Considering Graduate School? Introducing the GRE

What is the GRE?

The GRE (Graduate Records Examination) General Test is a standardized test that is often required for post-baccalaureate (aka “graduate”) education. Similar to the ACT or the SAT, the GRE is a general education exam, that focuses on verbal, quantitative (i.e. math), and analytical writing skills. The exam is administered by ETS, or Educational Testing Services; as of 2020, costs just over $200; and lasts just under 4 hours. The exam is a computer adaptive test, or CAT. A CAT exam is a learning test: the more answers you get right, the harder the questions become, and the higher your score may be; the more questions you get wrong, the easier the questions get, but the number of points you can score also goes down. You can take the exam more than once.

How do I know if I should take the GRE?

The GRE is generally a required part of a graduate school application (for MA/MS or PhD). It is also being accepted at some business schools and law schools (although this is not universal, and you should check to see if the GMAT or LSAT is a better exam choice for those types of schools).

GRE scores are valid for five years, meaning you can take the exam and use the scores to apply for schools for up to five years. If you are considering graduate school, you may want to take the GRE. Even if you decide not to attend graduate school right away, taking the exam while you are in “school mode” may be helpful for some. You will need to evaluate that for yourself based on your personality and situation.

How do you study for the GRE?

Like other standardized college entrance exams (ACT, SAT, etc.), there are numerous preparation tools available from sources like Barron, Kaplan, and Princeton Review. These include prep books, flash cards, apps, and courses. The test administrators, ETS, also offer practice questions on their website. You will need to determine what type of preparation works best for you. For example, courses often work well for people who have trouble self motivating study or who have test anxiety. Books, flash cards, and apps can work well for those who need an overview of the types of information that will be covered on the exam.

How can I learn more about the GRE?

Here’s a link to the official exam website: http://www.takethegre.com

Visiting Graduate Schools

If the end of undergrad has you considering graduate school over the workforce, you may be considering visiting some graduate schools.

Masters or PhD

Visiting a university where you’d like to attend graduate school is DIFFERENT THAN UNDERGRAD. Namely, it’s MORE LIKE A JOB INTERVIEW. The all caps here are because this is one of those notorious secret club like things. If you try to visit a graduate school before applying or being accepted, they might meet with you, but more likely you’ll be blown off, you’ll irritate the professors, and in a really bad case, it could hurt your chances of getting in. Trust me. When I was in graduate school this happened a couple of times with prospective students; I speak from observing how this was handled in the graduate office.

Graduate school visits are more like a job interview than an undergraduate college visit. Typically, they happen after you’ve applied and been accepted. It’s an opportunity for you to figure out if this university and these professors are the ones that you want to spend the next several years working for and with. Masters programs vary in whether or not they hold a formal visit; most PhD programs do. If you get an invitation to visit the school, you should try to go (many programs will cover all or part of your cost). You’ll have the opportunity to meet with professors, see the campus, get to know some of the other graduate students and prospective students. It’s a very valuable experience (even if you aren’t trying to compare programs).

When you prep for a graduate student visit, you want to approach it like you would any job interview. Get some background on the professors you’ll meet with, and the graduate program itself. This will allow you to prep a list of questions that you’ll want to answer, including: policies on graduate student research (will professors co-author with you, or expect you to hand over your ideas for them to publish?), health care (what’s the graduate student insurance policy like?), pay scale and schedule (are there assistantship opportunities? Will you get 12 month or 9 months of funding?), graduate student life (Do grad students have offices? Where do most of them live–and is it in a nice/safe part of town? What is the university culture like?). The better prepared you are, the more you’ll get out of the visit.

Law School

Before I decided I wanted to pursue a PhD, I seriously considered attending law school, including visiting a few universities with programs I was interested in. Law school visits can be more similar to undergraduate university visits. I experienced two types:

  1. The Tour: some law schools offer a campus tour (similar to the campus tours that are tailored to undergraduates). These can be helpful in introducing you to basics about the school and give you a chance to speak with a current student (albeit one who is being paid to talk the school up).
  2. The Open House: again, similar to undergraduate programs, these are events where the school puts together a set of events that introduce you to the school, sometimes to the faculty, and to student life.

