by Gabriella Orfanides
April 28, 2020
The spring semester has flown by at a rapid pace, and students have already begun to choose which classes they will be taking in the fall semester. Scheduling, degree requirements, and personal interests are some of the main ways that students decide which courses they should take. However, many students also take into consideration the professor teaching the course before they ultimately fill out any registration forms. After all, no one wants to spend a whole semester with a professor who is notoriously known for tough grading, boring lectures, or loads of reading assignments. And more so then ever before, students are looking to RateMyProfessors.com to get some background information on professors and make their final decision about registering for a course.
RateMyProfessors.com was founded in 1999 as a website in which students could write reviews about their professors and provide other students with insight as to what they could expect from these professors in class. More widely used than ever, RateMyProfessors.com gives each and every student the opportunity to rate professors based on fairness of grading, amount of homework, entertainment factor of lectures, among other things. Additionally, students can provide a short paragraph of personal feedback about the professor along with an overall “rating” on a scale of 0-5, with 5 being the ultimate rating for a professor.
Students appear to be more reliant on RateMyProfessors.com than they ever have been. RateMyProfessors.com itself writes on its website that it “is the best college professor reviews and ratings source based on student feedback.” However, is RateMyProfessors.com really a good source of information for students? According to the professors at Genesee Community College, students should think a little harder before they say to themselves, “No way! This guy has a 1.6—I’m not taking his class!”
In an anonymous survey distributed to randomly selected GCC professors, it was found that several GCC professors feel like RateMyProfessors.com is not necessarily the best way for students to formulate an opinion on a professor. One professor wrote, “More often than not, the ratings are not based on what really counts for a course from a quality point of view.”
Others shared similar feelings, many stating that they don’t even visit the site. When asked if the professor knew his or her rating on the website, one respondent stated: “I don’t know, and I don’t want to know.”
Another comment pointed out that RateMyProfessors.com is nowhere near a replacement for routine course evaluations. Colleges put in a lot of effort to make sure faculty are doing the best job possible, and if it is found that a professor really isn’t putting their best work forward, that’s when the college may take action. “All full-time teaching faculty at GCC are evaluated by students, directors, and deans. All faculty are evaluated by students,” one professor wrote.“The college invests time and money into making sure faculty are evaluated for effectiveness, and then supporting faculty in improving their teaching. Thus, sites like Rate My Professors are redundant for us.”
This survey was nowhere near representative of the entire population of professors, much less the population of professors at GCC. However, one thing is clear: Students need to be open-minded at all times.
Students who use RateMyProfessors.com should keep in mind that many factors influence how a reviewer rates a professor. Humans are innately ruled by emotions, so many psychological concepts could influence reviews. For example, the “halo effect” describes how humans automatically assume that a person is good because of how that person looks. This could mean that if a student naturally had a dislike for sweaters, this person may also unintentionally form a dislike for a professor who constantly wears sweaters. Timing and grades may also make a difference. A student who just found out that he or she received an A in a course could potentially rate a professor differently than a student who felt like he or she wasn’t doing well in a course but hadn’t received a grade yet. Likewise, a student who hasn’t seen his or her transcript yet may feel differently about a professor than a student who just learned they received an F in a course would feel.
Of course, all students are different, and the factors above won’t always apply to everyone. Additionally, maybe completely different factors will influence how another student rates a professor. The important thing for students to remember is that critical thinking skills should be put into practice for just about everything in life—including choosing professors. RateMyProfessors.com itself encourages students to be wary of reviews: “When reading your fellow students’ reviews, we encourage you to use your discretion and weigh every review amongst the others. Online reviews should be one of the many resources used when making a decision that affects your academic future.”
“You should take everything you read online with a grain of salt. However, we do have tools in place to help you make a decision about each review — consider the grade the rater received, look at the quality and difficulty ratings together, see if there are any likes or dislikes, and always consider the overall tone of the writing.”
RateMyProfessors.com is aware that there is potential for “misinformation” to be posted on its website. However, overall, the website has worked hard to make sure that reviews are as accurate as possible and that there is the lowest potential for false information to be posted. Most importantly of all, even if RateMyProfessors.com is not perfect, it leaves students with feedback that could be the difference between a good semester and a not-so-good one: “If you’re choosing classes for the next semester, take a few minutes to check the professors on RMP to get a sense of what to expect and confirm you’re making the right choices for you,” RateMyProfessors.com said.
“At the end of the semester, help out your fellow students by leaving a review that reflects your individual experience. We always suggest you take a minute to step back and make sure your review will genuinely help others understand your experience, whether it’s positive or negative.”
RateMyProfessors.com has acted as a priceless resource for many, and it will likely do so well into the future.
So, when you go to choose classes for the upcoming fall semester or perhaps even this summer, take some time to look over your potential professor’s reviews. You may not learn everything you need to know about a professor, but you’ll be able to get an idea of what another student just like yourself felt about this person. And though a professor’s rating is nowhere near the only factor you should consider when choosing classes, it does deserve respect (and a little bit of doubt, too.)