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Office Hours and How to Use Them

Professors value the chance to have the one-on-one conversations with students that are impossible, say, in a large lecture.  These conversations allow faculty to see how you’re doing, answer questions, and perhaps even learn about the student response to the course’s big ideas and methods.  

The basics.

Mind your manners.

Arrive to your appointment on time, address the professor by her last name with the appropriate title (professor, doctor, etc., unless she has asked you to address her by her first name). Keep your interactions professional, and thank the professor for her time. Some professors will be happy to chat about a range of topics, but some will want to stay focused on just those topics directly related to their class. Follow the professor’s lead.

A little preparation goes a long way.

Write down some questions to ask, and bring a notepad to take notes on the answers. Bring your text, your class notes, and any recent assignments you would like to discuss. This all shows the professor that you’re on top of things—and that you respect her time.

Don't wait.

Go to office hours early in the semester when you can talk about ideas without the anxiety of an impending exam.  Keep going to office hours so you can ask questions as they arise and not let them pile up. This can help you stay on top of the course material—and, when you show up for the professor’s help at exam time, you won’t be a stranger.


What should we talk about?

I'm not doing well, HELP!

If you are struggling in the class, meet with your professor to ask for clarification of key concepts and for help adjusting your study strategies. Before meeting, make sure you’re caught up on the reading, have reviewed your notes, and have attempted to solve any sample problems on your own. Write down specific questions, highlight sections of your notes you would like to discuss, and bring problems that have baffled you.

Tip: Don’t Use Office Hours as a Replacement for Going to Class
It’s appropriate to stop by office hours if you missed a class and need some clarification of the topics covered, but don’t ask or expect the professor to re-teach the material or go over everything you missed. Go in with a short list of specific questions.

I'm doing pretty well, but could I be doing even better?

Meet with your professors to discuss your performance in the class and the possibility of revising your strategies to do even better. Professors can help you formulate study questions, think about the best way to prepare for an exam, understand their evaluation of your written work, strategize about an upcoming essay assignment, etc.

Tip: Use a recent test as a springboard.
If you’ve recently taken a test for the class, take it with you so you can discuss specific questions with your professor. Ask if she notices a pattern in the types of questions you missed—and if she has advice about how you can better prepare for such questions.

Explore majors, classes, and opportunities.

You can ask questions like: What majors would be the best fit for me considering my interest in your class? What other classes could I take to continue to explore the topics your class addresses? What kinds of organizations or programs would help me to develop these interests outside the classroom?  What kinds of careers are available to someone who pursues this field of study?

Special requests.

Visiting office hours is a great way to respectfully request a letter of recommendation, discuss graduate school possibilities, ask about independent study or internship opportunities, etc.