Head in a fog, you walk out of class. You’re so dazed, you almost stumble over a trash can. A friend asks if you’re all right. Rubbing your bruised knee, you answer, “No, I have absolutely no idea what’s going in my Mustaches and Villains throughout the 20th Century class!”

Your friend responds gently, “Well, have you gone to office hours?”

Office hours are the time outside of class to speak with your professor. They’re useful because they can offer a one-on-one learning experience in which your professor can address your questions and concerns directly.  

There are ways to make the most of visiting a professor’s office hours. You want to make the best impression on your professor, and at the very least, you don’t want to become the reason your professor’s eye twitches whenever you see them. Here are some tips on how to use your professor’s office hours wisely.

When to attend office hours

The first order of business is time. When are your professor’s office hours? It’s always best to show up earlier so you can gobble up the worm of knowledge before everyone else does. The later you show up, the longer you risk waiting for the person ahead of you to finish receiving help. Or even worse, if you arrive too late, you might not get to see the professor at all. 

Similarly, don’t wait until just before the test or deadline to come to office hours. Everyone will be there, and your chance of seeing your professor decreases tenfold. 

What to discuss with your professor

Next, you’ll need to decide on the purpose or topic of your meeting with your professor.

If the subject you need to discuss with your professor is more personal, then it’s still OK to go to office hours. Personal matters can include familial issues, mental or physical health, academic accommodations, etc. Just be honest, and explain what’s going on to your professor as best as possible.

If your issue has to do with the material you’re covering in class, paradoxically, you need to know what you don’t know. It’s never wrong to begin the meeting with, “I didn’t quite understand what you meant by this in lecture…” Hopefully, that will prompt a sound explanation from the professor. And if you have a follow-up question, ask it! Have them clarify, define, or spell out whatever you need them to. Office hours exist to benefit the student. Professors want you to ask so they can give you guidance. 

Also, if you’re nervous about going alone, bring a friend. If you and a classmate are running into the same roadblock, then both of you will benefit from talking with your instructor. 

How to interact with your professor

Write down the important bits your professor says. Office hours are like personalized mini-classroom lessons, so taking notes is encouraged.  

At the end of the meeting, be courteous when leaving your professor. They took time out of their day to help you, and that’s something to be grateful for. 

Office hours should enlighten you and tighten your grasp on the material. You should come from your meeting knowing more than you did before, such as finally understanding why the handlebar mustache is most commonly associated with dastardly devils while the pencil ’stache is a reliable indicator of a scoundrelism.

So go on: go to office hours, and learn a little extra!

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