Frank Bruni recently published an op-ed in the New York Times called How to Get the Most Out of College. I agreed with everything he wrote. One of his main points is that engaging with faculty is essential.
Here I explain why getting to know faculty is so beneficial. Plus, students really don’t know how to do it, so here are the six things students have to do to making a visit to faculty office hours successful.
What’s true is that researchers have determined time and time again that a huge indicator of a successful college experience is whether or not a student engages with faculty. And yet, many if not most faculty sit in their offices during office hours without a single student visitor. What a wasted opportunity!
Why getting to know faculty is so beneficial
- By preparing for the meeting and then talking with faculty, students learn a lot about the field in which the professors work, which sparks ideas for future coursework, careers, and life in general.
- Conversations with faculty deepen students’ understanding of the course and give them a clearer idea of what is important in the material covered.
- Consulting with instructors about projects, paper topics, and other evaluated work can only improve their work and writing processes and study skills.
- Attending office hours signals interest in the course, the materials, and even the professor. It’s almost never a bad thing to show interest in another human!
- Once the faculty member knows a student’s name and has a sense of their engagement, the student may get called on in class more often, increasing their comfort with participation, deepening their knowledge of the subject, and even perhaps increasing the course grade.
- Investing in the course topic may inspire students to form a study group or take the lead on a project, which will not only enhance their grasp of the material but also look good on their resume.
- Office hours conversations may steer students to an unexpected but fascinating project or paper topic or guide the choice of major, concentration, minor, programs, certificates, etc.
- Students spend four years on campus; faculty spend many more, some even a lifetime. They have wisdom and knowledge to share. Students stand to learn a lot from them.
- Engaging with faculty makes students feel connected to the college or university. Students who feel a connection to their college have higher graduation and satisfaction rates.
- And, in case students need to think of it in more mercenary terms, if a student spends enough time with instructors, s/he might be able to ask them for a good letter of recommendation down the road, one that will catapult them to the top of the applicant pile for important internships, fellowships, or scholarships.
For a successful faculty office hours experience, students should:
- Read around on the web about them – where did they go to college, grad school? What is their research about? What about their publications and other work?
- Prepare a couple of questions about the course material or the faculty member’s research. The questions should not be on the order of: What do I have to do to get an A in this class? But rather:
- I’m really interested in this reading, a comment you made, an image on your presentation and would like to know more…
- I’m really struggling with a paper topic – this is what I have so far – can you recommend something I can do to move this forward?
- I wonder how you got started in this field? What are the things you like the most about it?
- I’m interested in this field of study. Do you have any ideas about ways I can learn more? Internships? Research projects? Additional reading?
- This course is making me think a lot about my life – and I wonder if you have seen students major in this field and go on to interesting careers.
- Or even – I’m having a really hard time adjusting to college. I wondered if I could talk with you about that.
- Get there on time, if possible. If the office hours conflict with another obligation, students should see if they will meet you at another time. They can ask politely before or after class or write a professional email inquiring about this.
- Sit up, dress appropriately, silence their phone and put it away, and address them as Professor X unless they’ve already said they prefer another form of address.
- Take notes.
- Thank them by following up with an email.
Availing oneself of faculty time and wisdom is part and parcel of the whole college experience, one that many college students sadly ignore or dismiss. Your child doesn’t have to be one of them!