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Taking Advantage of Office Hours
(Continued from 1)

2. If you are confused by a math or science class, arrive with a written representative list of problems and concepts (but don’t include everything on the syllabus!). Take time to isolate significant problem areas and concrete examples. This lets the instructor see exactly where your troubles lie and gives him/her something specific to work with right away to illustrate the ideas involved. You may then follow-up with other questions as they arise. Be sure to leave room on the page under each question to take notes on the help and answers you receive.

3. If you are having trouble writing a paper, try to come equipped with some concrete ideas written out and even some free-writing exercises based on the
assignment. The best approach is to compose a few possible theses. And, if you can, it would be great to rough out a brief topic sentence outline for each thesis. Don’t worry about bringing in even the sketchiest of ideas. It’s not unusual for me to locate a really great thesis somewhere in a student’s
outline or free-writing. So the more you bring in, the more the instructor has to work with. You might leave the office hour with an entirely new approach, but it will be based on work you’ve already begun.

4. Don’t waste time with small talk. Other students may be waiting, so be sure that you get right to your most important questions early. This is another reason to prepare your office hour visit in writing. List your concerns in order of importance and relevance, so you can begin at the top and not have to take up time trying to remember what you wanted to ask.

5. Using office hours to let your professors get to know you in order to secure letters of recommendation later isn’t entirely illegitimate. However, you need to combine the visit with real classroom needs. If you are not all that engaged with the class material or if you don’t honestly need help with the work, believe me, it will show. You may think you are being charming when, in reality, you are only being irritating. This will not result in a good letter. If you find yourself truly interested in the class and have honest questions, then, by all means, take advantage of an office hour. It will certainly help you with letters later on as well as with your work now.

6. In my experience, most professors understand that students have schedules that often conflict with posted office hours, so usually there’s a “and by appointment” note following the regular days and times. Please don’t be shy about asking for an appointment. If you need to meet with the professor, talk to him/her after class or e-mail and briefly explain your predicament. Then offer a range of days and times when you’d be available, having already made sure that none of them conflicts with the professor’s other classes.

There’s no reason for any student to stay mired in confusion because of a difficult class. Just don’t wait until just before an exam or due date for a paper. Prepare early, identify what your problems are, write out your questions, and meet with the TA or professor. You’ll be surprised how much your work improves as well as how much more connected you’ll feel to your college experience.

See AlsoSee also, Partners with the Professor.


Emily Schiller has been a re-entry student twice. She left college after two years to pursue work in dance, theatre and teaching and then returned six years later to complete a B.A. in Theatre Arts with a minor in Philosophy. After working as an office manager for a chiropractic office, manager of a national playwriting competition, free-lance reader, and public radio producer, she returned to college again, this time earning an M.A. in English from California State College at Los
Angeles and a Ph.D. in English from UCLA where she taught American Literature and Writing until the end of last year.

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