These types of visits are really helpful at any point in the admission process. They give you some insight into what life is like at that law school, the program, the campus environment, and the students. The other cool thing is that you don’t have to have been accepted into law school in order to attend. Taking advantage of these types of tours and open houses allowed me to figure out that law school wasn’t really going to be in the cards for me. For you, it might help you figure out which schools you want to apply to.

Medical School

Med School visits fall into two categories. Similar to the law school process, you can visit the school prior to applying and take a tour. This will help you figure out where you want to apply.

Similar to the Masters/PhD type visits, you will also likely be invited to visit after you apply, and you’ve been invited to an interview. Like the Masters/PhD visit, you should treat this as a job interview. In addition to doing your research beforehand so that you have some good questions to ask, make sure you dress for success, have updated copies of your resume/CV, and are prepared to field questions they ask you. After your interview, make sure to send follow up thank you notes to the people you interview with–so be sure to get their names (and minimally their email addresses) while you are there. Bringing a business card to exchange is a great way to get this information easily.

Resumes: Some Do’s and Don’ts

As a professor, I maintain a Curriculum Vitae, which is a fancy way of saying, I don’t use a traditional resume (CVs are longer and contain different kinds of information. You can see mine at https://kathrynmgboehlefeld.com/curriculum-vitae/) However, this past week, I found myself needing a traditional one page resume. So, I had to ressurect an old one from the depths of my dropbox folders. But it got me thinking about the utility of resumes and some of the common mistakes people make when writing one.

Do:

  • Have a Resume. Even if you are a freshman in college, even if you are pretty certain that you are going to graduate school and won’t need one right away. Resumes are helpful in a variety of contexts at all stages, including applying for on campus jobs and scholarships.
  • Make use of Resume writing tools. When I went to edit my resume this week, I was pleasantly surprised that Microsoft Word offered to connect me with the tools available on LinkedIN. There are a variety of useful resume writing guides available on line, from professional development blogs (I’ve found themuse.com to be one helpful place) to professional social networking sites, like LinkedIN. Just make sure that whatever you are using has been written by someone with actual credentials, and is not an answer by a random individual on a open questions forum.
  • Pay Attention to Formatting. Resumes should be concise, clear, and easy to read. The purpose of a resume is to convey a specific set of information about your job history, skill set, and education to prospective employers. If the reader has to go searching for the information they need, they will likely move on to the next resume in the stack.
  • Keep Your Resume Updated. You should revisit your resume at least once a year, not just when you leave a position or get a new job. You can add or switch out new skills, update any awards you have won, or include additional education you’ve achieved.
  • Make sure your resume accurately reflects any “digital resumes” you have. In other words, if you have a linkedIN page (and you should! See: https://the-office-hour.com/2018/11/08/why-you-need-a-linkedin-profile-and-how-to-set-it-up/) make sure that it aligns with the information you have on your resume.

Don’t:

  • Get too focused on the formatting. There are a lot of really fancy things you can do with your resume. But style versus substance can be a fine line, and you don’t want to end up on the wrong side of it. Also, you don’t want to end up with a resume that’s hard to read.
  • Try to include everything under the sun. Resumes are designed to be short. One maybe two pages depending on your field. If you are considering going below 11 or 12 pt font, you’ve got too much information. If you are including every job back to the lemonade stand you ran at age 6, you’ve got too much information. You need to be picky about what you’re including–go for the most important/relevant items.
  • Send it out as a .doc. Unless someone has specified that they want that a specific document format, play it safe and send it out as a PDF. PDFs can be opened on all computer types. MS Word documents or Mac Pages can sometimes prevent someone from opening your resume if they don’t have the right program.
  • Forget to have someone else proof read it for you. God forbid you accidently send it out with a typo in your contact information. After you’ve spent so much time perfecting your resume, you may be “too close” to the document to see small mistakes. Outsource the final proof reading to someone who can look at it with fresh eyes.

