‘Twas the day after Midterms, when all through the university, nervous college students all begin to attend office hours in hopes of achieving good academic standing.
“Go to office hours” is easily in the top five of most common college advice tidbits. Chances are, that before attending college, you were advised to attend office hours by countless well-meaning older friends, authority figures, and YouTube bloggers.
So, buoyed by the visions of due-date extensions and miraculous F-to-A grade conversions dancing in your head, you’ve cancelled any lunch dates, club meetings, and after-class naps you had scheduled and penciled your professor in instead. After taking a few lefts that should have been rights, dashing up unexpected stairways, and stumbling into empty classrooms, you manage to locate your professor’s office- the Promised Land. But now what?
Office hours can easily be one of your best resources, but they’re not magic. You can only get out of them what you put in, so if the only thing you’re bringing to the table is grade grievances, they won’t produce the promised results. Here are some tips to help you maximize on the miracles effective usage of office hours can create.
Explain your problems before they become problems.
If you’re working two jobs, taking 18 hours worth of courses, and balancing three different extracurricular activities, the time to tell your professor that is not after you’ve already overslept for the first exam.
Your professors understand that their students have obligations beyond their classes and that sometimes, things happen. However, if you wait until after you’ve already started struggling, your explanations will sound less like legitimate reasons and more like excuses. The longer you wait to explain your situation to your professors, the less likely they are to assist you.
“If I know a student has a lot of other obligations — because they’ve talked with me about that in office hours — and they miss an assignment or start missing deadlines, I’m in a better position to recognize what might be happening and accommodate that student,” said Barbara Friedman, a journalism professor at UNC-Chapel Hill.
Think of office hours as an opportunity to set the record straight ahead of time. If you’re anticipating issues with a class’ coursework, or know your schedule can get hectic, let your professor know.
Don’t let being intimidated cause you to miss out on your blessing.
The idea of speaking to a professor without the buffer zone a class full of other students provides can seem a little scary, especially when you’re first starting out. Professors are already fairly intimidating as is, and somehow going to their office hours manages to add even more intimidation to the dynamic..
Avoid “chickening out” by hanging around after class and asking your questions then, instead of going to the professor’s office. It alleviates some of the pressure since it’s a much more relaxed environment than the professor’s actual office.
“If you have a friend that’s a little more fearless than you, take them with you,” advised Stephanie Gaskill, a former African-American studies professor at UNC-Chapel Hill and self-proclaimed introvert. “But most of it is really just biting the bullet and taking that first step.”
Ultimately, as Professor Gaskill said, there is no way to completely eliminate the awkwardness that is your first office hours visit, but by shifting the environment and bringing a more talkative classmate with you, you can make things a lot less intimidating.
Go against the grain by discussing more than just grades.
In order to make the best use of your time, discuss more than just grades with your professor. To truly make an impression on your professor, go above and beyond just haggling for extra points.
“My favorite office hours sessions are the ones that go beyond the minutia of grading and allow me to discuss concepts,” said Lindsay Holman, a graduate teaching assistant at UNC-Chapel Hill.
Make yourself memorable. Talk to your professor about material in the readings that grabbed your attention, or something you saw in the media that applies to the class. The best office hours session I’ve ever had was a heated discussion with a classmate and my professor about the film Birth of a Nation. Your professors aren’t expecting anything particularly profound from you, but they enjoy seeing students passionate about the subject they teach.
The miracles that office hours can produce may not be automatic, but they are achievable. By using a professor’s office hours as a platform to address problems head on and connect with the course material, you can not only become a better student, but a much more memorable one.