You and Your Professor (Part 1): Maximizing Communication - Undergrad Success

You and Your Professor (Part 1): Maximizing Communication

You and Your Professor (Part 1): Maximizing Communication
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(Note: This is Part 1 of a series of installments to help you develop a great relationship with your Professors.)

They stand in the front of the room, assign reading and papers, and occasionally make your life difficult.  But there is so much more to your Professor than that.

The next few weeks will be dedicated to sharing with you ways to better-understand and work with your college instructor.  The suggestions I provide might help you avoid some common mistakes students make.

Having spent more than a decade in higher education, I can tell you that I have known hundreds of faculty members.  The overwhelming majority are intelligent, kind and genuinely interested in the success of their students.  They are real people with amazing expertise who have developed a career on the cultivation and sharing of knowledge.

When you think of it, that is pretty cool, isn’t it?

One of the most common complaints among faculty members revolves around student requests.  They recognize you will (and must) ask for special considerations, from time to time, but the manner and tone of the requests is often problematic.

Let’s consider this example.  This email, or some version of it, may be the gold-standard of how NOT to make a request of your professor.

“Hi Professor.  I’m in your class and won’t be there this week.  Send me the notes and can I have extra credit to make up for any assignments I miss?  Thx.”

If this message didn’t make you cringe, the following tips are for you:

You Aren’t the Only One

Each faculty member (except in rare instances) teaches multiple courses and/or sections each term.  Look around your class and imagine your professor teaching a similar one 3-5 additional times this week.  As a student, you should recognize the fact you are one of hundreds they might interact with at any given time.  Take a moment to identify yourself by (full) name, provide the exact course/section you are enrolled in, and any details (sometimes a student ID number) which might help your professor better identify you.

Know Course Policies

Before you make a request of your professor, of any sort, take the time to explore all course policies.  One of the things most likely to annoy any faculty member, even those who are patient and kind, is realizing a student has not read the course syllabus.  This document almost always lays out the course policies in a clearly articulated way.  Need to miss class?  Asking for extra credit?  Take a few moments to read through the syllabus to understand what your Professor allows and expects of you.

Give Appropriate Details

Remember the story of Goldie Locks?  Sometimes it is important to share information about why you are requesting something.  Consider the email example above—why is this student missing class?  It is impossible to tell.  That is a problem.

Having a (good) reason for missing class is something you would want to share when you talk to your professor.  Note, I said having a GOOD reason.  If the reason is you are taking a trip to Mexico for vacation, you may want to skip those details.

Always Be Respectful

Asking is much different than demanding.  As humans, we are far more likely to respond affirmatively if you are approached in a respectful way.  Measure your tone when you speak to or email your Professor—remember they are not your friends or family members.  This is especially important if you are asking for something extraordinary.

So…maybe the email should have read like this:

“Good morning, Professor Smith.  My name is Sarah Jones (#12-34567) in your Monday Sociology class which meets from 11:00-1:55PM.  I will be absent from class next week as I will be attending to a medical need.  I have read the syllabus and understand absences must be excused in order for me to be able to make up missed assignments.

Please let me know if there are there any documents you need to verify.  I would be happy to meet with you during your office hours to provide any additional details.

Thank you for your consideration,


Which do you think will be more positively received?

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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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