Ask a professor: What are office hours for, anyway?

Classroom test
Getting one on one time with your professor can be a huge step towards success. / Getty

Most students don’t take advantage of the time professors set aside for office hours. I know this because I have spent many an afternoon sitting by myself in my office, waiting for students to come and sit and chat with me. And those that do come will timidly knock while apologizing about disturbing me. This is a part of my job, to offer extra assistance to you outside of the classroom when you need it. It’s more disturbing to me when my students don’t use my office hours.

But office hours aren’t just for when you need extra help or explanation about an assignment. Office hours are an opportunity to get to know your professor, to forge a connection with them. You can use the time to ask them about their research, their experience, or to seek advice about possible majors or career paths. You never know when you’re going to need that letter of reference, and you want to be able to approach professors whom you know and who know you beyond a final grade at the end of the semester.

Make sure you know where your professors’ offices are. It is perfectly acceptable at the beginning of the semester to follow the professor back to their office, prefaced with, “I just want to make sure I know where your office is in case I need to come see you during the semester.” When you do show up for office hours (posted on the syllabus!), make sure you have a clear purpose in mind; this shows initiative and organization skills. It’s ok not to understand an assignment, but make sure you come prepared to explain all the things that don’t make sense!

If you can show up at the beginning of the professor’s office hours, do so. If not, it is perfectly ok to come when you can within the posted times. If the posted office hours don’t work for you because of your class and/or work schedule, speak to the professor before or after class to explain your situation and see if there is an alternative time when you can meet.

Always remember, we’re here to help you on your journey through college and we want to see you succeed. Office hours are one of the ways outside of the classroom that we can help you. But we can’t help you if you don’t show up.

Dr. Lee Skallerup Bessette has been a teaching at the college level for almost 15 years, in three different states, two countries, and two languages. She has seen it all and heard it all, and probably invented a couple when she was a student herself. You can follow her on Twitter @readywriting and check out her other blog, College Ready Writing, where she talks about the broader issues and challenges facing higher education today. Are you a student? Send your questions to:


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