The Secret to Succeeding in Any College Course - Undergrad Success

The Secret to Succeeding in Any College Course

The Secret to Succeeding in Any College Course
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“Why would I go to office hours?”

In the last few weeks millions of college students, both new and returning, have begun their fall classes.

For new students, they have been besieged with “advice” from all sectors.

In fact, many great and dedicated professionals and observers (and even some peers) have offered #freshmanstudentadvice (or #advice4freshmen, if you are more hip) on various social media outlets.

I encourage you to check it out…some has been really great.

I wanted to add my voice to a topic that is likely more pressing now that classes are in full-swing.

Having worked with students in various capacities throughout my career, I lost track of conversations that I have had that went somewhat like this:

Me:  How are your new classes?

Student:  Good.  But, I don’t know about the Professor…

Me:  Why do you say that?

Student:  I don’t know.  I just don’t have a good vibe.

Me:  Have you gone to their office hours?

StudentWhy would I go to office hours?!?

To my first semester students, whether someone has had this dialogue with you or not, I want to encourage you to explore one of the great, untapped resources to help guarantee college success:  the office hour.

In the course of scanning your Professor’s syllabus and looking for pertinent dates, assignments and policies, you may have overlooked a mention of the office hour.

These are scheduled times throughout a given week that a faculty member makes themselves available to you.  These times are good for asking questions, discussing upcoming assignments, or exploring ways to perform better in class.

Most faculty members have a series of hours set aside just for this purpose!  (Again, consult your course syllabus for specifics.)

What I have found is that the vast majority of students do not engage in office hours for one of two reasons—they either don’t understand the purpose (the “why” would I go…) or they are intimidated.

Both of these are natural and logical feelings to have.  But, let me work to demystify the experience a bit for you.


It is important to understand that your faculty members are real people.

The vast majority would love for a first semester student to come and discuss questions they are having in class.

Want to really surprise them?

Start your discussion with something like this…”I found it really interesting when you were discussing ___ in your last lecture.  Is there any way you can tell me a bit more about it?”

Or, even better, “When I was reading, I wasn’t sure about _____.  Can you explain that a bit more?”

As real people, people who have dedicated their lives to a given subject matter, nothing impresses a faculty member more than a student who is inquisitive about their area of expertise.

The bonus points of actually reading and referencing the text is even better!

Also, as far-fetched as this might seem, but you find that you and your Professor share a common interest.

Check out their bookshelves, pictures and other memorabilia that they have used to decorate their office.


The second purpose of the office hour visit is equally important.

Your Professor works with many students each semester (sometimes hundreds) and it becomes difficult to truly “know” your students.

By you taking the time to visit them during their office hours, you are immediately setting yourself apart from everyone else.

While this might not matter now, it will when it comes to final grades, letters of reference or graduate school.

Trust me…it is the little things that truly matter.


Getting over your apprehension to visit your faculty during their office hours will also serve you well in your life.

There will be times that you have to “go” to visit a person who has some control over your future.  (Imagine a doctor, boss, lawyer, etc.)

You will likely experience the same sense of fear that you have approaching your Professor for the first time.

Now is a good time to practice this habit.


Oh, and a final note: visit your Professor before you need something.  Trust me.  🙂

By the way, would you do me a favor and share this #adviceforfreshmen?

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Casey J. Cornelius, Founder of ForCollegeForLife, is a writer and speaker who is passionate about student success. He has spent more than a decade as a faculty member, advisor, administrator and mentor. Feel free to connect on his Facebook page, ForCollegeForLife, or on Twitter @4college4life. His work can be found weekly on UndergradSuccess and he serves as an educational expert and content contributor to GenYize.

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