Developing a relationship with your college professor can be beneficial in many ways. Not only will you probably do better in the class, but a relationship with your professor may lead to future research opportunities, great letters of recommendation, and having a mentor in your field of interest. If you plan to ask for a letter of recommendation for grad school, internships, or jobs, you must create a strong relationship with one or more of your professors.
They need to know your personality, abilities, and work ethic, and in a large lecture hall, it’s almost impossible for them to get to know you personally unless you make an effort.
How to build a relationship with professors
1. Introduce yourself during office hours within the first couple of weeks of class
The best time to introduce yourself to your professor is at the beginning of the semester because that’s when their office hours will be the least busy. Even if you don’t have any specific questions about the course, go in and tell them your name, year, major, and where you are from. Be ready to bring up something you found interesting from a lecture. Getting to know your teacher will help you stand out among your classmates.
2. Attend office hours every other week and ask questions
Attending office hours every other week shows your genuine interest in the class material. Make sure you have something to talk about during office hours because sometimes there will be a line of students, and you don’t want to waste their time. Prepare exactly what you want to talk about beforehand. It could be study advice, questions about an upcoming assignment, or career advice. Here are some sample questions to ask your professor during office hours:
- How did you become interested in this field?
- What is something you wish you had known when you were an undergrad?
- If I want to take a deeper dive into the material, what are some readings you would recommend?
- What research are you currently working on?
- How do you recommend I study for the upcoming exam?
- What are common mistakes past students have made on this project/essay?
- I am interested in going into (insert career field), what advice can you give me?
3. Sit in the first two rows of the class every class
While sitting in the front of the class can feel intimidating, this is a great way to get the professor to recognize your face and a good way to stay engaged in class. If you sit in the middle or back of the classroom, you will just blend in with the crowd. Try to keep it consistent and sit in the same general area every class (ex: front left).
4. Raise your hand and participate in the discussion
This can be very scary in large lecture halls, but this demonstrates that you are confident and not afraid to speak in front of large groups. Keep in mind that there is a fine line between participating and overdoing it — don’t raise your hand for every little question you have, instead, try to ask questions that are general and applicable to the entire class. When the professor asks the class a question and is looking for student participation, raise your hand if you know the answer. Professors remember students who pay attention and participate.
5. Make sure you know how they want to be addressed
Check the syllabus or pay attention during the first few classes. Some professors like being called by their first name, and some like being called Professor (last name) or just Professor. In emails, make certain to address them by their preferred name.
6. Check their preferred method of communication
Some professors prefer you email the teacher’s assistant with questions before emailing them. Other professors may not like emails in the evenings or over the weekend. Check the syllabus to ensure you fully understand when and who to email first or if they prefer being messaged through the student portal. Use your school email when emailing them.
7. Never go on your phone or eat in class
This is very disrespectful, and your professor may come to know you, but not in a good way. Try turning off your phone for the duration of the class period to ensure you are focused on what the professor is talking about. Professors can usually tell when students are distracted, eating, or talking to friends while lecturing. Even if you think the professor won’t notice, don’t do anything that could be distracting to others. This may automatically put you on your professor’s bad side.
8. Email anytime you miss a class and explain why you missed the class
Make sure that if you miss class, you have a valid excuse. Email the professor and tell them why you missed the class and ask if you can attend the next office hours to review anything you may have missed. However, check the syllabus; some professors may prefer you get class notes from other students and only come to them with specific questions about the lecture. Explaining to the professor why you missed class lets them know that you were not just skipping class because you felt like it.
9. Offer to help with research
If you have time during office hours, ask if the professor is working on any research right now and offer your assistance. Check with your school’s website first, though, because some schools have specific guidelines for becoming a research assistant. Be sure to understand the process before approaching the professor about this.
10. Always attend review sessions
Attend any review sessions that the professor holds outside of class. Many students take these for granted and don’t go because they think they already know the material. Even if you feel like you could ace the test without attending, going demonstrates to your professor that you are interested in the material and doing your best to succeed in their class. Also, if you do end up doing worse than you expected on a test, you can tell them during office hours, “I went to the review session and am still not fully understanding the material. What else can I do to study to improve my score next time?” If you did not attend the review session, professors will often just tell you that you should have attended.
11. Do the extra credit
Completing the extra credit shows professors that you are passionate about doing well in your class. Also, most of the time, the extra credit will be fun, like completing a survey or watching a guest lecture outside class. Extra credit allows you to have a buffer in case you don’t do as well as you expected on an assignment.
12. Stay in touch after the semester ends
Once the semester ends, and you no longer have a class with the professor, be sure to update the professor via email on any internships, jobs, or professional accomplishments you have achieved. Thank them for their role in helping you in these accomplishments, if applicable.