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Why Office Hours Aren't Actually Scary

November 18, 2019

If the idea of going to office hours makes you nervous, you’re not alone.

Lots of college students dread knocking on their professor’s office door and asking for help, wondering, “What if they get angry at me for bothering them? Or what if I can’t explain what I need help with and they think I’m dumb??” It’s ok to be nervous about office hours—professors can be quite intimidating, especially one-on-one! However, in my experience so far, office hours are incredibly helpful and rewarding, and I highly recommend going to them in college. 

I see office hours as just another way people at Oberlin demonstrate how invested they are in every single student’s education. Regarding academics, professors want to help you—if you’re struggling in class, it’s better to ask for help than to suffer in silence. And even if you’re not having that much trouble, you can always improve. For example, I’ve used office hours numerous times for my first-year seminar to review rough drafts of papers. It can be challenging to evaluate your own writing in a relatively objective manner, which is why I really appreciate getting second opinions.

Going to office hours is one of the best ways to do this—my final papers have been better argued, more concise, and all-around stronger than they would have been if I hadn’t talked with my professor. And no question is too small—I’ve gone to office hours before just to make sure I’m on the right track for an assignment, or to clarify certain concepts I’m having trouble with. 

I’ve also used office hours for questions about what classes to take in future semesters. You’re required to do this with your advisor, but you can also ask the opinions of other professors in departments you might be interested in. My advisor gave me great advice on choosing classes, but I also asked a history professor I’ve had this past semester for suggestions because I’m considering majoring in history.

And, to show just how friendly and accessible Oberlin professors are, you can often go to a professor’s office hours even if you don’t have them for a class. After having a professor as a guest speaker in my first-year seminar, I went to her office hours to ask her questions about her areas of interest and came away with many book recommendations for further reading! In short, the way you utilize office hours doesn’t have to be limited to questions about a particular class; you can use them to inquire about topics that you and a professor share an interest in or ask their advice about what classes to take. This, in turn, can help create those mentor-mentee relationships with professors that are so helpful in college and beyond. 

And although office hours are great for academic inquiries, the reason why I really like them is that they can encompass more than academics: on the whole, office hours show that professors really care about their students’ general well-being.

Anytime I’ve gone to office hours,  professors have made sure to ask how I’m liking my classes and college in general. Having a professor ask, “How are you doing?” is a nice way to affirm that I have support systems and people who care about me in college—I’m not just left to figure it out on my own.

One thing that drew me to Oberlin was how much people here seemed to genuinely care about each other. That observation is strengthened every time I go to office hours and see that my professors want me to do well in class and in life. 

So (if you haven’t gotten it by now), go to office hours when you’re in college!! They’re super helpful, not only for academics and building relationships with professors, but also as a nice reminder that you’re not alone in college—people, including your teachers, want you to succeed.

And, if you still don’t believe one student’s opinion, here’s an NPR article backing me up!

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