“This will be the year. I’ll actually go to class prepared and participate. I’ll visit my professors during their office hours and relationships with them.” Raise your hand if you’ve had this attitude before. I know, we aren’t used to raising our hands.
Let’s be real–more often than not, great relationships with your professors don’t happen because of sheer laziness, complacency or a lack of time. So what can college kids actually do to create a bond between themselves and their professors? Working on that professor-student relationship from day one isn’t difficult, and it may create lifelong opportunities.
Master the art of the summer email
Professors generally send out emails and syllabi before the semester actually starts. While you might get that email in the summer and grumble at the thought of classes starting, it’s easy to reply to the email and say you’re excited for the course to begin, even if you’d rather drink to forget how soon classes actually begin. These types of little things are by no means necessary, but can go a long way in forming the foundation of a healthy relationship with your new BFF–your professor.
Actually come to class prepared
There’s nothing worse than that embarrassing moment when a student frantically looks across the room trying to silently solicit a pencil and piece of paper as if he didn’t expect to do anything during the first day of class. It’s awkward for that unprepared student and for everyone else watching him squirm. Try to save face for yourself and just show up with the basics. Or don’t. It’s your academic funeral. “[I expect] the students to show up having read the syllabus. If they have concerns, they should be expressed soon. Be proactive about it,” American University professor Christine Lawrence said.
Showing up is just not enough
Another key ingredient in building a good relationship with your professor centers around the one thing that scares college students most–engagement. No, I’m not talking about proposal time, but making sure that you pay attention in class. How many times have you been too busy on your computer, or too bored to focus? If we’re being honest, sometimes class feels as boring as being stuck in traffic. Losing focus happens more than we expect, especially if you have a professor whose teaching style is drier than the Sahara.
Staying engaged in the classroom conversation is the first step in cultivating a mutually beneficial teacher-student relationship. AU professor Cecilia Simon, who also writes for the NY Times, stated, “I like students who are willing to connect with classmates…I like to create a class that has camaraderie and cohesion. That requires letting go of some inhibitions, being curious about classmates and possessing a desire to imagine the class and the material as something more than a rote curriculum.” Sometimes the thing that stands out most to professors is an excitement to be in the classroom and a desire to learn.
See your professor outside of class
Universities require professors to hold office hours so students can come by to talk, but most students choose not to take advantage of this time. Professors sit in their offices just waiting for students to stumble in to chat. Office hours aren’t solely meant for students struggling, but are there for students to create a real connection to their professors. “Many of [students’] recommendations, particularly for their first jobs, will come from their professors. You’re going to need a recommendation and I’m more likely to write one for a student I know,” Lawrence said. “Only 30-40% of students come to my office hours and they almost always end up with a better grade in the class.” Wait, what? I just talk to my professor and I can get a better grade and a letter of recommendation when I need it? Is this a secret no one told me about during orientation freshman year?
Building a relationship with a professor can greatly impact students’ lives. In college, the term networking carries so much weight. According to Lawrence, 60%-70% of college kids don’t take advantage of one of the easiest opportunities to expand their network. “[Students are] developing professional relationships with your instructors that will last a lifetime,” AU professor Melissa Yeager said.
At the end of the day, no professor begins the semester unwilling to help, especially if you demonstrate the drive to help yourself succeed. So start this semester the right way and invest in the little things that show your professors you’re ready to work hard and build a professional relationship.