The University Network

Can You Trust ‘Rate My Professors’?

Nearly every day, college students are faced with decisions that could change the direction of their lives.

Career paths are molded by the judgments students make in college, such as choosing one professor or class over another.

For help making these difficult decisions, students often turn to Rate My Professors, a popular online destination where students can view and create their own ratings for professors, colleges and universities.

Since the website started in 1999, it has grown to include 19 million ratings, 1.7 million professors and more than 7,500 schools, making it the go-to source for students on the fence about adding a professor’s class to their schedule.

Each month, more than 4 million students rely on the opinions of peers and alumni who felt strongly enough about a professor to rate them online.

Despite the warning signs that a few bad reviews might present, responses on Rate My Professors are anonymous, and might not accurately reflect the professor.

So the better question might be: is the website worth trusting?

How it works

Any student can submit a rating with or without an account on the site.

Students first enter course information, followed by a 1-5 rating on both the professor and the “level of difficulty.” They are then asked if they would take the professor again, if the class was taken for credit, if a textbook is required and if attendance is mandatory.

Students can also select up to three tags that they feel describes their professor, such as “tough grader,” “respected,” “get ready to read” and others.

At the end, students have an option to write a more detailed explanation of their rating and to divulge the grade they received in the class and their major.

The site relies on an honor system. Among other rules, it asks all users to refrain from rating a professor they haven’t taken a class with, to not speak on behalf of other people, and for students to avoid identifying themselves.

The site also has the right to remove any posts that include profanities and slander.

The good

Rate My Professors gives students an advantage in picking classes that their parents, for example, didn’t have.

Now, students can gauge how much work a professor will require them to do before deciding to enroll in a class. This allows students to take more credit hours without overloading their schedules with papers, exams and assignments.

It also makes it easy to identify trends.

If eight out of 10 reviews for a professor highlight his or her tendency to grade unfairly, that should be a red flag. But it goes both ways. If a professor’s page is filled with positive reactions, that could solidify a student’s decision to take a class.

The bad

It gets tricky, however, if a professor only has a few reviews. His or her entire page could be thrown off by one negative entry from an angry student who received a poor grade.

The site also prides itself in letting students do “what students have been doing forever — checking in with each other — their friends, their brothers, their sisters, their classmates — to figure out who’s a great professor and who’s one you might want to avoid.”

But when students use Rate My Professors, they aren’t checking in with their friends, family or classmates.

Instead, they are relying on the comments of strangers who often have motives behind what they write.

Due to the anonymity of the responses, there is no telling who or what submitted an opinion.

Think of it in the same light as a Yelp review. Although there are some Yelp-faithful who review nearly every restaurant they go to, most of the time, people only choose to write something if the food is exceptionally good or exceptionally bad. The same analogy applies to Rate My Professors.

Take it with a grain of salt. One bad review shouldn’t keep you from taking a professor’s class, but if the bad press starts piling up, maybe it’s best to choose someone else.