher ones doesn’t really reflect on a professor’s teaching style.
It’s All Relative…
• Individual students have different ideas about the qualities great teachers possess.
Once you read plenty of reviews, try to read between the lines for, what sounds like, the most realistic portrayals of a professor’s teaching style.
Worst-case scenario: you can always drop or switch courses if you were completely off base in ignoring a particular review.
Don’t Limit Your Challenges…
• When a professor ranks highly on the difficulty scale,
it does not mean you should avoid the course.
Great courses are often the most challenging. In fact, some of the most boring classes are the easiest.
A difficult course and and bad professor, on the other hand, should be avoided at all costs. It’s smart to keep an eye out for courses ranked as difficult with professors that also have ratings that describe them as overly hard or as unfair graders.
However, if the professor is ranked highly in terms of being respectful and grading fairly, it’s not necessarily a class you should steer clear from. You may just need to work a little harder for your grade.
You Can’t Hide Forever…
• It’s absolutely impossible to completely avoid difficult courses.
You shouldn’t want to, anyway – you should challenge your limits, instead! Challenging yourself is part of how you learn and grow. However, there are strategies to picks the right types of difficult courses.
The best strategy is to choose the right difficult courses, with the right type of professor who will fit with your learning style. That way, the difficult courses won’t seem quite as bad as they could be.
So, go ahead, take a difficult course. You may actually end up learning a lot!
What Do the Student “Experts” Think?
• Try to look for comments from students who have majors related to the course subject.
This actually makes a lot of sense when you think about it. Sure – they’re not really experts, but they are going to be quite familiar with the teachers in the course’s department so, chances are, they have likely taken a course with the professor several times over.
And, they probably liked the subject so they can give an actual portrayal of the professor without complaining about the subject matter. For example, an accounting major may dislike writing and, because they dislike the course material in a writing course, may rate a professor more harshly than, say, a journalism major. However, if a journalism major were to rate that same writing course negatively, it should set off some red flags.
Popular Professor Rating Sites
• Rate My Professors
Claiming the largest online destination for professor ratings, the site is “built for college students, by college students.”
According to their web site, users have added more than 14 million ratings, 1.3 million professors and 7,000 schools across the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom.
Koofers is somewhat of a hybrid between Rate My Professors and myEdu, because the site has valuable ratings included on myEdu, as well as student comments to help you make more informed decisions regarding professors.
The site is also useful in that it provides average class GPAs and additional information about exams, quizzes, class projects and, when applicable, extra credit opportunities.
Students are also able to detail difficult of the exams; whether or not the professor applies a grading curve and if any pop quizzes are to be expected. It’s helpful to know what to expect in a course and this type of information lends itself to just that.
On Uloop, you’re able to search college professors by your state, university, the professor’s last name or by department. With five-star scales, you’re able to see the ratings over three qualities: helpfulness, clarity and easiness, compiled with the professor’s overall score.
Student comments are posted next to each rating, which helps the reader understand why certain ratings may have been given.
Also, it’s helpful to see how many students have ranked the professor in total (for example, if a professor has one star but only one student has rated them, that’s something to think less about than if a professor has one star and 1,000 students rated them.)
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Or you could hire an unemployed professor to do the work for you. I did—and I got an A-.
Unemployed Professors connects privileged, unmotivated college students with professors across a variety of fields. Since 2011, it's operated a black market for homework. Of course, the practice has always existed, but the Internet has made it all the easier to operate, and with teachers increasingly desperate for a paycheck, it's starting to become a viable form of income for educators.
"Even during the dog days of summer, the number of requests is quite high," T.G., the first anonymous professor hired by the site, told me. He estimates that he's completed 700 of the site's 13,000 commissioned projects to date.
I had seven different offers from professors, all of them willing to my dirty work for me.
