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How can students build meaningful relationships with their college professors?

One of the key college experiences that research shows has an outsized positive impact on future success is having a professor who cares about you personally. The benefits of having good relationships with faculty include mentorship, better academic performance, and opportunities such as internships and research.

But many students find themselves unsure how to approach faculty, worried they might say or do the wrong thing, or don't realize they CAN have a relationship with a professor beyond "you teach me and I learn in your class."

You can, and you SHOULD, get to know your professors. They are people, too. They love it when students are engaged in their classes and want to get to know you and help you succeed. They are important allies in your college success.

So, how do you do it?

Here are 10 tips for building and maintaining good relationships with professors:

  1. Say hello! Start by introducing yourself on the first day of class. Whether the class is 300 students or 10 doesn't matter. Every professor you have should know you by name. A quick hello, my name is, and I'm really looking forward to your class is memorable! NOTE: If your class is online, send them an email to the same effect.

  2. Sit in the front: I know, I know. But it's actually really important! Your professor has you in their line of vision, and you are more likely to pay attention and do well. Also, it's easier to do the next tip on the list when you're sitting in front.

  3. Participate in class: Again, the class size doesn't matter. There are always opportunities to engage - whether it's to ask a question, share a thoughtful comment, or give non-verbal cues that you are listening (nodding your head during a lecture, for example).

  4. Get curious: You're in college to learn, and the best way to learn is to be curious about the subject matter. If you don't understand something, ask! If you like or agree with something, say so and say why!

  5. Attend office hours: Most professors are required to host office hours each week. This is time set aside to meet with students. Typically, you'll bring questions you have from class to office hours, but it's perfectly okay to go during office hours and ask the professor about their research and work. This will show that you care and are a student with initiative. These conversations can provide an opportunity to ask for introductions to other faculty who work in a similar area, advice on courses to take related to the topic, or if there are research, study abroad, or internship opportunities they recommend.

  6. Attend review sessions: Professors usually offer a review session before major exams. Not only does attending help you to make a better grade, but also demonstrates to the professor that you are a diligent student and makes a great impression.

  7. Be respectful—including emails! This is a big one. How you present yourself matters. When interacting with a professor, make sure you are communicating in a respectful manner. Emails should not look like text messages, and emojis or slang are not welcome. This article provides great tips on writing a professional email.

  8. Go beyond the course: What is the professor's research? Is there something you would want to know more about? Connecting one course to others is often how students discover their major or career direction. Each course is not taken in a vacuum but rather creates a comprehensive learning journey.

  9. Attend academic events/lectures and talk to the professors: Take time to learn about and attend academic events hosted by your university. Academic departments bring guest lecturers from other universities to speak, and these are a great place to meet faculty and talk with them about a topic you're both interested in.

  10. Take more than one class with professors: One term is short, and it may feel challenging to build a relationship, so if the opportunity is there, take a second (or even a third!) class with the same professor. The better they know you, the more likely it is that they can write a good letter of recommendation if you need one down the road.

If you put these tips into practice, I promise you will build meaningful relationships with your professors. You may be surprised by the positive results! Choose one or two of these ideas to try in the next week and see what happens!


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