How RateMyProfessors Works


Ratemyprofessors.com home page. See more pictures of popular web sites.
Screenshot by HowStuffWorks.com

Whether you're about to start a class, or just looking ahead to registration for next semester, knowing what to expect from the professor can help relieve your first-day anxiety and provide insight on how to approach the class. The social networking Web site RateMyProfessors.com gives you access to more than 6.8 million student-generated professor ratings on more than one million professors from colleges across the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom. Like many social networking Web sites, you can access RateMyProfessors from your Web browser and use its services free of charge. This includes reading any of the professor ratings posted, even if you don't register for an account.

RateMyProfessors has enjoyed continued growth in popularity since John Swapceinski founded it in 1999. Swapenceinski, a software engineer from Menlo Park, Calif., sold the site to Baltimore Solutions, Inc., in late 2005. New owners Patrick Nagle and Will DeSantis weren't new to managing social networking sites, having created an online textbook trading site when they were in college. When Nagle and DeSantis moved to Viacom MTV Networks in early 2007, they took RateMyProfessors with them, relocating its headquarters to New York. Now, RateMyProfessors is part of mtvU, a collection of social networks, entertainment news, contests and articles targeted toward college students.

As on other social network Web sites, you'll find sponsors' advertisements on each page at RateMyProfessors.com. MTV Networks itself sometimes advertises its upcoming shows on the RateMyProfessors main page alongside other mtvU videos. For potential advertisers, RateMyProfessors reports that it has 9 million users, of which 75 percent are students, 56 percent are female, and 86 percent are within the 18-35 demographic [source: RateMyProfessors].

In this article, we'll look at the rating system at RateMyProfessors and see how it compares to professor feedback on other social network Web sites and online communities.

Using RateMyProfessors

Anyone accessing RateMyProfessors.com can search and read the student-contributed professor feedback without creating an account or signing in. If you're using RateMyProfessors just to find information, search for the school and the professor, and click the professor's name in the search results. Here's the information you'll find on each professor's "scorecard," part of the professor's rating page:

  • No. of Ratings indicates how many student ratings make up the total score.
  • Average Easiness is the student's perception of course material difficulty, on a scale from 0 to 5, with 5 being the easiest.
  • Average Helpfulness conveys how helpful the professor was, on a scale from 0 to 5, with 5 being the most helpful.
  • Average Clarity is the student's perception of how clear the professor conveyed information, on a scale from 0 to 5, with 5 being "crystal" clear.
  • Hotness Total is a "just for fun" rating of the professor's appearance.
  • Overall Quality is the RateMyProfessors total rating, with a better score being closer to a maximum score of 5.

Scroll past the scorecard totals to view all submitted ratings for that professor. This list includes the date of the rating, the class that the student was taking and the rater's interest in the professor prior to taking the class. The comments sometimes include helpful tips for success in that course with that particular professor. Like other online communities, RateMyProfessors lets you flag any information that is erroneous, slanderous or otherwise doesn't seem to fit its posting guidelines.

RateMyProfessors follows the model of other social networks by requiring you to create an account and log in before contributing ratings or submitting professor feedback. Besides creating a username, password and other typical social networking profile information, RateMyProfessors requires you to enter your school, major and at least one current professor. From there, you can select up to six current professors for your profile, and you can select whether you'd like updates on music, contests and even casting calls from mtvU.

While you're logged in to RateMyProfessors, you can search for any professor in the system and submit a rating. If you cannot find the professor in search results, scroll to the end of the results and click the link to add a teacher. No verification process is required when entering the professor's information. As a result, RateMyProfessors has some fictional professors with amusing fictional ratings, often inspired from television or movies.

When you complete your rating, RateMyProfessors requires you to enter more information other than that shown on the professor's rating page. Besides the professor's scorecard, the rating form asks for textbook feedback, your grade (including "Rather Not Say") and whether the professor is still teaching. Comments are limited to 350 characters, and the form provides a link to the posting guidelines -- a standard feature for text submission on social networking sites.

If you're a professor, you also have recourse at RateMyProfessors. Each professor's page includes a link that reads "Professors add your rebuttal here." The link pops up a message explaining how professors can write rebuttal comments linked from student-provided ratings. As a professor, you must click a separate registration to become a "certified professor." This registration process is more extensive, and the site indicates that each registration is "analyzed and verified before access is granted."

In the next section we'll look at the benefits of using RateMyProfessors and how it compares to its competitors.