Thinking about Grad School?

If you have been considering whether to attend graduate school after college versus searching for a job, here are some key questions to ask yourself:

  1. Do I need additional education to get the job I ultimately want? If so, what kind of education do I need and when in my career do I need it?
  2. Are there funded programs available for this kind of degree or will I need to take out additional loans?
  3. If considering professional school (i.e. law school): Do I actually want to be a [insert profession here]?
  4. Is there anyone I know who has the kind of job I ultimately want that I could ask for advice regarding graduate school options?

Taking a long look at each of these questions before you decide to skip the job market for graduate school applications is critical.

Some careers do not require additional education. Others require additional education part way into a career (for example, many companies will pay or partially pay for you to get an MBA after you start working for them).

One of the biggest mistakes students make is thinking that they must/should attend graduate school as a safety net. But these kinds of schools can be expensive!! If you don’t ever see yourself being a lawyer, why are you spending money on law school? And however you do graduate school, it won’t be easy financially. Some programs you should expect to get funding from (doctoral programs, in particular), though it may not be enough to fully support you. Others like medical or law school, will require additional loans. Thinking about the likelihood you’ll use the degree and the ability of your finances to support it is a critical step.

Finally, if you have the opportunity to seek out someone in the field you want to be in, reach out and ask them about their graduate school experience (or lack thereof). If you don’t know anyone personally, you can always contact your school’s alumni association or career services center to see if they can get you in touch with someone.

Taking a Sick Day in College (Responsibly)

I missed posting last week because the start of the year virus finally caught up with me and tried valiantly to take me down. But it got me thinking about how to and how not to take a sick day in college. Here are a few definite DOs and a few definite DON’Ts when it comes to taking a sick day in college

DO: Attend Lecture if you can

Depending on your personality, you will probably approach sick days in college in one of two ways. Either your reaction is: I’ve got the sniffles, better skip my 8am class all week and sleep in OR your reaction is: If I skip any time studying I’ll never catch up, I’ll fail, and my life as I know it will be over. Neither is a healthy or appropriate option.

Here are some rules of thumb when it comes to figuring out when to take a sick day and when to power through: If you are contagious–and I’m talking the flu level contagious–do everyone a favor a and stay home from lecture. BUT if you are just feeling under the weather with a cold, take some cold meds and try to power through an attend the lecture class. Generally speaking, it’s hard to make up missed lectures, so if you can make it you should try. But be respectful and arm yourself with hand sanitizer, cough drops, kleenex, etc.

Critically, do not skip lectures in favor of attending extra curricular or other university events. Especially do not tell your professor that you missed class due to illness but that you “had to attend the football game.” Not only will your professor absolutely take this very badly, but it’s also unprofessional. If you are a full time student, attending class is your full time job.

DON’T: Email your professor with an in-depth explanation of your symptoms

I feel like this one should be self explanatory, but the number of times I have unsuspectingly opened a student email and come away feeling like I now know far too much about their illness is not insignificant. No one really wants to know your symptoms. If you do send an email, you might consider using the following guide:

Dear Professor X,

I am feeling unwell today, and will be unable to attend class. I will make sure to review the lecture materials/readings/etc. and will attend office hours if I have additional questions. If there is anything that will be assigned in class today and due for next class, I would appreciate it if you would let me know.

Sincerely,

Student.

Keep it short, keep it sweet, and most importantly keep it symptom-detail free.

DO: Follow Guidelines for communicating with your professor

Make sure to read your syllabi at the beginning of every semester and figure out what your professors’ policies are with regard to absences due to illness. For example, in my class, I give my students a certain number of absences “no questions asked” that they are free to use for sick days. As a result, I tell my students not to email me if they are taking one of their excused absences. In contrast, one of my former colleagues preferred having students email him every time they missed class as a way of taking attendance. The key is to follow the stated policies in the syllabus.

