How to talk to your professors: A primer for freshmen

File Photo

by Anna Waletzko, Staff Columnist

Warning: Despite popular belief, not all professors will wear tweed blazers or be Ted Mosby.

And no, they don’t bite. But talking to your professor can be a daunting task — after all, the fate of your grades lies in their hands. 


Make excuses. They’ve probably heard it before. “My roommate used all of our printer ink for a Jackson Pollock-inspired project she’s doing, so I couldn’t print out my paper” or “I use my neighbor’s Wi-Fi and they moved out over the weekend” won’t work. Just be honest. Don’t get into the lying habit now.

Ask for a retake. Even if you bombed that test don’t ask if you can retake it. If the professor let you retake it, they’d have to do the same for everybody. If they offer, it’s a different story — but don’t expect special treatment.

Wait until the last minute. Procrastination is not your friend. You have the entire semester to talk to your professors, so if you suddenly start showing up to office hours the week before the final wanting to know how to raise your grade it isn’t going to look great on your part.

Ask, “So what’s the answer?” Former San Diego State sociology instructor Lisa Riccardi said, “Know that professors want you to learn and are there to help you.” Professors aren’t going to just give you the answer, because they want you to learn, not memorize sentences.

“With this in mind, don’t expect “textbook” answers,” Riccardi said, “professors want you to think critically and want you to figure out the answers.”

Forget a pencil. Did you also forget your big kid underpants?


Use the correct title when speaking to them. Some professors have Ph.D.s—address them as doctor unless told otherwise. Many will make it clear what they want to be addressed as — take note of that!

Former SDSU communications instructor Kevin Corcoran Jr. advised, “It’s always safest to call your teacher professor because if they have earned the title, they really want it to be used.”

Go to office hours. Professors are paid to stay and sit in their office hours, regardless of your attendance. Be prepared with your questions and know what you want to accomplish so you can make the most of your time without wasting theirs. Do the readings before you go to office hours, because who knows, maybe you’ll be able to answer some of your own questions. Make sure you introduce yourself, and you can begin to set yourself apart from the large sea of students they see everyday in their large lectures.

Be on time. I know it’s hard, because, well, you’ve got a foam mattress topper and a body pillow back in your dorm. But unless you’re violently ill or Kanye West just called and wants to meet up for lunch, try and make it to class.

This is college, and with that comes new responsibility — mainly time management. Basically, if you want to stay up all night and watch “The Office” while eating Pringles, no one is going to stop you, but no one is going to drag you out of bed if you decide not to go to class either.

Read the syllabus. And please—read it before asking a question. There’s a reason they made it. Print it out, have it with you and take note of the important dates so you can write them down.

Show interest. Remember, the professor is an expert in their field, so treat them as such. Ask them questions, and show interest. The professor will appreciate genuine curiosity.

Be Authentic. “Before someone is a professor, they are a person,” said Corcoran, “Most professors I have met are more scared of how to talk to their students than the other way around. Remember that, just be confident, have a little fun with it, and most of all, be yourself.”

Be open and honest with your professors. If you know of anything that may affect your attendance in class or your ability to do the readings, tell the professor ahead of time.

“If you are having personal struggles and challenges, consider letting your professor know,” said Riccardi, “They may be able to help you with resources and suggestions.”

Above all, just be yourself. Corcoran’s number one piece of advice?

“Ever heard of Bruno Mars? Well he happens to think you’re pretty damn amazing just the way you are.”

Print Friendly, PDF & Email