Office hours have been something of a little-known secret among successful college students. Sure, many students know about them, but few have taken the time to approach these “mystical times” of direct contact with professors. Whether out of fear, laziness, or ignorance, office hours continue to be under-utilized by the college population.
However, having studied study habits for the past two years, one of the most common themes I’ve seen among the most successful students has been their dedication to attending office hours.
Why such a disparity? Most college students struggle enough with going to class, so going to office hours is typically seen as a monumental struggle. “I have to take MORE time out of my schedule? Won’t it just serve me better to study by myself?”
Before I began writing for College Info Geek, I wrote a post entitled, “Lazy Students Go To Office Hours (And Get Better Grades),” which boiled down to a singular argument: minute for minute, office hours are the most academically effective use of your time. One-on-one time with professors can have huge implications on your grades, college experience, and future career.
From my post:
“In the fall of my junior year, I had a science professor briefly tell the class to memorize a number of different species and examples for an upcoming test. Now this was a pretty hefty number of things to memorize, so I went to office hours a few days before the test to clarify exactly what we needed to learn. In his office hours, the professor instead told us to focus on the concepts in the class instead of memorizing those specific species details. To add to the confusion, a miscommunication between the TA and professor lead the TA to tell all the students that the details were going to be a big part of the test. Come test time, there were no questions on species or examples. For the <5% of the class that did go to office hours, this was a huge advantage in terms of time utilization. Professors assign a lot of material to cover (lectures, textbooks, readers) and going through and memorizing each and every fact and figure for multiple classes is highly improbable, if not impossible. The students who did go to the professor for clarification ended up getting the best grades in the class, while the rest of the students lamented the time they wasted memorizing useless details. Use office hours to gauge what is high-yield and what is unnecessary.”
Office hours can make all the difference in a variety of classes and the fact remains that simply showing up to office hours puts you in an advantage over the 85% of students who don’t bother to go to office hours. Ramit Sethi calls this phenomenon, the Craigslist Penis Effect, something that others are so horrible at that even being half-decent puts in a position to dominate.
Something I’ve learned over my time in college, however, is that simply showing up gets old very fast, and as more students realize that office hours are the greatest thing since sliced bread, it becomes necessary to take the steps to make the most out of your office hour visit. Especially around test times, when desperate students flood the professor’s office with inane questions about grading, savvy students want to make sure they’re maximizing what they’re getting out of office hours.
How To Get The Most Out Of Office Hours
Get to office hours first. By coming to office hours within the first 5 minutes of a professor’s time frame, you can almost ensure you are one of the first students in his or her office. This will give you the opportunity to take a seat and establish a conversation with your professor instead of having to interrupt someone else’s conversation to get in your questions.
Come prepared with a set of at least 3 open-ended questions about the material. No one is going to know the class material and exam questions better than the professor. While office hours are great for clarification, I believe the most bang for your time comes in hearing the professor talk about the material to see what is emphasized. If a professor talks about something in class repeatedly AND in office hours, you can bet your lunch money that material is going to be on the test.
Know the professors’ professional career and research. Did he start a company? Does she do research in a specific field? Does he work as a consultant for company? Is she under consideration for a special award? As always, doing your homework beforehand can pay dividends during office hours. Often, this information can be found through faculty websites, and when tied in with the conversation, can be a great way to learn more about the outside the classroom application of academics.
Plan on building a relationship throughout the course. As with any beneficial relationship, it will take time and effort to build a good rapport with your professor. Showing up once or twice to office hours won’t get you that great of a letter of recommendation or the grade bump that you are seeking. Knowing this, use office hours to build a relationship with your professor and to show him or her that you have something to offer to the conversation.
What do you do to prepare for office hours? Have you had any experience where going to office hours had a huge impact on your college experience?