Rate My Professors is not a foolproof tool

Consider multiple factors when registering for classes


(Mehroz Kapadia/Daily Collegian)

By Shona McMorrow, Collegian Columnist

University of Massachusetts students are in the middle of class registration for the Fall 2020 semester, and with registration comes advising appointments and plenty of planning. For many, it can mean planning a few semesters ahead to be on track for graduation, for others it may mean trying to find a class that is interesting and fun. With the number of students at UMass it may also mean having a few backup plans as classes fill up and plans change. When it comes to registering for classes it is important to be prepared and use all the tools available to you. For some that may mean a search on RateMyProfessors.com, a good resource for those looking for a bit more information on the class. However, Rate My Professors should not be used as a deciding factor.

Rate My Professors is a website that allows college students to provide anonymous ratings for their professors based on a five-point scale, as well as write reviews that allow more for detail from the reviewer. The professor receives an overall score of difficulty and quality based on the average ratings. Users can also search a professor by name and school and a list of all of their ratings will appear.

This website is certainly useful if you come across a class while registering that has a short description with a professor you have never had, and it can be useful to try to get a better understanding what a class entails. There are a mix of reviews, anecdotes from reviewers and information such as whether attendance is mandatory, if there are pop-quizzes, a required textbook or extra credit options. The problem here is that this does not paint the full picture. You may be able to see that attendance is mandatory, but it cannot provide the professor’s specific attendance policy. It is difficult to get a clear understanding of a professor based on anonymous reviews from people you aren’t sure even went to class.

The other factor to take into consideration is who write reviews. It is difficult for professors to encourage students to fill out the feedback surveys administered by the University and often they will have to dedicate class time to the survey or encourage students through extra credit points in order to get a high response. Rate My Professors is completely voluntary, and when searching for professors on the site, take into account who will take the time to write a review. It will likely be people who either really enjoyed the class and professor, or those who really disliked the class and professor, with little input from an indifferent student. It is also very easy to skew the professors overall scores as a low rating. Writing “worst professor ever” for example gives no context or evidence for the claim but has the ability to bring the average down.

Instead of deciding whether you are going to take a class based on a handful of reviews, focus on the benefit the class has for your personal and academic goals, and what each class will mean for your schedule and your plans for the following semesters. If you are concerned about not being compatible with a professor, speak with your peers who will be able to provide specific answers and offer you advice for alternative classes or, if the class is required, with advice on how to make the most of it. While UMass conducts its own class surveys, this information is not available to students. In this case, Rate My Professors is certainly useful, as it provides some sort of feedback for students to search. However, it is not a foolproof method. Try taking that class with some not so great reviews, you may be pleasantly surprised.

Shona McMorrow is a Collegian columnist and can be reached at [email protected]