Picking the right professors for you and your learning style can be an important part of your college—and future—success. So how do you choose the best professors for you? Here are some tips from academic experts:

Analyze yourself. Know yourself, including your work ethic and how you learn best. Do you prefer online classes to in-person lectures? Do you favor professors who welcome office visits? Your individuality and motivation “determine which professor you should take,” noted Jalal Soroosh, Ph.D., accounting department chair at Loyola University Maryland in Baltimore. What’s more, “It is important to find someone who has a teaching style that matches your learning style,” said James Hamill, CPA, Ph.D., department chair and visiting professor at the University of New Mexico, and director of tax practice at Reynolds, Hix & Co., both in Albuquerque.

Tap fellow students. Peers who have already taken a particular class can offer insight into the course load and the instructor’s teaching style. The more students you talk to, the wider the perspective about the professor. If some students complain, ask them how they fared in class. “If they did poorly, ask how much work they put into it,” advised Maureen Butler, CPA, Ph.D., associate professor of accounting and accounting internship coordinator at The University of Tampa. In addition, noted Hamill, talk with other students who share the same goals, not those who are headed down a different path.

Do your homework. Conduct firsthand research about instructors as well. Meet with faculty to discuss their classes and workload, review their syllabuses, and measure professors’ eagerness to engage. “If the faculty member is not willing to give 10 to 15 minutes to talk to prospective students, then that person may not be available during the semester,” Soroosh said. Also, if you are interested in taking a professor’s course, ask to sit in on his or her class before you enroll.

Don't rely on websites. While you can read student comments on faculty rating sites, don’t take them too seriously. Sites like Rate My Professors, Uloop, and Koofers can simply be a forum to complain, not an accurate representation of a professor’s course. “Those are the places that students go because they thought they were going to get an easy B and all of a sudden they got a C-minus,” Soroosh said.

Challenge yourself. It may be tempting to choose a professor who offers a painless course load and an easy grade, but don’t choose a class simply for this reason, Soroosh said. Lightweight sessions could make you ill-prepared for higher-level classes, the CPA Exam, or a future job. “Don’t be afraid of professors who have a reputation for being hard, because you will probably learn a lot more than you would otherwise,” Butler said.

Choose wisely. Look for professors who can likely facilitate introductions to help jump-start your career. “It is important to find professors who are involved with the professional community,” Hamill said. “They can help students find internships and other job opportunities that relate to what they want to do.” If you like your professor and vice versa, you’ll be more engaged and learn more—and your instructor could help you land assistantships or internships down the road, he added.

Talk to professors if problems arise. If you are unhappy in the class or something isn’t clicking, arrange a meeting with your instructor as early as possible. Sometimes, professors do not know that a problem exists or that their teaching style is not working. If you go to the department dean, he or she will simply ask if you’ve spoken with your professor. “There is no such thing as one size fits all,” Soroosh said. “The student-teacher interaction is important.”

Stick it out. Once in the professional world, you won’t always get to choose your boss or your colleagues, so “don’t be so hung up on who your teacher is,” Butler said. “If the teacher doesn’t teach in your preferred learning style, figure out how to adjust to that. It’s never an excuse to say the teacher was bad. The student has to take some responsibility and ownership for their learning.”

By Cheryl Meyer
Cheryl Meyer is a California-based freelance writer.