As a new college student or graduating high school senior, you probably already know that transitioning to college is a major turning point in your life. On campus, you’ll be responsible for your own success. However, you aren’t on this journey alone.
Your professors, fellow classmates and student support staff are all here to offer guidance along the way. Professors strongly recommend that students visit them during office hours to seek additional help or ask questions. However, many college freshmen (and even some older students) are a little unsure of exactly which questions to ask professors during office hours. This guide can demystify office hours and empower you to optimize your college experience.
An Overview of Office Hours
Every professor establishes open office hours at the beginning of each semester. These are typically listed on the course syllabus. Students are encouraged to drop by the professor’s office during the specified time.
If you need to see a professor, but you have a scheduling conflict during their office hours, you can contact them via email to request an appointment. However, it’s best not to wait until the last minute. For instance, if you have a question about a paper, schedule an appointment right away instead of waiting until the day before it’s due, as your professor might not have an immediately available appointment time.
What to Ask Professors During Office Hours: Topic Areas to Consider
There are many types of questions to ask professors during office hours. Below, you can find some common discussion topics to help you plan your visit.
If you recently missed a class, it’s a good idea to visit your professor during office hours. Of course, you can also ask fellow classmates about the topic of discussion during that class, but your professor can provide further insight. During office hours, you can also obtain any handouts provided during class.
Many students only take advantage of office hours when they aren’t doing as well as they had hoped in a class. This can be helpful, as your professor can certainly offer advice for improving your grades. However, you can also visit the office even if you’re doing well in the class. After all, it takes continued hard work to sustain good grades.
It’s perfectly normal for students to not understand everything right away. If you’ve been having trouble with a particular concept that your professor has discussed in class, you should go to their office hours and ask for additional help. Your professor may be able to explain the concept in another way or add greater context to enhance your understanding.
In most cases, it’s best not to overshare your personal issues with your professor. However, if you’ve been missing classes or having trouble keeping up with the assignments because a family member is ill or something else significant has happened, you’re likely to find that your professor may understand, but that doesn't guarantee they will give you a pass.
Not all students learn effective study habits in high school. If you’re having trouble keeping up with college-level work, you can ask your professors if they can recommend some study tips that helped them tackle the subject matter when they were undergraduates.
Even if you live on campus, you might not be aware of all the resources and tools your school has to offer. Your professor may be able to connect you to tutoring resources, for example. Some professors’ teaching assistants (TAs) also offer extra group study sessions for students.
Are you thinking about furthering your studies in graduate school? Your professor can be a great source of information about master’s degree programs and what you might expect as a graduate student.
Learning for learning’s sake alone is fantastic, but most students go to college with the hope of putting their degree to work when they graduate. Perhaps you enjoy a particular field of study, but you’re not quite sure what careers would be open to you down the road. Consider asking your professor about the possibilities in that field.
Most professors entered academia because they genuinely enjoy the learning process and they consider themselves to be lifelong learners. This means they tend to like it when students express interest in various topics discussed in class. If something discussed in class piqued your interest, feel free to go to office hours to talk about it further and perhaps ask for recommendations for further reading.
Your academic advisor will be largely responsible for helping you plan your schedule and ensure that you meet all credit requirements. However, you should feel free to approach a professor to discuss any upcoming courses they might be teaching next semester.
If you really enjoyed the current course you’re taking with that professor, they might recommend an upcoming class that you’re also likely to enjoy. They can also answer any questions you might have about their upcoming courses.
Internship and Job Connections
Your student career services center will be your primary point of contact for information about local internship opportunities and, for seniors, job opportunities. However, it can be worth it to ask your professors if they have any connections that might help you. Professors often keep in touch with former students, former employers and professional organizations, and they might be able to connect you to an invaluable opportunity.
Letters of Recommendation
Students often need to ask professors for letters of recommendation when they apply to graduate school, scholarships or internships. It can be difficult for a professor to write a letter of recommendation when they have not had any interactions with the student outside of class. If you visit your professors outside of class from time to time, they’ll get to know you better and they’ll be better able to write a glowing recommendation for you.
Specific Questions to Ask Professors During Office Hours
Are you still not quite sure what to ask professors during office hours? Here are some examples of questions to ask:
- I’m having trouble narrowing down my topic for the paper. Can you please offer some guidance?
- What can I do to improve my grades in this class?
- What are the most common mistakes you see on papers for this class? Do you have any guidance for avoiding those mistakes?
- I really enjoyed learning about this particular topic. Can you recommend resources for further reading?
- I like this field of study, but I’m not sure whether I should major in it. What are some of my career options in this field?
It’s normal to be a little nervous when talking to a professor one-on-one for the first time, especially if you’re naturally shy. However, the vast majority of professors are friendly people who genuinely want to see you succeed, both in your studies and in your life after college. Just relax and be yourself.
At Grand Canyon University, it’s our mission to deliver academically rigorous educational programs that nurture students as they become the servant leaders of tomorrow. Our professors are always accessible to their students should questions arise, and our Student Success Center offers a variety of tools and resources to support students along their academic journeys. Begin exploring the possibilities at GCU today by clicking on the button to Request Info at the top of your screen.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University. Any sources cited were accurate as of the publish date.