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.
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!
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:
- Several San Francisco campuses
Peralta Colleges East Bay
- Berkeley City College
- College of Alameda
- Laney College
- Merritt College
- Canada College
- College of San Mateo
- Skyline College
- Contra Costa College
- Diablo Valley College
- Los Medanos 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
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:
- Read the comments they receive at RateMyProfessors.com
- Find the average grade they give at MyEDU.com
- Ask my friends for teacher recommendations
- Google them, see what else they teach, what their passions are.
Integrate all this info into a best guess.
For the summer Human Physiology class I just took, it went like so:
- My counselor at City College said that “Bio 4” at Peralta Colleges would be equivalent to Physio 1 at City College.
- I found 4 acceptable summer Physio classes.
- Merritt College class had an OK rated (according to RateMyProfessors and MyEDU) teacher. But the campus was 1 1/2 hrs door-to-door.
- 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).
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- I checked in with Professor Niloufari, explained my situation and he said he’d take me if the school would allow the transfer.
- 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.”
- 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.
Good luck to you!
PS. You should also read my post How to Get Your Classes