Editor’s note: Due to site maintenance, this article was republished on Oct. 7, 2020. This article was originally published on Sept. 23, 2020.
If you are reading this, it means you survived the first month of the fall semester. Honestly, that’s a big enough accomplishment to celebrate. Learning, in whatever form your courses are in, is different than it was a year ago. It also likely brought along a new set of challenges that we have been looking for solutions for.
This tip is for those of you who feel lost in your classes and don’t know how to get Google Maps started. (I know this is a bad joke, but to be honest someone else told me this one!). Perhaps the biggest resource on campus for students is one that most students rarely utilize. This resource isn’t ground shattering. In fact, it is at the top of every syllabus you will receive in your college career. I’m talking about our professors. It may seem like a no-brainer, but professors aren’t utilized enough.
The first way to fully utilize your professors is to simply attend all of their classes. It is even easier now when most professors record the Zoom class and upload it to D2L after. If you aren’t convinced of why attending class is so valuable, check out tip #3 on how much money you are literally throwing in the garbage when you skip a class.
Next, is to visit their office hours. All professors are required by the University to host office hours throughout the week where students have the opportunity to ask questions and receive help in the course. From the professors I talk to, many of them spend too many of their office hours without any students coming to visit. Now, this is where excuses might arise saying that your schedule doesn’t allow you to attend their office hours. As a third year student, I am going to be honest with you and say that all but one of my professors have been willing to set up a time to meet with me outside of their office hours.
As a freshman, I was scared of going into office hours; I worried that I was bothering them and that my questions were a waste of time. They aren’t! Professors are here for you to learn from. They want to help and will gladly answer any of your questions. Back in my day (*wink*), we had to search for their office in the maze of some of the buildings, but now with operating mostly online, all it takes is one click and you are in their office. No more excuses, you owe it to yourself.
Finally, before you leave college, you need to learn how to write a professional email. If you have a professor who lets you call them by their first name, this might not be as critical. However, you will have professors who will only respond to your emails if you address them by Dr. Such and Such and write a professional looking email. There are tons of resources online, but writing a professional email is fairly simple.
First, the subject line: include the course name (i.e. Math 221), and a few words describing what you are emailing about (i.e. homework for 10/1).
Next, in the body, start with a greeting (i.e. Good morning Professor Johnson). This is a part where you should pay attention how they would like to be addressed. I’ve had professors who wish to be called by their first name, Mr./Mrs. and their last name, and some require their full education title, such as Dr.
In the body, describe the context of your question and then ask it. Try to keep to your message concise, but yet include enough information that they can answer your question. Be sure to review and edit your email for any spelling or grammar mistakes.
At the end, make sure you thank them for their time and help, and include your first and last name.
The last part of this tip may seem nitpicky, but until you develop a relationship with the professor or have previous emails in the chain, it is best to have professional looking emails. In my experience, I have gotten much better responses, when I take the time and effort to write a polished email.
For those who skip to the end and look for the spark notes summary, just take away that your professors are here to help you, that they want to help you, and that you are ignoring a huge resource to you if you don’t reach out to them outside of class.
If you enjoyed reading this, check out my previous tips:
Anna is a junior at St. Cloud State University and is double majoring in Math Education and Spanish Education, with a minor in Special Education. She is the Managing Editor for the University Chronicle this year. When she is not at campus attending class, working as a learning assistant or math tutor, or writing for the University Chronicle, she enjoys volunteering, reading, being overly competitive at board games, and telling horribly funny puns.