Here's how it works: Students sign up for a free account and post the criteria of their paper, including page length and due date, as a "project." Once posted, professors specializing in the field of study will place bids on it. (The site boasts a Yelp-like review system for professors, with ratings and reviews.) When an ideal bid is placed, the student will transfer the money from his or her account to the professor's. It's that simple.
I contacted Dwight Dewerth-Pallmeyer, the director of the communications studies department at Widener University in suburban Philadelphia, to test the quality of Unemployed Professors. He assigned me an actual term paper from his "Mass Media and Society" course that asked students to apply one of several media theories to an actual piece of media.
Three days after posting the assignment to the site, I had seven different offers from professors, all of them willing to my dirty work for me. I ultimately went with professor "Deleuzienne," whose expertise apparently includes a Ph.D. in film and media studies. He's completed 594 papers to day, boasts a perfect user rating, and uses a photo of French philosopher Gilles Deleuze as his avatar. His most recent review is telling: "my go-to Professor…gave him the paper in the middle of the week and needed it back by sunday…got it back next day…this guy is dedicated to his craft…thank you so much."
In less than a week, I had a fully completed, five-page paper. It only set me back $130.
These days, there's a black market for everything you can imagine. You can buy fake YouTube views, Twitter followers, and even job references. There's an entire hoax economy devoted to manipulating your online appearance.
But the idea of the practice infiltrating academia has raised serious concern from students who are doing everything above board.
"The statement that kind of site makes is that college students are lazy and if you have the money, you can pass without working for it," Micki Hernandez, a broadcasting major at Temple University in Philadelphia, told the Daily Dot.
"Professors assign papers so that students must actively engage with and learn the subject in the class that they signed up and paid for," added Harri Plotnick, an international relations major at Tulane University in New Orleans. "If students pay someone else to write their papers, they are actually doing a disservice to themselves because they won't learn and be prepared for exams."
We're left with a broken system that's premised more on the combination of entertainment and earning a degree as a 'box to check on a list,'
T.G., however, is quick to counter that Unemployed Professor isn't the problem, but rather an unfortunate necessity spurred by an outdated education system.
"I've learned more about teaching, in my two-and-a-bit years of ghostwriting than I have from my five-plus years of teaching," he said. "There really is a dark side to the undergraduate experience, in terms of time pressure as well as in terms of dissonance between instructor expectations and student capabilities, that I simply did not realize as a strong student, or even as a professor."
He doesn't see an ethical dilemma, either.
"The chastising which does occur tends to come from an uppity purported moral high ground that just doesn't exist in academia anymore," T.G. countered. "Combining the demise of the tenure system with the hyperbole of college athletics, especially in the U.S., we're left with a broken system that's premised more on the combination of entertainment and earning a degree as a 'box to check on a list,' rather than with one premised on self-actualization and education as a goal in-and-of-itself. If the system wasn't broken, I'd have a problem with it."
"I offer a service," he continued, "in a commoditized academic marketplace, that is in high demand, and which I'm really good at providing."
It's hard to argue with results.
Professor Dewerth-Pallmeyer awarded my paper a grade I would have been thrilled to receive as a student. In his notes, he said the paper "does a good job explicating various takes on the writings of McLuhan." It's also worth noting that the paper didn't raise any flags on TurnItln, the plagiarism-detection service used by teachers.
But grades are but just one small facet of the college experience. Your GPA might be the first thing that an employer looks at, but it's not going to help you in the workplace. You need actionable skills—the kind developed through the rigors of higher education.
As Dewerth-Pallmeyer was keen to note, the site also puts an unnecessary burden on teachers, forcing them to "spend even more time acting as plagiarism police and less time as educators of critical thinking."
"Certainly, one can get [ahead] by in life by cheating the system. But what does one really get?" Dewerth-Pallmeyer asked.
"We academics try to teach students [that] education really is much more than grades and job preparation. It is about learning to think, to develop an appreciation for the arts and the sciences, religion and philosophy. It is about using critical thinking to solve complex problems. …