When my children were about to enter college, I had plenty of advice to share with them. “Study hard, make good choices, get involved, be open to new friendships”…you know, the usual advice parents offer their young adult. But one thing they had never heard me say before was, “get to know your professors!”

My kids attended a smaller high school where everyone knew everyone so this advice came with a puzzled look!  I went on to explain why it would be in their best interest to get acquainted with each of their college professors and how to go about doing so. College is a time to spread your wings and figure out who you are, but it’s also a time to be your own advocate!  As a young adult, you have to be proactive and do things that may be out of your comfort zone, and introducing yourself to your professors is just one of those examples.Teacher by blackboard

Here are reasons why it’s important to build that relationship:

  • Academics: Your professors are experts in their chosen field, so they can help you to succeed academically. Whether you need help to answer questions or clarify materials that are covered in class, you are likely to get that extra one-on-one time if they know you’re taking a sincere interest in your studies. You are also more apt to get the benefit of the doubt if you’re on the fence with a grade or need extra credit in their class if you have built that strong relationship with them.
  • Career choices: Nobody knows more about your post-college options than your professors. They will be able to provide you with information about their particular industry as well as opportunities that you may not have otherwise considered.
  • Networking: Professors know people and have many connections, so when it comes time for you to secure an internship or even a job, they can reach out to companies who are looking for qualified individuals and speak with them on your behalf.
  • References: You’ll quickly learn that professional references are needed for so many opportunities, whether it’s a new job, internship, or graduate school. How can you expect to ask your professor to speak about your abilities and personal qualities if they don’t know you all that well? Educators serve as excellent, quality references in almost any situation!

How to introduce yourself and maintain a connection with your professors;

  • Introduce yourself during the first week of classes. After class is dismissed, walk up to your professor, introduce yourself and shake their hand. You don’t have to give them your life story…just let them know that you’re excited to be in their class and maybe tell them what year you are in school and what you’re studying, if you’ve declared a major.
  • Attend class, show up on time and participate! You don’t have to raise your hand for every question or even sit in the front row, but make sure that you ask questions, pay attention and you’re present. It’s hard for a professor to take you seriously or write a good letter of recommendation if you’re sitting in the back row, looking at your phone, and showing up for class when the mood strikes you! Prove you’re a responsible, accountable young adult!
  • Communication is key! Make sure you read your syllabus, know their preferred method of communication, and their office hours. If you have a question about something or are struggling in their class, you need to speak up! Meet with them during office hours and come prepared with your list of questions or issues. They’re typically always willing to help out, but they can’t read your mind or know what your issues are unless you tell them!
  • Be proactive! Don’t wait until the week before finals to ask your professor about extra credit opportunities, or to let them know that you don’t understand the material that will be covered on the final exam. Having the ability to gauge your performance in a class and knowing what you’re capable of is a sign of maturity, and any professor will appreciate your sense of timing and responsibility.

Keep in mind that your professors are people, too! They aren’t scary figures who belittle students who ask questions! They have homes, families, and shop at the local stores, just like you. They’re in this profession to educate you and help you become a more well-rounded person, but ultimately, you are responsible for your education. So when you’re feeling a bit hesitant to approach your professor, just remember that they’re human and part of their job is to communicate with you. They want you to succeed as much as you want to, and together you can make that happen!