With long lines at academic offices, should students turn to online guidance?

Sept. 28 marks the last day U of O students can drop courses for financial credit. But is three weeks enough to really get an impression of a professor’s teaching style? Many students faced with this problem turn to Rate My Professors, a review site where students can assign ratings to their professors, instructors, and other university staff.

But should students be relying on this website when making academic decisions?

In my opinion, making academic decisions off of Rate My Professors is unwise, and students should be careful when reading the site. Rate My Professors can serve as a valuable tool, but isn’t a substitute for real academic advice.

The website allows previous students to leave comments, but they’re rarely ever helpful. There’s also provided guidelines, advising the reviewer to not use profanity, derogatory names, and bad grammar. Of course, reviews with all three can be found all over the site, serving not as constructive feedback but merely as a way for students to vent their frustrations.

Not to mention that what may work for one student may not work for you. If a student leaves an awful review because they never showed up to class, never did the readings, and didn’t put any effort in, then they will be a lot more angry than someone who did. Some reviews may just be hateful because of the relationship the professor had with that student. These reviews wouldn’t necessarily be helpful and may just negatively influence your perception of the professor.

You could also easily have very narcissistic professors attempt to bump up their scores by leaving reviews for themselves. I’m not saying that it happens, just that I’ve noticed high reviews all published on the same day with the same grammar, contrasting with the vast majority of “Awfuls”.

If you do end up having to take the course, through looking at Rate My Professor, you may have an altered view of the course and professor. If someone leaves a comment saying that none of what’s in the textbook is on the exam, then you may be inclined to just skip out on the readings. If this review is inaccurate or the professor’s teaching style has changed, then you may be in for a shock come exam season.

Academic decisions, like changing around your timetable or dropping a course are very personal choices, with the need for strong reasons behind it. A low rating on Rate My Professors may not necessarily be the best factor to consider. Instead, students should be trusting their own perceptions of the professor, the syllabus, the mentoring centre, and the guidance of an academic advisor (no matter how long the line may be) to make these tough choices.

Whether you choose to drop the course or stick it out, make sure it’s a decision you can give a high rating to down the road.