Friday, July 29, 2011

Making the most out of your college courses: Get to know your professors

    The first day of classes is rapidly approaching (August 24th if you forgot or were in denial that summer does actually end) and while most of your time might be currently occupied with a summer job, pools, travel, barbecues and the like, it is also worthwhile to start planning for a successful fall semester. You can start by evaluating your habits in and out of the classroom. As the first part in a series on getting the most out of your college classes, we’ll take a look at how you can get ahead by getting to know your professors.

    One of the more underutilized resources for students is also the most obvious and accessible: your professor. Many students are either apprehensive or complacent about approaching their professor, even when struggling with classes. The reality is most professors are welcoming, engaging, helpful and encouraging. While some professors might be a little more student-friendly than others, the fact is, they are required to make themselves available to you (through office hours, appointments, email or phone contact). If you put a little effort into showing your professors that you truly care about the classwork and doing well, it can go a long way. You might be surprised by what a little effort on your end can do in not only ensuring you stay on top of your classwork, but setting you up for success outside of class.

  Most professors will be happy to meet with you and discuss class expectations, clarify material or even just chat, but it is also up to you to make sure you are respectful of your professors’ time.  Faculty are required to distribute a syllabus at the beginning of the semester with a listing of office hours and contact information. If your schedule doesn’t allow you to meet at a professor’s set office hours, most professors will be happy to schedule an appointment that works for you both.

  You should make an effort to get to know your professor as early in the semester as you can, especially if the class is part of your major coursework. Introduce yourself the first day of class if given the chance. Clarify syllabus material if need be. You don’t want to be the student that comes out of the woodwork right before finals week with a desperate plea for help. If you have an issue with a grade or professor’s policy, you’ll probably feel a little more comfortable approaching them if you’ve already made the effort to introduce yourself. Putting in a little face time with the professor lets them match a name to a face and shows them you’re invested in your academic career.

    Email often seems to best way to reach a professor with a question or request, but you should be conscious of not “email bombing” a professor or making unreasonable requests. Your professors receive dozens, if not hundreds of emails throughout the day so it is important to be respectful of their time, especially if you are in a larger class. Asking a complicated question about an assignment hours before it is due is not going elicit a helpful response. If you expect helpfulness and understanding from your professor, you need to show some initiative, responsibility and respect on your end. Keep your questions concise and reasonable, especially if you haven’t developed a rapport with the professor you are speaking with.

You’ll probably find that your more involved student-professor relationships will occur in smaller classes within your major where the teaching and learning is more personal because professors have fewer students. You should take advantage of these more highly-involved class scenarios. While it isn’t always necessarily part of their job description, you may find that a given professor can assist you in areas outside of your coursework. This may be advising for future classes, networking opportunities, or professional development advice.  Your professors are undoubtedly experienced and well-connected in their industry. Thus, your professor is a great person to ask for help with tailoring your résumé or CV or give you advice about internships or professional conferences (if not, you can always go to the Stuckert Career Center for this).

 Like many things in life, if you make an effort, you’ll probably reap some benefits. This can certainly be true in regards to getting to know your professors. You’ll find that your professor can be more than the person that gives you your grades. If you talk to alumni, plenty of them will be able to name a professor or two that made a lasting impact on their lives and whom they still maintain contact. You’ll feel a lot better about your college experience knowing that you engaged your professors and took initiative in your education. After all, college isn’t might as well put forth your best effort and take advantage of all the resources available to you.

Stay posted for the next article in our series on getting the most out of your college courses: Get to know your classmates.

Looking for more information on how to get the most out of yourself and your courses at UK? The Study provides free peer tutoring, individual academic consultations and other services to improve and foster your academic career. Visit for more information.

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