How To Use Office Hours in College

College Advice

In college, instructors schedule office hours each week to meet with students about any questions or concerns they have about the course.  These hours are generally listed on the syllabus or on the instructor’s office door.  You do not have have to schedule a meeting in advance if you plan to attend office hours, though during busy times of the semester you may find it useful to claim a time slot.  You should do this by emailing in advance.

Some instructors also have an “open door” policy, which means that if you walk by and their door is open, you can ask to meet with them.  You should do this mostly if you have a quick question since they are probably busy doing their own work and would prefer to schedule in any long interruptions.  If you walk by outside normal office hours and their door is closed, you should not knock, even if you can hear them typing inside.

Also be sensitive to the fact that not all instructors, especially TA’s, have an open door policy.  If you show up to your TA’s office on Monday when their office hours are on Thursday, they are probably busy working on preparing for the class they teach or for the classes they are taking.   The door may be open, but it’s possible this is because their office mates are holding office hours.  If you want to meet outside office hours, your best option is to email in advance requesting a meeting

Emailing Your Instructor to Request a Meeting

Your email to your instructor should include:

  • a relevant subject line that also includes the course title
  • a professional greeting (“Dear X” or “Hi X”)
  • the reason you would like to meet (question about grade, go over the feedback on a paper, etc.)
  • suggested meeting times
  • a formal sign-off that includes your name.

You should expect to meet for about 20 minutes, so don’t ask for a 45-minute meeting or an hour meeting.  This ensures that your instructor has time available to meet with other students as well.

At the Meeting

You should arrive prepared with specific questions.  If you have concerns about your grade, bring the graded assignment.  If you want help with an essay you are writing, bring the essay.  Be prepared to ask specific questions about your concern.  You may, for instance, come with a thesis statement and ask if it specific and complex.  Or you can explain the structure of your essay and ask questions about it.  Your instructor will likely not (re)read the entire paper, so you want to maximize your time by getting to the relevant points.  You should be focusing on global issues rather than minor ones such as grammar usage or if that one sentence makes sense on page two.  Your instructor wants to guide you as you explore your topic, not make you feel like you need approval for every sentence you write.

Other Office Etiquette

Leave the door open when  you attend office hours.  This protects both the instructor and you.  If you are discussing a sensitive topic such as your grade or your accommodations due to personal issues, your instructor may close the door slightly for more privacy but they will probably still leave it ajar.  If you walk into the room and close the door for them, they will most likely ask you to reopen it or get up to open it themselves.

If you arrive at office hours and see another student already talking to the instructor, or if you hear the instructor discussing a matter with a colleague, you may politely indicate to them that you are there, but you should then remove yourself to give the others privacy.  Your classmate doesn’t want you to hear about how they’re failing!  You can position yourself in a place where you can see when the other student has left if you so desire, but most likely the instructor will come find you when they are ready.

Krysta 64


9 thoughts on “How To Use Office Hours in College

  1. Carrie @ Cat on the Bookshelf says:

    If an instructor or TA is not at their scheduled office hours, you can bring it up to them in class or in an email.


    • Krysta says:

      Wow. I’ve never encountered this (unless the instructor was simply next door or had stepped off to the restroom). I know many instructors find it tiring to go to campus to have office hours only to find that no one shows up the entire semester. In this case, however, I would think they would simply write on the syllabus that their office hours are by appointment only!

      I’ve also known students who wanted to know why instructors “weren’t at office hours” because the student showed up at the wrong time/on the wrong day. So I’d definitely double check the syllabus before wanting to know why someone wasn’t in their office! However, if there is an attempt to go to the scheduled office hours and no one is there and there appears to be no valid reason the couldn’t make that day and send out an email explaining office hours were moved for the week, well, that’s not very professional on the part of the instructor.

      Or did you mean bring up the question? I think emailing a question can be valid if it’s something quick and if it’s something not listed elsewhere (Due dates, word counts, etc. are mostly likely posted somewhere and it is not polite to waste an instructor’s time by asking a question they already answered. Ten students asking about a due date listed on the syllabus is going to be annoying for them.) If it’s something about a paper when they need to read part of the paper again, emailing excerpts isn’t appropriate because their time is valuable and they can’t keep rereading everyone’s paper.

      I wouldn’t recommend asking lengthy questions before or after class, either. Before class the instructor is prepping for the class. After they may need to run to another class/meeting/commitment. I would only ask a question in class about an assignment if it’s relevant to the entire class, like a clarification about a due date (maybe they wrote Tuesday, August 9 and you’re not sure if it’s supposed to be due on Tuesday or on Wednesday, August 9).

      I’m not saying you did any of this/meant to imply this is what people should do. Just clarifying for new students! (I’ve even seen grad students ask about their theses in the middle of class. But it’s not appropriate to take up 20 minutes of everyone’s time for your personal project if the question you’re asking is not relevant to everyone’s project.)


    • Krysta says:

      I think there are some things that seem so obvious to people in college that sometimes instructors forget it might be helpful to explain this to students, especially incoming classes.


  2. TizzyMatic says:

    This is my number one advice for all college students. You need and I repeat, YOU NEED to communicate with your professors. That will save you from so much, might even make your experience all the better, plus you can build relationships. Have to take advantage of that.


    • Krysta says:

      Quite true! Your instructors can’t help you if they don’t know you have a problem. And they can’t write you a stellar recommendation letter if they don’t remember who you are because you never once spoke to them.

      Liked by 1 person

      • TizzyMatic says:

        Exactly. Those relationships are crucial to success, but it’s also a way to make long-term friends with people who see and can continue to see you grow. Not a step you want to skip over. Not even if you’re a very shy person.


        • Krysta says:

          I think getting to know instructors can actually help shy students. It can be good to know in class that the instructor is a human being, too, with a sense of humor or a love of Harry Potter. It’s easier to share thoughts with people you know!

          Liked by 1 person

          • TizzyMatic says:

            You’re right. Maybe the class will go by faster now that you’re actually interacting and know who’s teaching you (not saying you or anyone else don’t speak during class). Maybe it’ll be way more enjoyable, too. The benefits heavily outweigh not communicating.

            Liked by 1 person

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