Whether or not you’ve decided on a school, one factor is sure to play a big part in your decision: the professors. Sure, they’ve got all the necessary letters after their names, but are they interesting, entertaining, and open to new ideas? No matter what the subject is, the quality of your professor will make or break the class—so you’d better make sure that you’ll be able to find teachers who you can respect and learn from. Here are some ways to discover whose classroom you want to sit in.
Check out ratemyprofessor.com. This site has anonymous student reviews for thousands of college professors across America, rated according to a variety of factors. If there are just a few ratings, take them with a grain of salt, and don’t take the occasional negative rating too seriously—many students who get poor grades will take it out on the professor in their review. But if you see a number of common traits between many reviews, you’ll probably have a good idea of whether or not a particular professor fits your learning style.
Look for online video courses. Many colleges offer free videotaped lectures on YouTube and other video servers. See if a professor you’re interested in has a class online, and find out what you’re in for. Many great resources for video lectures are available here.
Check out the professor’s course website or blog. Many professors have publicly available online syllabi for their courses, which will give you a good idea of their focus, teaching style, and sense of humor (yes, some really do have one). Even better, a number of college professors have online blogs dedicated to both their professional and personal interests—start following your favorites and leave comments on posts that appeal to you. If you end up at that school, it could be an opportunity to forge a bond in advance.
Find past or current students in your prospective major, and ask for their recommendations. Facebook is a great way to find students at a particular college, or you could simply ask the school to put you in touch with a few students or alums to find out more about the courses. The students may not want to bad-mouth any of their professors to a stranger, but they’re likely to recommend certain instructors above others, which will give you a good idea of which courses are worth taking.
Read their work. Most college professors have published a wide range of books, studies, and academic reports. The reading may sometimes be a bit dry, but if you want to get a true sense of your instructor’s intellect, pick one up and dig in. Many scholarly reports are available online through Google’s Scholars search; if you can’t find the one you want, ask your local library for help.
Sit in on some classes. The easiest way to get a sense of which professors you’ll most enjoy is to try out their classes firsthand. Whether you make a campus visit as a prospective student or after you’ve been accepted, you’ll probably have the opportunity to sit in on some of the larger classes. If you’re hoping to check out one course in particular, contact the school’s admissions office in advance to plan your visit so that you’ll make sure to be there at the right time.
Trial and error. When you begin college, you typically have a full week to exchange classes if you decide that a particular course isn’t for you—so if you’ve ended up with a lemon, don’t wait too long to trade it in, or the class you’d rather take is likely to be filled up.
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