How to Get the Most Out of College Office Hours

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How to Get the Most Out of College Office Hours
portrait of Genevieve Carlton, Ph.D.
By Genevieve Carlton, Ph.D.

Published on June 7, 2021

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The first time I went to a professor's office hours was my first year in college, when I was taking a medieval history class. I was too intimidated to go alone, so I convinced a friend to attend our professor's office hours before the midterm.

When we arrived, our professor was sitting alone in an office surrounded by books. She was so excited that anyone showed up to office hours that she gave us each a bag of peanut M&Ms.

After that first visit, I started going to office hours more regularly. By my senior year, I asked that same professor to serve as my thesis advisor, and a few years later she became my master's advisor. A single visit to office hours helped shape my academic future — and the candy didn't hurt, either.

But what are the benefits of going to college office hours? And how can you make the most out of some one-on-one time with your professors?

The Benefits of Going to College Office Hours

A 2017 study found that a majority of undergraduates didn't understand the purpose of office hours. And yet most universities require instructors to offer a minimum number of office hours each term.

Undergrads can visit a professor's office hours to ask questions about exams, get feedback on their work, and formulate research papers or projects. Students struggling in a class can use the resource for additional support and guidance.

Undergrads can visit a professor's office hours to ask questions about exams, get feedback on their work, and formulate research papers or projects.

Office hours also help students connect with their professors and receive one-on-one attention. It's much easier to ask a professor to serve as a faculty advisor or to write a letter of recommendation for you if you've gotten to know them outside the confines of class.

Remember that office hours exist in many formats. While you might physically visit your professor's on-campus office, many professors also hold virtual office hours through video chat, answer questions via email, or set aside time to meet with students in the campus library or in a cafe.

Some instructors, particularly adjunct professors and graduate teaching assistants, may not have an office, so keep this in mind when making plans to utilize office hours.

5 Strategies for Attending Office Hours in College

Many students skip office hours because they find it intimidating or don't see the value of meeting with a professor. But going to office hours is the best way to make a positive impression on a professor, which is particularly important for courses in your major. Here's how to make the most of college office hours.

Go Early to Introduce Yourself

Every semester as a professor, I held office hours the first week of class. And every semester, no one showed up.

Typically, students didn't start trickling into office hours until the first paper or exam. But it's a good idea to pop by to introduce yourself early in the semester.

Even if you don't have questions about the class, visiting office hours gives you some one-on-one time with your professor. It's a valuable opportunity to share a little about yourself, including why you're taking the class. That way, when you reach out for help later on in the semester, you've already formed a personal connection.

Bring a Friend

Going to office hours can feel intimidating, even if you're visiting your teaching assistant who might feel more approachable than a professor. There's no rule against bringing a friend, and it can make the process feel less stressful.

If you've connected with other people in your class, consider going to your professor's office hours together. It's particularly helpful to visit with someone in your study group when you're preparing for an exam; however, avoid groups if you plan to discuss your grade or any personal information.

Come With Specific Questions

In my experience as a professor, students visited office hours for two main reasons: to prepare for an exam or paper and to ask about their grades on an assignment.

If you're visiting office hours for help in the class, bring specific questions for your professor. Prepare questions about the exam format, study strategies, or paper topics before you knock on your professor's door.

If you're struggling with a paper or exam, bring it with you to office hours. In a typical semester, I graded over 350 tests and papers. When students visited office hours without their assignment, I couldn't do much more than look up their grade in my gradebook. But when students brought the assignment, I could read over their work and my comments to provide useful feedback.

Bring Course Materials

Make sure to bring course materials with you to office hours. In my classes, I handed out a review sheet for every exam, which I also posted online. Still, a large number of students who came to office hours didn't bring the review sheet.

For example, if you want to discuss the lecture or a recent reading, bring your notes and the text. Office hours provide a great opportunity to ask professors for feedback on your note-taking skills. I always offered to review lecture notes and let students know if they were writing down the most important information.

If you're confused about a reading, make sure to bring it with you so your professor can point out key passages and check your reading notes.

Don't Wait Until Finals Week

As a professor, I could count on students I'd never seen outside of class showing up to office hours right before the final exam. Attending office hours any time is better than not at all, but in general it's a good idea to avoid waiting until finals week.

There are two reasons you don't want to wait. The first is that you'll miss out on many of the benefits of office hours by only attending the last slot of the semester. Instead of developing a relationship with your professor, you'll be one of many students scrambling to raise their grade on the final.

The other problem with waiting is that the final office hours session is usually the most crowded of the term. If a half dozen or more students crowd in for office hours, you'll have less time with the professor and might not make much of an impression. Still, it's better to go than to skip completely.

Use Office Hours to Connect With Your Professors

Once I started holding my own office hours, I realized just how few students utilize the resource. Most undergrads breeze past the office hours listed on the syllabus and never visit their professors. A small number might pop in once before midterms and once before finals, but that's usually it.

College office hours aren't only useful for students. As a professor, I found it helpful to know which topics confused students or what kinds of issues they ran into when writing a research paper. It also makes a big difference when writing recommendation letters for graduate school and scholarships.

Connecting with professors can benefit students in many ways — it's much easier to ask for letters of recommendation if your professor knows your name.

And office hours aren't the only method of connecting with professors. Talking before or after class, sending an email, or even taking several

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