Should I dress up? Do I shake his hand? What if he isn’t even there? Office hours breed anxiety as ridiculous as ordering a diet Coke with your super-sized McDonald’s nuggets. You hope when you go see your bio professor, she’s never noticed you text on your phone all class, even though she does. Professors always do. You can no longer hide behind the anonymity of sitting in the back of a class with 200 people. If your palms start sweating just thinking about office hours, keep reading for CM’s guide to reading your professor’s mind during office hours.
1. This student means business
Start the semester right by popping in at the beginning of the term to paint a dedicated picture for the next half. Molly Daniel, an English professor at Florida State University, believes prevention is the best medicine. “I do think that students who attend office hours early in the semester are more apt to do well. They visit to ‘formally’ introduce themselves or to gain clarification on the current task at hand,” said Daniel. Getting a jump on what the professor has to offer makes you stand out in a sea of half-asleep students.
2. I can get to know an individual instead of one of hundreds of students
Professors have 16 weeks to get to know to hundreds of students. This daunting task is made easy with office hours, where professors actually desire to put a face to your name. “I relish in the opportunity to interact with my students and get to know them better. My hope is for students to be as successful as possible in my classes,” said Florida State University English professor Sarah Stewart. Even if you don’t predict a failed quiz or sleeping through a midterm, seeing professors beforehand can only help. “It’s a chance for students to get individual attention from their professor in a university environment that is often easy to feel lost and adrift in due to the sheer size of the university and the number of students in many classes,” said Stewart.
3. They take their work seriously
Not only are office hours a preemptive attack on a solid “A,” they’re just one more thing that helps you flaunt success at the end of a semester. “A student who attends office hours immediately after an assignment is assigned, or when they have missed class to clarify what they’ve missed, that suggests a student who is interested in being successful,” said Daniel. Office hours are about finding the balance between whining about an essay grade and finding out how you can improve your next one. “In general, office hours are intended to provide students with a private forum to raise any concerns or questions they might have, and to seek guidance and support,” said Stewart. Stopping by to see a professor about an upcoming project is key to showing you take pride in your work.
4. This could be an end of semester begging session
“I think office hours are often used as a last ditch effort, which in my experience doesn’t work. [Or] they think that it is only to use when they have gotten in trouble, but that’s not what they are for,” said Daniel. If you’re there to beg to pass two days before the final, you induce a lot of internal eye rolling rather than sympathy. If you feel like using office hours just to negotiate extra credit is useless, you’re absolutely right. “[Students] come in hoping that I’ll be able to magically fix their problems by changing grades or giving them extra credit,” said Stewart.
5. Thank God I’m not here for nothing
Bottom line for professors: If you’re considering going to office hours, then go. They hold them just for your questions. Sending an anxious email and hoping for a reply within 20 minutes isn’t the way to understand your homework. “[Students attending office hours] is a relatively rare occurrence, which I find frustrating,” said Stewart. Imagine sitting in an empty office for two hours with no visits, then having an inbox full of questions the night before a midterm. Not cool. Huge brownie points go to the students that aren’t afraid to go to the office for clarity. “I often sit at office hours and wonder why I am holding them. But when students do attend, I wonder what it is they want and why they haven’t attended sooner,” said Daniel.
Even if facing a professor scares the crap out of you, it’s worth the nerves and 20 minutes of your time. Unless you’re boycotting your well deserved grade, the feedback will be nothing but positive.