Some students spend four to five years on a college campus and never once visit a professor’s office. By definition, office hours are the posted days and times a professor can be expected to be in their office available to students. This is a job requirement for all instructors, so technically students are paying for this time and should use it! The purpose of office hours is to give busy students access to busy teachers. Most professors post their office hours on the syllabus, in Canvas, or even on their office door.
Here are some reasons why you should visit your professor during their office hours:
- You missed class. It’s perfectly acceptable to send an email explaining why you’ve missed class, but it will be even more helpful if you visit your professor to make sure you’re still on track and haven’t missed an important concept.
- You don’t understand the material. A professor’s entire job is to help teach students, so if you don’t understand a concept or have questions about a homework problem, take the time to ask for further clarification from your professor. Your professor is there to educate you as fully as possible on the topic at hand, so take advantage of their expertise in this personalized learning environment.
- You need career advice. Most professors have also worked in industry before teaching and know a fair amount about career opportunities within their respective fields. If you are trying to narrow down your future career options or need help debating between job offers, visit a professor and ask for their insight.
- You need help developing an idea for an essay or project. If you visit with plenty of time in advance, your professor can help flush out an idea for a big essay or project due that semester. But don’t show up empty-handed asking for ideas - come to their office with options you’ve already thought about and ask for their advice on what you’ve prepared.
- You need someone to talk to. Professors are often trained as advisors and have joined committees like CAST or Allies on Campus. If you’re struggling during the semester and need someone you know just to listen to what you’re going through, a close and trusted professor can be that listening ear. But know your professor may be more comfortable referring students to professional counselors, like SUU’s Counseling and Psychological Services Office. Either way, it’s good to know that turning to your professor is an option.
- You’re interested in extracurricular work or research. Southern Utah University isn’t a research university, but that doesn’t mean our professors aren’t doing research. Most professors are often working on outside projects and seek out students interested in earning internship credits or who want to expand their resumes with published articles and lab experience. If your professor can’t offer these projects, they will most likely know of another professor who could use your assistance.
- You’re an alumni visiting campus! Office hours aren’t just for undergrads. Once you graduate, your professors still want to know how you’re doing and what you’ve chosen to pursue as a career. If you find yourself near your alma mater, drop in and say hello.
Here’s how to best utilize your professor’s office hours:
- Don’t stay quiet. It’s your job to lead the conversation if you visit a professor during their office hours. Put together a list of questions or topics you’d like to discuss with them and use your time wisely! And if you don’t understand something they say while you’re in their office, then say so. Your professor may not realize they are being misunderstood and will appreciate your intellectual honesty.
- Arrive prepared. Start by introducing yourself if it’s your first time visiting their office. If you think you’ll be nervous to talk one on one with your professor, write down your questions beforehand and read from your list! The more prepared you are for the office hour, the more you’ll get done.
- Be honest with your professor. If you didn’t do well on a test because you’re struggling with the stresses of college life or are slammed with work, tell your professor the truth. They are human and understand that life happens. If you’re honest and open with them, they will more likely than not help accommodate your situation.
- Take notes. You may be worried that it’s rude to write while talking with your professor, but you aren’t visiting for a social conversation. You’ll likely cover important details on assignments or even advice they give, and you won’t be able to remember everything discussed. Be okay with some silence between you both while you are writing down notes.
- Don’t waste time with small talk. Other students may be waiting, so be sure you get right to your most important questions early. Getting to know your professor is fine, but if you have specific questions about homework or a concept, prioritize your discussion and ask them first.
- Go in pairs or groups. If you have the same question as a friend or the members of your study group, you can all visit your professor’s office together. Professors are happy to talk to more than one student at a time.
- Go while there’s time. Don’t wait till the day before a project is due or right before a midterm. Visit your professor early so you have time to implement their advice and ideas into your studying and homework.
- Follow up. If you have additional questions later in the week, you can always email the professor and visit their office hours again. There isn’t a rule that you can only visit once a week or once a semester.
- Be polite. Professors work hard for their students, and deserve to be treated with respect. They are human beings, and appreciate such niceties - especially when you mean them.
Most professors understand that students have schedules that often conflict with posted office hours, so they are usually willing to accommodate your schedule. It you need to meet with your professor, talk to them after class or via email and briefly explain your predicament. Then offer a range of days and times when you’d be available, having already made sure none of them conflict with your professor’s other classes.
Don’t wait until just before an exam or due date to talk to your professor. Visit them early on during their office hours and address your concerns and questions directly. You’ll be surprised how much your work improves as well as how much more connected you’ll feel toward your college experience.