One of the things I like to share with these soon-to-be college freshmen is my #1 top piece of college advice: Go To Office Hours. I like to share this NPR story from last year talking about how intimidating many college students – not just freshman! – find the prospect of going and talking to their professors one-on-one (including a funny video from Arizona State addressing this fear). Maybe it’s residual dread from middle school tests labeled “See me” in red ink. But going to office hours is one of the most productive, and enjoyable, things you can do in college.
I didn’t start going to office hours regularly until my junior year of college. I was studying abroad in Rome, and the intimacy of our 200-student community with professors who lived in houses on our campus made it suddenly feel normal to swing by my art history professor’s office to talk about last week’s excursion to Piazza Navona, or to get a cappuccino freddo with our assistant dean to talk about my research project on Italian influence in Shakespeare’s plays. And once I started going to office hours, I wished I had started sooner.
My professors were incredibly generous with their time and resources, recommending books and films I might enjoy along with local restaurants they had discovered after living in Rome for decades. And as I continued to go to office hours, I began to see how these relationships might evolve into mentorships and friendships. So I was that much more motivated to continue going to office hours when I got back to Chicago.
My positive experience has led me to wax rhapsodic about the benefits of office hours to all the students I’ve worked with over the last six years. And as I’ve talked to more and more people through the When I Was 17 project, I’ve continued to hear stories of professors who went out of their way to suggest internships to their students, or who wrote letters of recommendations for grad school programs and fellowships, or who advocated for a student to get a summer research position. These are the kinds of opportunities that can make all the difference for a student when they graduate.
So if there’s one piece of advice I can give you, first-semester freshman or seasoned senior, it’s not to follow your passions or to step outside your comfort zone (although those are good too). It’s this: Go To Office Hours.