How to Pick a Professor in the Bay Area Community College System

If you are trying to “pick up” a class or two in the Bay Area, this guide is for you.

I took a Human Physiology class this summer at College of Alameda to fullfill a prerequisite for the programs I’m applying for in the fall. “Shopping” for a professor can be a daunting task. Here is how I did it and it worked out very well, after a long road.

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Find the class

This can be a nice trick depending on the program. Equivalent courses are subjective. There is no definitive guide to what classes are equivalent to another. Go to the counseling department of the school you are trying to get into and ask. Here is a chart from City College of San Francisco from Spring 2012. YMMV!

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Find a school

There are several college systems in the Bay Area. Find the you can actually travel to. For example, I visited Merritt College and realized the 1 1/2 hr door-to-door commute from San Francisco by bus was a bother. Here’s a list of local Community Colleges:

City College of San Francisco

  • Several San Francisco campuses

Peralta Colleges East Bay

  • Berkeley City College
  • College of Alameda
  • Laney College
  • Merritt College

San Mateo Community College District

  • Canada College
  • College of San Mateo
  • Skyline College

Contra Costa Community College District

  • Contra Costa College
  • Diablo Valley College
  • Los Medanos College

Foothill College

College of Marin

Chabot College

There is also the University of California system (UC Berkeley, UC San Francisco) and the California State (San Francisco, East Bay) system. I looked into picking up some Chemistry courses at SF State but the summer Chemistry course was $3,000 and it looked like a bother to apply (I didn’t actually try) so I bagged it.

 

And there’s online courses. Some schools offer intensive classes… like 5-8 weeks long instead of 16 weeks.

  • University of Phoenix – $585 per unit
  • American Public University – $250 per unit
  • Walden – $1500 per course online
  • Argosy University – They don’t offer individual courses online

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Choose an actual class. This ended up being a multi-step, iterative process for me…

Apply for the school, Find an open class, Find a good professor.

Applying for any individual community college in California is easy. Every school system has their own registration system. For example, College of Alameda is part of the Peralta System. When you apply at Peralta, they give you an ID you can use at any of the Peralta Schools. You will be automatically accepted at any of the community college systems in 1-48 hours. I’m registered as a student at most of the Bay Area community colleges.

If you want to see if a class is open or wait-listed or whatnot, you should apply and use the school’s student registration system. For example, the “outward-facing” system at Diablo Valley College told me that their Physiology class still had seats available but the student system told me more correctly that the class was full with 10 people on the wait-list.

Often you will find yourself trying to get into an already-full class. If you really want it, talk to the professor. When he says “no”, keep showing up anyway. As other students drop the class in the first 2 weeks, the “no” will turn to a “maybe”. By the 2nd or 3rd week of showing up and showing your true passion for the class, you’ll probably (hopefully!) get accepted into the class.

Finding a good professor is a good trick. The quality of professors in the community college system is a mixed bag. You are the only person that can decide if you like a professor. There are innumerable qualities a professor might have that make or break the experience for you. Here are some of the big ones for me:

Attitude. Clarity of expression. Easy to understand accent or tone – if you can’t hear them, you are sunk. Cultural differences – if you can relate to a professor’s expressions, you will have an additional learning channel. Appropriate amount of collateral material – some professors drown you in materials, some give none. Ability to lecture well, ability to answer questions, ability to offer alternate explanations. Is the professor watering down the material to make it easier? Does he push you hard? Do you like or resent how they are pushing you?

Ok, so how do you find a good professor? Here is what I do:

  1. Read the comments they receive at RateMyProfessors.com
  2. Find the average grade they give at MyEDU.com
  3. Ask my friends for teacher recommendations
  4. Google them, see what else they teach, what their passions are.

Integrate all this info into a best guess.
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For the summer Human Physiology class I just took, it went like so:

  1. My counselor at City College said that “Bio 4” at Peralta Colleges would  be equivalent to Physio 1 at City College.
  2. I found 4 acceptable summer Physio classes.
    1. Merritt College class had an OK rated (according to RateMyProfessors and MyEDU) teacher. But the campus was 1 1/2 hrs door-to-door.
    2. College of Alameda had a “Hybrid” class with Prof Reza Majlesi. Most of the lectures were online, he got poor marks at RateMyProfessors and on average gave a “C” according to MyEDU (both bad signs).
    3. College of Alameda had a course with Prof Peter Niloufari. He got good marks with RateMyProfessors and on average gave an “A”. But his class was apparently full.
    4. Diablo Valley College had a course with a well rated professor, but it was at the far end of the BART line and likely full.
  3. I went with Professor Majlesi’s class. It was terrible. At the end of 2 weeks of summer school I felt that I hadn’t learned anything and was on track to fail… like get an “F”. Panic ensued.
  4. I checked in with Professor Niloufari, explained my situation and he said he’d take me if the school would allow the transfer.
  5. I went to the Dean’s Office who said, “Oh, you want to switch from the online class to the in-person class? I don’t blame you! Sure! Here are the forms.”
  6. It was HARD catching up to the rest of the class but I did. I learned a boatload and I got an A!