Benefits of RateMyProfessors

Popular professors get lots of ratings. You can evaluate your professors on several criteria.
Popular professors get lots of ratings. You can evaluate your professors on several criteria.
Screenshot by HowStuffWorks.com

Some social network sites are constantly adding features to enhance their online communities. However, the benefits of RateMyProfessors are a result of its continued focus on its primary goal: sharing feedback on college professors. Ratings are easy to find and easy to contribute to at no cost to its users, and without extra social networking bells and whistles. While members can speak out using the RateMyProfessors forum, the forum is very simple and less relevant when compared to other social network Web sites. The real value of RateMyProfessors is in its millions of ratings over a decade of use.

RateMyProfessors includes both positive and negative feedback throughout the site, primarily from undergraduates. It also includes a difficulty rating, which you can compare against the student's attitude toward the class and the professor. While posting guidelines help filter out less-than-helpful information, comments often provide tips for future students. Besides these benefits in the rating system, mtvU provides a welcoming online environment at RateMyProfessors.com, targeted to the fun side of college life.

Since it launched, RateMyProfessors has not been without controversy, especially from universities and professors [source: Vosilla]. The technology behind the site could replace outdated paper-and-pencil evaluation systems that gather data to which students have little access. However, the site tends to attract students from extreme experiences -- really good or really bad -- who have an agenda for contributing their ratings and comments [source: Barker].

In a 2007 article on professor ratings Web sites, Naomi Rockler-Gladen outlined some of the arguments for and against social networking sites dedicated to professor ratings. Though the list of arguments against cited most of what RateMyProfessors' critics have expressed, the list of arguments for the sites explained that they provide an outlet for students to defend themselves against professors who abuse their power or try to indoctrinate them. With its side-by-side comparison between the pros and cons, Rockler-Gladen's article doesn't take a side, but asks questions that both students and professors must answer for themselves when determining the value of RateMyProfessors.

The number of Web sites for professor ratings is growing, but they're less established than RateMyProfessors, and they vary in their approach. For example, Campushopper.com has a wide range of social networking features for college students besides professor ratings. Lower-traffic sites include Professor Performance (myprofessorsucks.com) with a school-like grading system instead of numeric ratings, and GPABook.com, which includes textbook price comparison. Newer to the scene, PickAProf.com creates attractive ratings charts while restricting access to its services to those who register with an e-mail address issued by the given college. Internet-savvy students can also use search engines to find blog entries and blurbs about professors from other social networking Web sites, but an array of search engine results may not seem as credible as an established site with lots of contributed ratings.

So RateMyProfessors is popular and includes a lot of ratings, but some users have expressed doubts about the validity of using social networks like this to find reliable information about college professors. Even if the critics' voices grow louder or the competition gets stronger, there's no doubt that RateMyProfessors has spent its first decade as a favorite semester-planning resource for millions of college students.

For more on social networking Web sites and related topics, graduate over to the next page.

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Sources

  • Barker, Gina. "Program makes picking a professor a little easier." The Signpost. Nov. 26, 2008. (June 19, 2009) http://media.www.wsusignpost.com/media/storage/paper985/news/2008/11/26/News/Rate-My.Professor-3562484.shtml
  • Lombardi, Candace. "MTV to buy RateMyProfessors.com." CNET News. Jan. 17, 2007. (June 25, 2009) http://news.cnet.com/-MTV-to-buy-RateMyProfessors.com/2110-1030_3-6150843.html
  • RateMyProfessors. "About Us" (June 18, 2009)http://www.ratemyprofessors.com/About.jsp
  • RateMyProfessors.com. "Advertise With Us!" (June 18, 2009)http://www.ratemyprofessors.com/advertise.jsp
  • RatingZ.net. "Local Entrepreneur John Swapceinski announces sale of
  • RateMyProfessors.com." Nov. 16, 2005. (June 18, 2009)http://www.ratingz.net/press/051116-pr-RMP-sale.pdf
  • Rockler-Gladen, Naomi. "College Professor Ratings Website: Are Teacher Evaluation Sites Like RateMyProfessors.com a Good Idea?" Suite101.com. May 20, 2007. (June 19, 2009)http://collegeuniversity.suite101.com/article.cfm/college_professor_ratings_website
  • Vedder, Richard. "The Negative Spillover Effects of Graduate and Professional Education." Center for College Affordability and Productivity Blog. May 18, 2008. (June 19, 2009)http://collegeaffordability.blogspot.com/2008/05/negative-spillover-effects-of-graduate.html
  • Vosilla, Theresa."RateMyProfessor causing controversy." The Spectrum. Sept. 28, 2006. (June 19, 2009)http://media.www.sacredheartspectrum.com/media/storage/paper747/news/2006/09/28/Features/Ratemyprofessor.Causing.Controversy-2312152.shtml
  • Wentworth, Stephanie. "Towson's RateMyProfessor gets ready to test the market." Baltimore Business Journal. April 14, 2006. (June 19, 2009)http://baltimore.bizjournals.com/baltimore/stories/2006/04/17/story8.html