BY LAN NGO
In college, one of the best resources available is office hours, which are scheduled times when students can visit their instructors’ office to talk and ask questions. Going to office hours is like having a weekly private tutor. You’re already paying for it (or someone is), so make use of it! Here are 4 tips to make the most of this great resource:
- Go to office hours weekly
Put it in your schedule, and make it a habit to attend weekly. Start with the first one available in the semester to introduce yourself to your professor; you would probably be the only one there since it’s so early in the semester. Some students feel that they’re intruding on their instructors when they go to office hours, but you shouldn’t feel that way. Often enough, all the other students are thinking that they’re bothering the professor as well, and so the professor just ends up doing other work. Office hours are for you, so take advantage of that time.
More importantly, by regularly going to office hours (and being prepared for the occasion), you would be demonstrating your strong interest in achieving in the class. Working with your instructor one-on-one, you can display your motivation, inquisitive nature, relevant skills, and critical thinking abilities. These interactions may also improve your performance in the class.
- Come prepared
Use the time with your instructor wisely. Come prepared with specific questions about readings, a problem set, etc. Write a list of questions or mark the areas of concern neatly on your handouts and readings so that you can point to, for example, the exact paragraph in the book that you’re struggling with. If you’re not having difficulties with the class, come with a question to expand your knowledge on the course’s topic. Your instructor will appreciate your inquisitiveness and efficiency.
- Make use of the TA
In some cases, particularly at large public universities, it’s incredibly difficult to get a time slot for office hours with your professor. How do you get around this issue? Turn to the teaching assistant, the TA. If you’re in a large, lecture-style course, you probably have a weekly discussion/recitation section led by the TA. Chances are good that the TA will get to know you well in such a small, intimate setting, and will therefore, make a great “tutor”. Attend your TA’s weekly office hours if your professor’s office hours are full.
- Engage in small talk
Unless your instructor is obviously in a rush, start with a bit of small talk and sprinkle some throughout your office hours meeting. When I was teaching undergrads, I had weekly meetings with each of my students, and I learned a lot about them by chatting with them. I learned much more than what we talked about in class: I learned about their lives back in their hometown, I heard about their experience rushing for a frat or sorority, and I learned about their stresses and happy points. All of these made for a stronger relationship with my students, and made me even more driven to help them succeed and be healthy in college. Because my students regularly talked with me, I knew when they got sick or were slammed with other coursework and needed an extension on their assignments.
Your instructor’s compassion can also later be converted to a solid recommendation letter when you need one. By building a strong relationship with your instructor via office hours, your instructor would be happy to write a letter for you, and the letter would be personalized.
Office hours are a gem in college. Seeing your professor or TA at office hours will help with your academics and can be a strategy for landing an strong recommendation letter. Go ahead–mark your instructors’ weekly office hours on your calendar!
Byline: Lan Ngo, PhD is a Project Delivery Manager in the Learning Lab at the University of Pennsylvania, where she is also an education lecturer. Lan is the co-founder of www.yourcollegeadvisors.com