Having a terrible professor in college seems almost like a rite of passage. In many cases you can see bad professors coming a mile away, whether it’s from their 12-page syllabi or their pompous attitudes during the first week of class. While many collegiettes might choose to drop the class the minute they sense their professor will be a dud, some of us aren’t so lucky—sometimes we wait past the drop/add period, and other times the professor is teaching a required course and we just can’t avoid him or her.
For those collegiettes who find themselves in this unfortunate situation, we’ve compiled a list of the different kinds of terrible professors you can have and how to deal with them.
First thing's first: Is your professor a bad teacher, or just hard?
It’s pretty easy to hate the professor who teaches our least favorite class or is critical of our essays, but does that mean that he or she is really terrible at teaching? Before you start hating a professor, determine if you’re having a tough time with the material, or if he or she really does stink at teaching.
Good professors who teach tough material tend to make themselves openly available during office hours, hold question-and-answer sessions when reviewing homework and give thorough explanations when you get an answer wrong.
However, your professor might really be a dud. See if he or she falls into any of these categories:
1. The Bad Explainer
If you’re sitting in a class you think you should understand but find your head spinning, you might be falling victim to The Bad Explainer. Bad Explainers usually use roundabout methods of explaining the solution to a problem, have disorganized lectures and don’t highlight key terms.
“I once had a stats professor who would go off on horrible tangents in class, and it was impossible to follow her reasoning,” says Iris, a junior at the University of California, Los Angeles. “Nobody ever understood anything she was saying.”
Professors who stink at explaining things might also be too smart for their own good. They think that if they understand the material, their students are bound to understand it as well.
Bad explainers are usually oblivious to the teaching sins they commit, which is exactly why they’re so tough to deal with. So how do we get a grip on the material?
How to handle this professor
Office hours, office hours, office hours!
When you meet for the professor’s office hours, make sure you have specific questions so your professor knows exactly what you need to know.
Does your professor regularly ditch scheduled office hours? Be proactive. Email him or even respectfully approach him at the end of class to schedule a time when you both can discuss the issues you’re having in the class. This way you can hold the professor accountable for making himself available.
If your head is still spinning even after meeting with your professor, try visiting a tutor. It’s always helpful to hear someone else explain the material and try to make it click in a different way.
Many colleges have students who work on campusas tutors: Students who have already taken certain classes tutor others in them. Try to get a tutor who has had the same bad-explaining professor as you so you can ask him or her for tips on how to survive the class. If the tutor was successful in the class you’re struggling with, he or she is the perfect resource to help you make it through the class with your GPA still intact.
2. The Busywork Assigner
The Busywork Assigner is much exactly what she sounds like: A professor who gives a lot of repetitive and/or stupid work rather than a few very meaningful projects. Do you find yourself doing a different version of the same assignment every week? Do you continue to do work and receive no feedback? Does the work you do seem below the difficulty level of the class? If so, you might be a victim of The Busywork Assigner.
“Last semester, I had a bio professor who gave the dumbest assignments and canceled class all the time,” says Rachel*, a sophomore at the University of Connecticut. “People would laugh at me for complaining about that, but honestly, it was such a waste of my money, and I really needed to learn about the subject for future bio classes.”
How to handle this professor
Busywork Professors are tough because they require you to have a certain amount of the “grin and bear it” mentality. While it gets tremendously frustrating to feel like you’re completing all sorts of assignments and not learning anything, remember: As dumb as the assignments seem, they still count toward your grade. Don’t sabotage yourself by neglecting them or giving anything less than 100 percent!
If you’re nervous that you’ll be a beat behind after having this dud professor, reach out to other professors in the department to hear about what they think is important for you to know.
“I visited all the time with other bio professors I knew,” Rachel says. “I asked them what I will need to know and remember for future classes and asked them how I could master them.”
Especially if this class is a prerequisite for other classes, it’s important to make sure you’re up to speed by checking in with other professors in the department or with campus tutors.
3. The Unfair Grader
After spending hours writing that paper and handing it in with all the confidence in the world, you must’ve gotten a great grade, right? Not with The Unfair Grader.
Unfair Graders are usually found in classes where a lot of essays and subjective work are assigned (it’s hard to grade problems with a black-and-white answer unfairly, right?). They can dock your grade down because they didn’t like your writing style, your way of explaining a certain concept or even the sources you used throughout the paper.
