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What student insights can we learn from professor reviews?

Review sites are one of the few forums where people can give unadulterated opinions under the guise of anonymity. You can review anything these days – restaurants, products and even college professors.

Using Relative Insight, we compared reviews written by students at top public universities and compared them to reviews from student at top private universities in the US. This comparison uncovers important student insights, helping us understand how students assess their educational experiences. By discovering their unique values and concerns – and how those preferences differ across private and public institutions – we universities can shape student communications and make changes to benefit the student experience.

Relative Insight approaches text analysis through the lens of comparison. Our technology highlights the topics, words, phrases, grammar and emotion unique to each audience. This comparative strategy provides context, using language from any written data source.

Public University Reviews

Students at top public universities value course difficulty, and were more likely to comment on whether a class was easy or hard, and a student’s opinion of a professor was highly influenced by their success in that course. 

These students also found value in sharing specific information regarding class structure and course materials. They included informational tips for success like reading materials, exam structure and note taking strategies. Students found this information valuable when deciding to take a course.

Insight card - students talk about class material

While public students had a practical approach to reviews by sharing information, a key student insight that our analysis surfaced is that public students were also more likely to value enjoyment. Our analysis found mentions of words like fun, entertaining and interesting more prevalent in this data set. These qualities helped students overcome difficult or laborious areas of study.

Private University Reviews

Public university students commented on class materials, but students at private institutions were more likely to discuss their opinions on their individual professor – more specifically their accomplishments and personality. Professors were given high accolades, often described as highly intelligent with words like genius and brilliant.

Insight card - students talk about professors being highly intelligent

While one might expect professors to be called brilliant, students also used adjectives like cute, attractive and even sexy. Some of these references appear to be said in jest, but it further emphasizes the importance of the individual professor in a student’s course assessment. 

Not all characterizations of private university professors were kind. Many described professors as arrogant, condescending and self absorbed. This reveals another important student insight, which shows that those attending private university were far more likely to value a professor’s likeability over the difficulty or content of a course.

The third aspect of personality students addressed was a professor’s political leaning. Professor reviews included words like liberal, conservative, politics and biased. Students had positive and negative commentary on political tendencies, with some finding bias irrelevant and others appreciating the unique perspective it brings.

Image: Insight card

Both groups of students want a successful and enriching educational experience – but the way they gauge success is quite different. Public university students care about the content of a course, while students at private universities are more likely to value the intellect and personality of their professors.

Universities are using Relative Insight to find student insights and improve their experience – from understanding the impact of COVID-19 on students to analysing student surveys and monitoring online forums. Get in touch to connect with one of our experts and learn how comparative text analysis can help you. 

Learn more about Relative Insight