10 Do's and Don'ts for College Professor Office Visits

Meeting with your professor can be critical to your success. Here are some basic rules for when, why, and how you should visit.

Speaking as someone who has been a college professor for years -- and who has been friends with many other college professors -- I can assure you that we want to help you succeed in our classes. We want you to understand the assignments, know what to expect on exams, and solicit feedback when you're struggling.

When you have general questions that the entire class might need the answer to, it's perfectly fine asking the question in class, but anytime you have more personal issues and concerns, it's best to see the professor in his or her office. Professors have posted office hours for the benefit of YOU! We sit in our offices waiting to impart sage advice, give feedback, and offer more thorough explanations. We're there to answer your questions and provide direction for you.

Professors in your major (or possible major or minor) can not only provide insights into your current class, but they can give you insight into the curriculum, careers, graduate school, and more. Some professors can become your friends and mentors. None of these things will happen unless you make the first step by visiting his or her office.

Sadly, many students don't take advantage of office hours to visit with professors. How can you go about meeting up with your professor -- and what should you do once you're there?

This article provides you with 10 do's and don'ts of visiting your professors.

Do research when your professor has office hours and consider dropping in for a visit. If the time is not quite right for you, or you're afraid you'll take too much time for just an office visit, consider asking the professor for an appointment. There's no protocol for asking -- you can do so in person, e-mail, or phone -- just remember to ask. If you schedule an appointment outside of regular office hours, do make sure you remember it and show up for it. And if the professor forgets, don't send a nasty email ("I was at your office and you weren't"), but do request another appointment.

Don't wait until the end of the term to make an appointment with the professor and expect some sort of miracle. The time to meet the professor is the moment you get the first bad grade or when you realize you simply do not understand the course materials or what the professor expects. Most professors do not offer any kind of extra credit, so don't ask for it. And don't tell the professor that you NEED to have a certain grade in the class to keep a scholarship or stay on the sports team. Your academic performance is your responsibility.

Do make a good first impression with the professor. Besides being a good student with a good attendance record, you can also make a good impression by showing good manners. For example, if the professor has not stated how he or she wants to be addressed, do ask. Many professors hold a doctorate -- the highest academic degree -- and as such want to be referred to as Dr. Lastname. Others might prefer Professor Lastname. Still others might like to be called by their first names. Be careful of addressing a professor as Mr., Mrs., or Ms.

Don't ever be rude or impolite to the professor. No matter how much you're struggling in the class or how much of an SOB the professor is being, he or she commands your respect because of the title professor. Do remain calm and composed and seek your professor's counsel.

Do plan ahead and have an agenda for your meeting -- especially if it is the first time you are meeting with him/her. If you hit it off with the professor, you might forget the things you needed to get from the professor. Once you know the professor -- and the professor knows you --do feel free to just stop by the professor's office during office hours to chat. But don't overstay your welcome --don't just stop by to kill time. Do watch for clues that the professor needs to wrap up the conversation.

Don't be afraid of meeting with a professor who is intimidating in class or who is of a different age, race, gender, or culture than you. Yes, professors are different than you, but they are teaching for a reason, so do muster up the courage and visit with them and get the information you need to succeed. (You'll be glad you did!)

Do make use of the advice the professor offers you. You may have been an academic star all your life, but in some ways, that may actually hurt you in college. Taking criticism is hard at first, especially if you have always been "right" in the past. Remember that the professor is trying to make your work even better, so do listen carefully and ask for further explanation when you need it -- and then do make the changes the professor suggests.

Don't create a perception as a student who knows-it-all. No one -- not even the professor -- knows everything about the subject -- and by acting as though you have written a paper or essay that shows your misunderstood brilliance you'll just completely sour any kind of connection with the professor. Worse, the professor will probably warn other professors about you and you'll end up fighting battles you aren't even aware of or expect.

Do use the relationship you develop with key professors to your advantage. Professors love dependable and conscientious students -- especially high-performing ones. Use your relationship -- once it's been established -- to get into closed classes, obtain job references or grad school recommendations, and acquire the best internship and job leads.

Don't involve your parents in dealing with your professors. If you are having problems in a class, see the professor on your own. If you don't get any kind of satisfactory answers from the meeting, do take your concerns up the academic ladder -- first to the professor's department chair, then to the dean or president. Only involve your parents or family as a last resort; you're an adult, so do act like it.

Do always thank the professor for his or her time. Showing gratitude and appreciation can go a long way to making you stand out from other students. Professors -- though they might not always seem like it -- are people too, and they want to be valued for their time and efforts on your behalf. Besides thanking the professor in person, consider sending a thank-you card or email reiterating your appreciation for their time and insights.

Final Thoughts on Meeting With Your College Professors

Your professors are your allies in your quest for academic knowledge. Use their office hours to help solve problems or misunderstandings; pick their brains about the course, college, careers, and life; explain issues or events that have hindered your attendance or learning; and to get to know them -- and for you to get known by them.

Finally, not sure how to make that initial approach for help? Try some variation of one of these:

  • Professor Hansen, I have some questions about the class and could use your guidance.

  • Professor Hansen, I'm not getting the kind of grades I would like in your class and was hoping I could come by your office and get some suggestions for improving my performance.

  • Professor Hansen, could I stop by your office to bounce some ideas (or a rough draft) I have about the big project?

  • Professor Hansen, do you think we could meet so you could share with me what you think are the most important strategies for mastering this material?

Questions about some of the terminology used in this article? Get more information (definitions and links) on key academic terms by going to our College Success Glossary

Our Useful Tools and Helpful Resources

Dr. Randall Hansen is an advocate, educator, mentor, ethicist, and thought-leader... helping the world heal from past trauma. He is founder and CEO of EmpoweringSites.com, a network of empowering and transformative Websites, including EmpoweringAdvice.com.

He has been a college professor for about three decades.

He is the author of the groundbreaking Triumph Over Trauma: Psychedelic Medicines are Helping People Heal Their Trauma, Change Their Lives, and Grow Their Spirituality and the well-received HEAL! Wholeistic Practices to Help Clear Your Trauma, Heal Yourself, and Live Your Best Life.

Dr. Hansen's focus and advocacy center around true healing ... healing that results in being able to live an authentic life filled with peace, joy, love. Learn more by visiting his personal Website, RandallSHansen.com. You can also check out Dr. Randall Hansen on LinkedIn.

The Books Behind the Website