Although Unfair Graders are most common in more subjective classes, they still exist in math and science classes!
“I had a super bad grader in one of my math classes, actually,” says Chelsea, a sophomore at Salem State University. “It wasn’t so much that he wasn’t fair in determining if my answer was right or wrong, but he consistently added up my score wrong to give me a worse grade than I earned.”
Beware of these! Careless and unfair professors should be the last reason why you get a bad grade.
How to handle this professor
Be proactive with The Unfair Grader and (respectfully) stand up for yourself. Take a look at the professor’s comments on a paper you got a less-than-stellar grade on and see if they make any sense. You might have been graded unfairly if the professor doesn’t provide an explanation for your grade, leaves contradictory comments throughout the essay or exam or shows that he simply disagrees with your opinion rather than thinks you wrote a bad paper.
If you still think you deserved a better grade, respectfully approach the professor with your problems. This doesn’t mean you have to be a grade grub, but if you genuinely think you wrote an A paper and you got a C-, you need to do something about it. Point out the highlights of your paper and ask the professor to clarify why exactly you got the grade you did.
If you’re nervous about approaching a professor about a grade, try doing it gently at first. Simply telling a professor that you’d like to discuss the paper you just got back or saying, “Hi, professor; I had a quick question about this comment you made on my essay,” are easy, nonthreatening ways to get into a discussion about your grade. If you enter the conversation in a relaxed and friendly manner, the professor is way more likely to listen to what you say. From there you can subtly begin to make your case for a higher grade by telling the professor that you think you did a great job of presenting a certain argument or explaining your thought process in organizing your essay.
If the professor doesn’t budge on the grade, ask him for a definitive list of things to improve on that will help you in getting a better grade next time. Holding the professor accountable for your improvement will make him look more critically and fairly at your next assignments.
If you have a professor who really stinks at grading (adds up the points wrong, marks correct answers as incorrect), you have to take the responsibility to stay on your toes.
“After the first time I caught a mistake, I added up my score on every single exam I took,” Maggie says. “I caught at least two other mistakes throughout the rest of the semester.”
Keep your own grade book in a spreadsheet so you can keep track of how you are doing in the class; you don’t want your professor to make a mistake in calculating your final grade, either, and this is a step you can take to prevent that from happening. Keep your syllabus to reference back to different grade values. Make sure your professor is weighing different assignments properly; you want to make sure that midterm you knocked out of the park is counting for that full 30 percent of your grade!
Hang onto all of your graded assignments, too. If you do end up having to contest a grade by taking it to a department head or an academic dean, you want to make sure you have all of your assignments in order to prove that you deserve the grade that you’re arguing for. Don’t let a professor get away with mistakes because you didn’t keep all of your materials!
4. The Rude Professor
A Rude Professor is the one who might be teaching you all the right material and in the right way, but when it comes to being a good person, she falls short. She tends to be disinterested in the subject or say inappropriate things to you throughout class.
“I had a horrible professor one year who never seemed to want to be teaching us,” says Ashley, a junior at Wake Forest University. “She always seemed distracted and would interrupt class to make personal calls or answer personal emails, which was frustrating because as students, we aren’t allowed to do that.”
Other professors make it seem like it’s their job to make you feel bad for not knowing everything in their discipline. “I once had this history professor who was so smart it was unreal,” says Kelly, a junior at Fitchburg State University. “He’d always make a face when you were answering a question wrong or [would] almost seem mad at you if you said something that wasn’t right.”
Rude Professors are hard to deal with but sometimes harder to avoid, so what’s a girl to do?
How to handle this professor
If a professor ever says anything crossing a certain line (such as making a personal attack or a politically incorrect comment), report him to the school’s administration immediately. Taking issues like this to a department’s chairperson or dean is the best way to make sure these kinds of negative situations never happen again. Although you’re a student, you’re still a person who deserves respect.
If a professor’s rudeness is more like a thorn in your side, turn the other cheek. This “turn the other cheek” method isn’t the most immediately gratifying, we know—when your professor rolls her eyes at one of your comments during a discussion, all you want to do is talk back to her. However, when you encounter a Rude Professor, you shouldn’t go out of your way to be equally as rude in return. Even if a professor’s tendency to answer personal calls during class irritates you, remember that she does have authority over you and controls your grade.