 

Here are good snapshots comparing my two Physiology professors. I spent time in both classes. Guess which teacher I ended up liking better (hint: I believe Professor Niloufari is a great teacher)

  

 

 

When you are trying to pick up a lot of classes and you aren’t sure which ones you will get into, make a spreadsheet like this to help you. It might seem boring and redundant to copy all the classes from all the schools into a spreadsheet but it was super helpful for me to keep things clear.

I made sample plans and my daily schedules with this. With a printout of this in your pocket, you are unstoppable!

Good luck to you!

PS. You should also read my post How to Get Your Classes

 

 

16 Comments

  1. Brooke says:

    Nice post! And way to go on catching up – having also had the first chunk of the hybrid class, making up the difference must have been really tough.

  2. lee says:

    Hi Brooke, yes, catching up those two weeks of classes was crazy. I barely remember how I did it now, lots of stress and focus and reading! I feel like I didn’t learn anything in Reza’s class. The force of will can carry a person places!

  3. Cecilia says:

    Hi, Im interested in taking peter’s physio! hows his teaching style and if u rmb how many test were there?

  4. lee says:

    Cecilia, professor Niloufari is a terrific teacher. I could not recommend a better teacher. Really.

    I think there were 5 tests in my 6 week summer class. This is a very difficult class with a lot of material. It will take a lot of work and focus. It’s a 5 unit class for a reason. It is up there in difficulty with Anatomy w/ lab and Microbiology.

  5. Cecilia says:

    Thank you for replying my msg! I hope taking in spring semester will be not as much intense as it is in summer! Im taking anatomy wit lab and Im really worried about this physio class because i dont have really good bio background. If you can share your tips/strategies to ace the class and it will be great!

  6. lee says:

    I was surprised to find that neither Anatomy nor Medical Chemistry were really important prerequisites. If anything, basic cell biology (things like mitosis, osmotic pressure, electrical potential) were useful groundwork.

    Study Tips:
    * Get a study group. Get together often. I got together more days than not with my group.
    * Get a Starbucks card. You and your study group should be spending a lot of time at the Starbucks on the corner. The Taco Bell is also good. The strip mall going toward the tunnel is also good but a little far.
    * Talk out the concepts. Visualize them. Listen to others talking about them.
    * Record the lectures. Play them all back on your way to or from school. Listening semi-passively to something you already know can lock it in to your brain!
    * Print out the Powerpoint, 2 per page. Use them to take notes on.
    * Use multiple colored pens to take notes. Draw pictures in your notes.
    * Rewrite your notes when you get home (I don’t do this but friends of mine do)
    * Ask questions. Interact with the class! If you are thinking of questions to ask, and trying to understand the material so you don’t ask embarrassing questions you are engaged!

    Good luck! Tell me how it goes Cecilia!

  7. Sarah says:

    I am in Dr. Nilofari’s class now. If you don’t mind me asking, how detailed was his nervous system exam?

  8. lee says:

    He gives a good, hard test. When I paid attention to him saying things like “this is important” and “this will be on the test”, I did well. The material is hard and there is a LOT of it. I would not have survived if I hadn’t done intense study groups multiple days a week!

    Good luck and have fun exploring the human body. PS. Niloufari was an AMAZING teacher! If you wouldn’t mind, could you say, “Hello and thank you from Lee Sonko, from summer 2012!”

  9. Sarah says:

    Thanks for the reply! I will give him your shout out and let you know what he says!

  10. lee says:

    Awesome! Have fun with it! PS. While his favorite part of the body is the kidney (and he can fully explain why, it’s amazing!) mine is the renin–angiotensin-angiotensinogen system!

  11. Sarah says:

    I said hello to Peter for you during lab. He remembers you fondly and said he wrote a recommendation for OT school for you. He said you were really smart and wondered what you had been up to. I told him you were in OT school at SJSU from the info on your website (I hope that is right). Thanks for the help!

  12. lee says:

    Sarah, that is fantastic! I hope you have a blast in that class, I really loved it. I studied so hard with friends and learned so much in that class that I kinda felt like Superman in the midst of it all! It’s nice to see that my diligence and commitment came off as intelligence to professor Niloufari!

    Rock on!

  13. Jen says:

    Hi Lee! This post was incredibly helpful! Thank you!

    I’m looking into enrolling in Professor Nilofauri’s summer physio lab course. Have you take the lab with him/know anything about the course (difficulty, exam style, etc)? The lab is 2 nights/wk for 8 wks and I plan to continue working full time while taking this course. I hear his lecture exams are difficult, but I’m wondering if the lab component is mostly assignment based as it’s only 1 unit. Any insight would be great – thanks!

  14. lee says:

    Jen, the labs aren’t particularly hard but they will take the full amount of time in class. I think they exist to make the material “real” for the students. They are tied closely with the lecture material.

    I would be hesitant to work full time while taking this class. When I took the 5 week version of the class, I could do nothing else but this class, but I’m a fairly slow study. You definitely want to find a good study group! Good luck and have fun!

  15. Mik says:

    I will be taking Nilofauri’s class this summer! I’m nervous about taking a 5 unit class in such a compacted time period- any tips on getting ahead prior to the start?

  16. lee says:

    Mik, congrats and good luck! For me, the most important thing was to clear my schedule and feel ready to commit fully. To prepare, I tried to pre-read the textbook and it was fun reading for only about 15 minutes.

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