Do’s and Don’ts: Meeting Your College Professors for the First Time

Students listening to a lecture by a professor in the classrom at UIS.

Flickr user Jeremy Wilburn

One of the major differences between high school and college are the classes. At first glance you may not think so, but take some time and dig a little deeper. Your typical 45 minute class has now turned into at least an hour and 20 minutes or longer. Your favorite teachers who stayed on top of you to make sure your work is done, are replaced with college professors who won’t do that. They’re not babysitters or your parents. Your college professors expect you to be adults and will treat you as such.

Like meeting your roommate, meeting your professor for the first time can be awkward or even intimidating for some. We’re sure you’ve all heard horror stories about them. You want to make a good first impression. We want you to make a good first impression. So, don’t fear, we’ve got you covered. Here are our dos and don’ts for meeting your professors for the first time.

Do: Research

Once you get your class schedule, give yourself enough time to research your professors. In this case, treat them like any other person. There are sites like that let students evaluate their professors. You can also ask around and see if anyone you know has taken their class. Have a conversation with them just to hear what it might be like. These are good ways to gauge what you can expect.

Don’t: Make too many assumptions

Along those same lines, beware of forming too much of an opinion based on things you’ve seen online or heard from a student. What is true for some, might not be the same for others. So take each opinion with a grain of salt, especially if that professor is new to you. Upon first meeting, be open-minded and fair. Give them the benefit of the doubt like they’re probably giving you.

Do: Be on time for class

This is pretty self-explanatory, especially for the first class. This is an important habit to develop. It shows that you care. It also shows that you respect the professor’s time and that helps make a positive first impression. Some professors also take off points for being late after a certain number of times, so be aware of that.

Don’t: Skip the syllabus

This is an important tip that will serve you well in your college career. READ the syllabus. Don’t skim through it, don’t discard it completely, don’t lose it. Carefully go through it. Most, if not all, of the information you need pertaining to the class will be in there. Think of it as a personal handbook. Some professors ask that you bring it with you, and most provide them the first day. Either way, make sure you understand what the class requires of you for the semester. If you don’t understand something in the syllabus, don’t be afraid to ask for an explanation. And remember, the syllabus can be subject to change throughout the semester, so pay attention.

Do: Introduce yourself

College is a numbers game. Class sizes increase and it’s easy to get lost in the shuffle. One of the best ways to avoid that, and get over your nervousness about meeting your professors, is to simply introduce yourself. Make your presence known, ideally within the first week of classes. It doesn’t have to be a long conversation. Let your professors know who you are, why you’re there, and what you hope to accomplish this semester. It shows initiative. By doing this, you may also find that your professor is not so bad after all.

Don’t: Think you know more the professors

No matter what major, subject, or year, there’s usually one in every class: the student that thinks they know more than the professor does. Don’t be that student. Just remember, your professors are there to teach you for a reason. Therefore, remain teachable and open to new information. It’s ok to question them or even  disagree sometimes. They make mistakes and might not know everything either. However, trying to assert yourself and prove that you’re an expert on the subject is not necessary. In fact, it may backfire as professors might warn their colleagues about you. That can lead to you having a reputation that you don’t want.

Do:  Pay special attention to office hours

Your professor’s office hours is probably one of the most important pieces of information you will need to know. Office hours are set up as free periods during the day when students can come and speak to their professors. Topics can include things going on in the class, material you may be struggling with, makeup a missed exam, etc. Office hours vary by professor.

If your schedule is not conducive to a professor’s office hours, schedule an appointment. This can be done usually via email or phone at the professor’s discretion. A good rule of thumb is to visit your professors once a week.  Before major projects or exams is also good so that you can get the proper help if needed.

Don’t: Wait until you get a bad grade to meet with your professor

We saved the best for last. One of the worst things that students do is wait until they get a bad grade or until the semester is practically over to meet with their professors. Procrastination kills. If there’s one thing you should’ve learned by now, it’s that communication is key to any successful relationship. That includes your professors. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, in and outside the classroom if necessary. If you’re having trouble with an assignment or other class material, maybe life in general, discuss it. See if something can be done. Usually, there’s a solution to every problem. Don’t wait and put yourself in a powerless position later on. Remember, your professors are there to help you not hurt you.

Your college experience will be a  series of firsts. Whether you’re meeting your roommates, registering for classes, picking a major the list of firsts goes on. Part of our job here is to make sure you’re prepared. We hope these do’s and don’ts make you feel that way. If you’re lucky, your professors have the potential to become more than teachers. They can also become some of your favorite mentors and even life-long friends.

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