I thought all courses were created equal. That 300 level English course with one professor would be identical to another. Yet immediately, I realized that courses are completely random. Some are graded easily. Some are graded harshly. This leaves your GPA up to the whim of the professor. By leaving it up to chance and registering for a course without seriously considering the professor, I set myself back.
I failed to realise I wasn’t choosing a course. I was choosing a professor.
Here are some heuristics for choosing a class that I wish I figured out earlier.
1. Use Rate My Professor
One of the perplexing things about school are course evaluation surveys. Despite every student taking them, which results in a numerical value for each professor, they’re only shown internally. Rate My Professor changes this. I find that the extremes tend to be more honest that the middle ground. If someone has overwhelmingly negative or positive reviews, the sentiment is generally right.
2. Find Students Who Know the Professors
Course unions are a group that often has an adept understanding of the department’s inner politics. You’ll learn who to choose and who to avoid just by asking around. The look of pity I got when I registered with a certain professor told me far more than the syllabus about what to expect from the class.
3. Choose multiple courses with the intention of dropping one or two
It’s easy to game the system and choose professors that cater to your skillset. I’m great at comprehension based courses, but below average with memory based ones. By taking 7 courses in the first week, with the intention of dropping two, I can screen syllabuses and figure out professors that resonate with my learning style.
4. Read their work
Reading a professor’s works is vital to unpacking their assumptions when entering the course. Do they have a broad body of work stretching outside of academia? Have they dedicated their entire careers to one author? These attitudes will become apparent in their papers, and more importantly, is often a strong predicator for their grading.
5. Structure Your Schedule Around Professors, Not Timing
It’s tempting to put your courses back to back so you can get on with your day. However, as shown, a professor makes a greater impact on the class than the class itself. Avoid this temptation and optimise your grades by selecting a professor that caters to your learning style. Dragging yourself out of bed for that 8:30 class with an easy professor might seem challenging at first. However, it pays dividends over time, and is far more worth it than choosing a professor with a more challenging style.