In my last post, I discussed why sites like RateMyProfessors.com are inaccurate and not the most useful tools in picking classes. Luckily, there are several options that may require a bit more effort but yield much better results. Instead of using a questionable website, consider the following 6 tried and true tips for picking professors.
1. Talk to your adviser.
Advisers are professionals specifically trained to help you achieve your academic goals. They will not only help you choose your schedule, but they can help you pick your major, find internships, and sometimes even scholarships. Develop a relationship with your adviser. Be honest about what you’re looking for and your specific needs. Because you’ll work with this person until you transfer or graduate, consider requesting another adviser if the one you’re assigned isn’t a good fit.
2. Ask other students.
Find other students whose opinions you feel you can trust. Ask them which professors they’ve had. Then, ask the following about each professor:
- How did you do in the class? (Ideally, the student passed.)
- Were lectures clear and easy to follow?
- Did the professor encourage questions and answer them clearly?
- Did you feel like you could approach the professor easily?
- Was the professor helpful?
- Did the professor or the teaching assistant offer office hours or review (tutoring) sessions?
- Were instructions and expectations clear?
- Did you feel that you really learned the material by the end of the semester?
- Who is your favorite professor? Why?
- Which professor do you wish you hadn’t taken? Why?
Also, include questions regarding the professor’s teaching style to see if they teach in a way that you learn best. For example, if you’re a visual learner, ask if the professor uses visual aids with lecture. Inquire if the professor is just a talking-head, inflicts death by PowerPoint, or utilizes multi-media in a helpful way. Ask several students about the same professors. Avoid hearsay and gossip; make sure the people you ask have actually taken classes from the professors they tell you about. And remember, just because a professor wasn’t a good fit for one student doesn’t mean that teacher isn’t a good fit for you.
3. Google professors.
A good old Google search of the professor’s name can yield all kinds of useful information, such as the instructor’s Facebook page, class website, Twitter account, blog, curriculum vitae, as well as publications. Sometimes you can develop a picture of what the person is like as well as his or her interests. Getting a feel for potential professors’ passions and areas of expertise may help you decide if you’d enjoy spending three or more hours a week for an entire semester with them. Just remember to skip the links for Rate My Professors at the top of the first results page. See my last post, “How Not to Pick Professors” to understand why.
4. Review the college’s student evaluations of the professor (if available).
Some schools make reports of the student evaluations of faculty members available to the student body. Find out if your institution does this and how to access the information. Generally, the registrar’s office is a good place to start.
5. Interview professors.
Yes, you can interview potential professors, and don’t be scared to do it! Contact the professors of the classes you’re interested in taking. An email is okay, however, you may not hear back. A phone call is better, but in person is best. You can find out the professor’s contact information and office hours via the school’s website or by contacting his or her department directly. Tell the instructor what class you’re thinking of taking and that you aren’t sure which class is right for you. Caution: This tactic may not work for your very first semester at college because many instructors are unavailable during the summer when you’ll need to register. Also, avoid having an “impress me” attitude or asking questions like “So why should I take you?”, which gives a bad first impression. You’re the pursuer here, not the prize. Be sincere, inquisitive, enthusiastic, and humble.
6. Sit in on classes.
Although it takes some effort and time on your part, this is probably the best way to see if a professor is a good fit for you. Be sure you get permission first, however. Crashing a class will not go over well. This is a good follow-up to tip 5 above, and like option 5, this tactic works best after you’ve already started your first semester.
You may be advised by others to register for one extra class that you can drop if you don’t like the professor. You can do this, but there are a few reasons why you shouldn’t. First, some states and institutions have rules about how many classes you can drop over the course of your academic career. Also, some colleges will increase the cost per credit hour for courses that a student repeats more than a certain number of times. Finally, if the section is full, you may be keeping someone who really wants or needs that class from taking when you’re just trying it out. In other words, save your drops for when you really need them.
You may not always be able to follow these steps. Sometimes, due to circumstances beyond your control, you will simply have to register blindly, and that’s okay. Remember that one of the most important lessons you’ll learn is adaptability, an essential part of the college experience.
Picking professors can be a lot like a blind date. Even when you learn all you can about the person beforehand, you just can’t know if there’s a connection until you meet him or her in person. Don’t be scared to take a chance. You may just find the professor of your dreams.
Ponder this: What are some ways you found the best professors you’ve ever taken? Are there other ways to find professors that aren’t included here?