Every college orientation I ever attended strongly emphasized the importance of attending office hours in building relationships with professors, allowing students to explore subject material in greater depth, and laying groundwork for strong letters of recommendation in the future. Even so, most college students I know either glean very little from office hours or do not attend them at all.
Office hours were by far the best and most useful parts of my college classes, but it took me most of my undergraduate career to start making the most of them. Here’s what I learned:
1) Just go. Individual attention from professors is rare and valuable, especially in large classes (like the ones I take at UC Berkeley, which sometimes hold hundreds of students.) Often, office hours is the only one-on-one time you’ll ever get.
2) Be sure you’ve done the reading and are caught up on the class. It is both embarrassing for you and impolite towards your professor to use his or her extra time to make up for work you should have already done. Make a good impression by showing that you take his or her class seriously.
3) Don’t be scared. Professors are often more relaxed and approachable in office hours than they are during classtime. Many enjoy working with undergraduates, or prefer more individual interaction with students over the more impersonal environment of the classroom. (Also, if you haven’t had much experience with it before, it is useful and important to learn to be comfortable interacting with superiors and authority figures. Office hours are a great way to do that.)
4) Have some questions prepared in advance. Don’t feel limited to only talking about the class; professors are often a great source of career planning advice, information about your field of interest, and tips about what other classes you might find interesting.
5) Be interested in the answers you get. Office hours allow you to learn about a field from the experts themselves. Take advantage of your access to them – and strike a better rapport with your professor – by taking a real interest in the insights your professor offers (or at least making a sincere effort to).
6) Be honest about how well you’re doing in the class. If you’re struggling to understand a concept in your class and have made an honest effort to do so, it’s perfectly fine to admit it. Your professor can help, and will appreciate your honest; he or she wants you to learn their material just as much as you want to pass the class.
7) Stay open-minded. Office hours aren’t just a networking opportunity. Networking for networking’s sake has its advantages sometimes, but your experience in office hours will be more productive and meaningful (and your letter of recommendation, if you get one, will be better) if you really get to know the person you’re talking to.
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Courtney Tran is a student at UC Berkeley, studying Political Economy and Rhetoric. In high school, she was named a National Merit Finalist and National AP Scholar, and she represented her district two years in a row in Public Forum Debate at the National Forensics League National Tournament.