When all else fails, fill out teacher evaluations.
We’ve saved the best method of dealing with a bad prof for last—filling out completely honest teacher evaluations. The best part? This method works for any kind of bad professor.
“When I had that terrible history professor, I was absolutely brutal in their teacher evaluation,” Kelly says. “Even though I know this professor was tenured, I hope that my evaluation caused the department head to speak to her about what students thought.”
Just like turning the other cheek, simply filling out a teacher evaluation isn’t the most immediately gratifying thing to do to a crappy professor. Despite this, it’s probably the most effective thing you can do to make sure the professor changes in the future. Whether the professor reads the evaluations themselves or a review board does to determine a faculty member’s tenure, these evaluations are going somewhere, and if enough students speak their minds, eventually a positive change will happen.
Like we said—it’s almost as if everyone has to deal with a bad professor to make their college careers complete, but that doesn’t mean you can’t make things easier for yourself. What are your bad professor stories? Let us know in the comments below!
*Name has been changed.
There’s been a lot of hype over higher education pretty much since you started high school, but now it’s finally here: your first day of college. You’ve gone through orientation, your room is set up and you’re ready to go. But, of course, it’s normal to get nervous about how the day will play out; After all, you don’t really know what to expect.
But no need to hit the panic button quite yet, because Her Campus is here to get you through a timeline of your entire first day, from the moment you wake up to the moment you hit your pillow at night! We’ll be breaking down some of the biggest snags you could potentially hit (Alarm didn’t go off? No one to sit with at lunch?) as well as how to deal with them should they arise.
7:31 a.m.: Waking up late
You set eight different alarms to make sure you’d get up on time for your 8:00 a.m. class, and to no avail: You still woke up late!
How to deal
First of all, waking up late is not the end of the world. “Everybody almost expects freshmen to be all over the place the first day of college, so take a deep breath and relax,” says Megan Showers, a junior at the University of Florida.
And Megan knows what she’s talking about; She woke up late on her first day of college! “I had a 9 a.m. class and woke up to my alarm clock reading 8:48 a.m.,” she says. “So obviously, I was freaked. It was at least a 15-minute walk to class plus the time it’d take to get ready, so I was pretty much on the verge of hyperventilating.”
Luckily, Megan had taken some proactive steps the night before to shorten her morning routine. “I’d been so neurotic about starting college that I’d actually laid out my clothes the night before and packed up my schoolbag like I was starting kindergarten,” she says. “At the time I felt paranoid, but as I was running around trying to get ready, it was a godsend.”
Megan highly recommends that other first-day collegiettes do the same thing to avoid any surprises in case they pop up a little later than expected on day one. The night before your first day of classes, take 10 or 15 minutes to pick out your outfit and pack your school bag (notebook, pens, folders, your keys, student ID, the works!). Also, make sure you set out toiletries or know where they are the next morning so that you’re not searching for a toothbrush when you’re running around. If you want to earn extra preparedness points, set out a granola bar or some cereal in case you need to eat on the run!
7:47 a.m.: Getting lost on the way to class
You rush out of your dorm, and you’re so excited, nervous and scared that you get extremely lost trying to find the academic building you’re supposed to be in. What’s a newly minted collegiette to do?
How to deal
Kate Masters, a junior at Wesleyan University, reminds collegiettes lost on campus not to panic. “Go up to someone who looks a little older (and friendly) and ask him or her for directions,” she says. Everybody’s been there before!
If possible, though, Kate recommends visiting your classes (or at least the buildings) before your first day. “The night before my first day of college, I actually spent 45 minutes walking around campus to all of my classes just to make sure I knew where the buildings were,” she says. “Some of my new college friends came with me, and it was really fun!”
Like planning your clothes the night before, checking out the campus ahead of time may seem like a little too much preparation for some collegiettes, so don’t be afraid to smile and ask someone for directions! Additionally, you could print a campus map and bring it with you for day one.
8:07 a.m.: You didn’t bring the right supplies to class
You sit down in class and pull out your laptop, only to have your professor announce that he has a no-laptops policy. The problem? You didn’t bring a notebook and pen.
