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.