Why Your College Professors Are Important

A college professor wearing a blue long sleeve shirt standing at a large chalkboard solving a math problem.

Your college professors are valuable resources who are often not fully utilized. Beyond providing academic support, professors may be able to advise on which courses to take, how to participate in campus and community activities, help with resume development, recommend internships, and give career advice. A professor can also serve as a professional reference for you if you apply for graduate school or a job.

Each college semester is an opportunity to meet a new professor. Some you will connect with, others you won’t. Expectedly, you are bound to have a professor or two who you don’t like. There may be personality differences or teaching and learning style differences. Not everyone gets along, and not every relationship works. I’ve actually heard a professor state, “I have tenure so you can’t get rid of me”. He was condescending and arrogant, but also correct. There was nothing I could do, I just had to get through it. I spent a lot of time on RateMyProfessors.com and talking to other students to see which professors they would recommend. This allowed me to avoid some of the bad ones. Fortunately, there are more good professors than bad.

Don’t Be Afraid To Reach Out

Though they can be intimidating, most professors don’t want you to be afraid of them, they genuinely want to connect with you. They want you to come to class ready to learn. They want to see that you are engaged and focused, but also respectful. Professors want students to learn, grow and succeed in their classroom.

It’s important to understand that professors are people too. Despite what you might think, like us, they have lives outside of the classroom. They have good days and bad days; they are not perfect. Show compassion and understanding as personally, they may be going through hard times.  

Be Courteous And Respectful Of Your College Professors

If you want to have a good relationship with your professor show them respect. You can show respect through good classroom etiquette. Show up to class on time, be attentive and prepared, complete your assignments, and participate. Be respectful and kind to classmates too.  

Respect is a two-way street; it’s important to treat your professor the way you want to be treated. Be intentional with your behavior and with your words.

Where To Sit

Sit toward the front of the class. Your professor is more likely to recognize and remember the students they see when they are lecturing. Be active, through your participation your professor will remember your face and your name. Professors are less likely to know the students who sit in the back and never speak. Why should they take the time to interact and get to know you if you don’t do the same? They won’t take notice if you are not noticeable.

A large college class room with students sitting in stadium seating. In the Background there is a large projector screen that college professors are teaching from

Class Participation

Participation needs to be a priority. This means not only should you ask and answer questions but make observations. Be an active and engaging student. Depending on the class, this could be difficult. If the class is big and predominantly lecture-based there may be fewer opportunities to participate. However, find a way to engage and stand out among your classmates. It may be nothing more than keeping your eyes open. Show that you are actively involved by nodding along to what the professor is saying. Take good notes and don’t use your phone. I promise, your professors notice when you are paying attention or dozing off.

Use Office Hours

Office hours are a great way to get to know a professor. Every professor holds office hours at least once a week, giving students a chance to drop in with questions or problems they may be having with the course material. I met with almost every one of my professors during office hours.

Over the course of your semester, stop by your professor’s office to review tests, and go over homework assignments or notes. Even if you are not struggling in the class and are confident in the subject, showing up to office hours will let your professor know that you care about the course and your work. I had a professor who was willing to review and grade all my papers before I submitted them because I visited during office hours and asked. Your professor will get to know who you are, and you’ll begin to develop a professional relationship.

You can also use office hours to stop in and ask about academic and career advice. Professors are some of the best resources when it comes to finding internships and jobs, many have connections outside of the university or can connect you with opportunities.

Contact Your College Professors Through Email

More and more email is becoming the preferred way to contact a professor. It can be the perfect way for a student to ask a quick question or explain an absence. It’s also a great way to schedule a meeting outside of the offered office hours if they don’t work with your schedule. When you email your professor, it is a professional exchange. How you choose to interact shows your level of seriousness and professionalism.

How you address your professor via email is extremely important. If your professor has a doctorate, you should always address them as “Dr. Last Name”. If you do not know if they have a doctorate always address them as “Professor Last Name”. It’s okay to use a greeting, like “Dear Professor Johnson” or “Hello Dr. Johnson”. Your closing signature should always be your first and last name. Professors are extremely busy and have many students and classes, don’t assume they always know who you are.

Be sure to have a clear subject. I like to include the course number in the subject to make it easier for the professor. Use correct spelling and proper grammar. If your email is filled with spelling and grammar errors, it implies you don’t care and are unwilling to take the time to write properly.

Take On Opportunities To Work With College Professors Outside Of Class

Participate in any outside activities. This will not be relevant to every class but keep an eye out for opportunities. Look for extra credit assignments. Be aware of department activities or guest lectures that your professor might have mentioned. You never know what may benefit you in the long term.

As I mentioned before, professors can be a valuable resource. They can help you find jobs or internships. They can also introduce you to people in the field you’re interested in, creating new and important connections.

Communication Is Key

No matter how you choose to approach communication with your professor it is key to getting the most out of your education. The more connected you are with your college professors the easier it will be to ask questions and understand the subject matter. It can open opportunities that you might not have otherwise.

Stay In Touch With Your College Professors

As with any professional contact you should stay in touch with the professors whom you’ve formed a relationship with. Not only through your college years but also after you graduate. Your professors can write letters of recommendation or be valuable references. When I applied to graduate school, I needed two letters of recommendation from professors. When I reached out to my professors, they were not only excited to hear that I was going to grad school, but they were also happy to catch up on my life, career, and academics. I was excited to catch up on their lives too.

I have been asked several times by different professors to be a guest speaker and/or teach for their classes. I’ve also had professors reach out to me regarding business opportunities they thought I might be interested in. To this day, I keep in contact with several of them.