New York University's independent student newspaper, established in 1973.

Washington Square News

New York University's independent student newspaper, established in 1973.

Washington Square News

New York University's independent student newspaper, established in 1973.

Washington Square News

Ranked: Five professors that’ll make or break your semester

We know professors have strong opinions about us. We have strong opinions about them, too.
Shiva Kansagara
(Illustration by Shiva Kansagara)

Until you walk into class for the very first time, your professors will always be an enigma. You can read thousands of Rate My Professor reviews, stalk them on Facebook and read the hot takes on their website that was last updated four years ago — but you still won’t know what they’re really like until they’re lecturing you on Punnett squares and it’s too late to back out. 

You might be pleasantly surprised by their enthusiasm for the course and their generous bathroom breaks that are more for their peace-of-mind than yours. Or you might catch a sour look, hear a few sentences about how “not all of you will pass this class” and just know it’s going to be a bumpy ride. A professor can set the tone for a whole class, even if it’s a topic you’re deeply interested in. Just so you know what you’re getting into, here is a ranking of the five types of professors you’re sure to run into during your classes.


5. The “Deep Sigh” Professor

You’ve likely encountered this professor —  who sighs in deep disappointment every time they enter the classroom — in a large lecture or a required core class. They had no desire to be a professor, and probably have no idea how they ended up here. They most likely wanted to be a doctor, a lawyer, an executive or a well-respected researcher, and somewhere along the way, they were tricked into pursuing a career in academia. They’ve probably written a book, but they aren’t too proud of it and don’t talk about it much. 

This professor will be the one who, even in a seminar setting, will just sit and lecture for the entirety of class. They’re either unaware or unbothered by the fact that every student is working on other subjects. While this class will probably be an easy A due to the professor’s indifference, it’ll also probably be a huge waste of time, both for you and your esteemed instructor. It’ll be more of a study hall than a learning experience, putting this professor at the very bottom of the list.


4. A+ Person, C- Professor

This professor is genuinely funny and seems to care so much about their students, but their way of teaching isn’t too great. Regardless of how much they try, everything they teach is confusing. Whatever clarifying question you ask will lead them down an unrelated tangent that somehow leaves you both confused — it’s as if their train of thought is being driven by a caffeinated bunny through an open field. They’re trying really hard, but you’ll end up teaching yourself most of the content. 

They’ll be an OK grader more often than not, but will often give you a lower grade than you really deserve because they “want to give you room to grow.” Since you were essentially the professor in this class, they rank low, but they’re so kind that I couldn’t put them in last.


3. Professor Ph.D.

Right smack-dab in the middle of the list we have professor Ph.D. — someone who will offer you more knowledge than almost any other professor, but will make it impossible for you to actually enjoy it. They are hands-down the strictest of the professors. Their life is their title; they would rather walk to class barefoot than have you refer to them as anything but Doctor. They will be a very harsh grader, often explicitly saying that they don’t expect everyone in the class to pass. This assertion will be followed by a confident assurance that the low pass rate for their class is definitely not their fault. They will only teach lectures because they don’t want to deal with you one-on-one, so any questions you have will get redirected to the teaching assistant. 

As annoying as they may be, professor Ph.D. is actually an expert in their field and has extensive experience that they bring to the classroom, making their lectures dense, but valuable. They will absolutely make you read — and purchase — their writing, which might very well be a Nobel Prize-winning text. As long as you attend recitations and get a study group together that half-functions as group therapy, you’ll probably be fine. 


2. The Godsend

When you walk into this professor’s class, you will immediately feel the excitement emanating from them like heat from a radiator. Chances are they’re severely overqualified to be a professor, and have two other full time jobs outside of teaching. This professor is engaging and will make sure you understand complicated concepts by explaining them as fully as possible. 

They make an 8 a.m. class worth it. They’ll probably be a difficult grader, but it’s because they genuinely expect a lot from you — but not an unreasonable amount. They push you in motivating ways by offering thorough visual aids and being incredibly attentive to your questions during office hours. You will probably have to do a lot of work for this class, but the exhaustion will be worthwhile because they’ll put in the same effort.


1. The “I’m one of you” Professor

Don’t mix this professor up with the one who tries to be as young and hip as possible, but just isn’t — those are wannabes. On the top of this list is the professor that is either actually a maximum of 10 years older than the students, or truly is so in spirit. They are super chill, kind and understanding, and they engage the class without stressing anyone out in the process. 

They will be very liberal and very vocal about it, but always stress that everyone is entitled to their own opinion. You’ll work in groups a lot and do presentations rather than have major exams. The feedback they give is in-depth and shows that they’ve read everything you’ve written thoroughly. It’ll be hard to fail their class — not because they’re a generous grader, but because they’re such a great professor that getting your work done is easy. 


Honorable mention: The Trusty, Tired TA

We’ve all had a dedicated, likely overworked teaching assistant. They will respond to your emails at 3 a.m. and answer as many questions as possible in recitation, happily re-teaching game theory for the 40th time. They’re the one you turn to when it seems like the world is falling apart, but in reality, you just can’t understand derivatives.

We see you, TAs, and we thank you.

Contact Anya Paiz at [email protected].

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    Leah dusekSep 26, 2023 at 12:30 am

    This article is an engaging and fascinating read! As an aspiring student writer this article gave real and knowledgable insight on what to expect from college professors. I will continue to look out for writing by Anya Paiz.