How to deal
Kate faced this same issue during her first college class. “I felt so dumb for not bringing pens and paper to write on,” she says. “So, obviously, my tip is to bring a couple of different note-taking supplies.”
Rachel Nelson, a sophomore at the University of Southern California, says it’s not the end of the world if you don’t have everything on your first day. “Usually the first day of classes is just the professor handing out the syllabus, asking questions and maybe giving a mini lesson, so you really won’t be missing much,” she says. “Just make sure you go buy your supplies directly after class!”
Still freaked out about forgetting stuff? Feel free to ask the person next to you if he or she has an extra pen. Hey, you might make a new friend!
Related: 15 Things You’ll Learn Your First Semester of College
11:17 a.m.: You don’t know whom to sit with at lunch
Thought you were over the days of scanning the cafeteria looking for a seat? Think again. What happens if your orientation friends or hallmates haven’t gotten to the dining hall yet? Should you sit alone or awkwardly stand there waiting?
How to deal
Megan had this situation come up during her first day of college. “A bunch of the girls I had agreed to get lunch with were running late from class, so I got to the dining hall first and found myself having to wait 15 minutes,” she says.
So what did Megan do? She got her food, found a seat and stared at her phone the entire time. “I was so embarrassed to be sitting alone, but looking back now, two years later, I see how stupid all of my worrying was,” she says. “People don’t really care if you’re sitting alone, and no one will think you’re friendless or something just because people aren’t with you. It’s fine! I eat alone all the time now because I like to.”
If sitting alone is a little bold for you, remember that it’s college, so feel free to just wait for your lunch crew or meet some new people and sit with them (people are super friendly on the first day!). The important takeaway: No one is going to judge you, no matter what you choose.
1:42 p.m.: You don’t know what to do with all of your free time
Your classes have wrapped up way earlier than they ever did in high school (ah, the beauty of the college schedule!), so what are you supposed to do with all of this extra free time?
How to deal
There are definitely a lot of options out there if you have a little time on your hands on the first day, from running errands to checking out your class syllabi. First, you can go to the campus bookstore and buy whatever school supplies and reading materials you’re missing for your classes. It’s always good to be prepared!
Second, there’s always the option of getting a head start on academics. Kate recommends combining schoolwork with social time. “I was actually assigned a ton of work in my first college class, so I went to the library with some friends so we could all work on stuff,” she says. “As someone who procrastinated all the time in high school, I thought it was awesome to begin college on a good note by getting an early start on assignments.”
Kate also encourages collegiettes to really try to be social during the first couple of days and weeks of college. “It’s easy to feel tired and want to sit in bed watching Netflix all day, but this a crucial time in your college career!” she says. “Make friends, hang out with people and get involved. It’s an awesome time.”
Free time is a great thing, but definitely make sure you still have a game plan so you don’t spend the first couple of days just browsing the Internet. Make a list of what you hope to accomplish on campus during the beginning of the semester and go for it!
9:34 p.m.: Your friends want to party but you’re not sure if you want to
It’s your first night of school and you’re beyond exhausted, but a bunch of your friends want to go out to a party. You want nothing more than to crawl into bed and pass out, but you also don’t want to miss out on a social opportunity.
How to deal
First off, don’t feel like you have to go out to have a great freshman year! Rachel found herself in this situation during her first couple of days of college. “On the one hand, I didn’t want to seem like a party pooper, but I was also bogged down in homework on my first day,” she says.
So, how did she deal? Rachel met her friends in the middle. “My friends were actually pregaming for a couple of hours before they headed to this frat party, so I joined them for that and then left them when they went to the party,” she says.
It turns out Rachel made the right choice, too. “My friends only ended up staying at the party for an hour tops, so I didn’t miss much!” she says.
Another huge perk of having so much to do on a college campus is that you can pick and choose what you want to do with your time, so if partying one night isn’t your thing, no one will fault you for wanting to stay in and study or check out extracurriculars!
Overall, your first day of freshman year will definitely be filled with ups and downs, but just remember that everyone experiences them! Problems will pop up, so as long as you go in with a game plan and take a couple of minutes to prepare ahead of time, you’re going to do great. All of your classmates are as excited and anxious as you are to see how the first day goes, so relax and enjoy it!