Sometimes there are also university policies regarding absences due to illness, and you should make sure you know what those are and follow them as well.

DON’T: Expect the professor to repeat a missed lecture for you during office hours.

Expecting the professor to teach you the lesson during office hours is an inappropriate use of that time. If you missed a lecture due to illness, it is your responsibility to do the assigned reading, take advantage of any online supplementary materials (i.e. posted slides), get the notes from a peer, and generally make a good faith effort to teach yourself the material.

DO: Ask the Professor questions you have about missed material during office hours.

If you do miss class and your do make a good faith effort to teach yourself the material and are still unclear, then it IS appropriate to attend office hours to ask for help. The professor is usually happy to help clarify material when you demonstrate that you have tried to understand it on your own first.

DON’T: Continue acting like you aren’t sick, even if you are “powering through” lectures.

Acting like you aren’t sick when you are is the fast track for being sick for a much longer period of time. Even if you are feeling well enough to power through your lectures, you may still want to take it easy and rest up when not in class. Consider skipping extra curriculars, slow down on the studying and generally spend extra time resting.

The strategy I used in school was what I call “intense sick days.” Anything that I absolutely had to attend (class lectures, work, etc.) I went to, but 100% the rest of the time, I was in bed, fully medicated and alternately Netflixing and sleeping. The strategy behind doing this is to get better as soon as possible so that you don’t loose valuable study time and get behind. Taking a few intense days off and being able to bounce back is much more efficient than working through the illness and staying sick for a longer time.

DO: Try to stay healthy

Getting sick during the semester is no picnic. Make sure that you ensure that you are doing your part to keep yourself healthy. Get enough sleep, drink plenty of water, wash your hands/use hand sanitizer, and consider getting a flu shot.

I hope these guidelines are helpful in navigating your way through college sick days! While staying healthy is the ideal, the keys to taking a responsible college sick day are to be mindful of your university and professors’ guidelines, do due diligence when you have to miss class, and make sure that you take care of yourself when you do get sick.

5 Habits I’m glad I picked up in College

In so many ways, college is the time of your life when you have the most freedom and independence and the fewest responsibilities. Much of your time is unstructured, so you have ultimate flexibility in how you choose to organize your life. Sleep between classes and work all night? Sure! Hit the gym at 2pm between classes? Why not? Drink large amounts of coffee until midnight? Go for it–you wanted to write that whole paper tonight anyway!

Some of these choices may seem better than others (see going to the gym vs. reversing your days and nights), and that’s probably true. The best part about college is that because you have lots of flexibility, you can use that to help develop good habits that will follow you into the work world, when the daily grind begins, household responsibilities reappear (or get more intense), and you begin to feel like you just need a few more hours in the day.

Here are five habits that I’m really glad I picked up when I was in college. These are the habits that help keep me on track, happy, and healthy during my whirlwind work days.

1.Getting to the Gym (almost) every day

This is #1 on my list because as a desk jockey (i.e. one who works by sitting at a desk day in and day out), I could very easily not take more than 500 steps in a single day–trust me, I’ve tracked it. When I was in college, I started going to the gym everyday–and I was the kid who always hated gym class. But, belonging to my college’s rec center allowed me to figure out that being active didn’t have to mean playing team sports (which is good because I am terrible at team sports). In addition to weight lifting and using the treadmill as an excuse to watch trashy television, college rec centers usually offer any number of interesting classes, from Zumba to Yoga to spin classes. The best part is that these classes are almost always offered at a reduced rate. Where I went to college, you could actually take these classes for credit! (Seriously, I had friends take bowling and get college credit!). Getting in the habit of hitting the gym during the day while in college helps me today by lowering my stress level and keeping me focused while I work.

2. Using a re-usable water bottle

Drinking water as a habit might sound a bit obvious, but hear me out. When I was in college, I bought a water pitcher with a filter and kept it in my dorm room fridge. The original thought was that I didn’t like the taste of the water from the water fountains or the dorm sink, so this was my solution. Every day, I’d fill my water bottle and bring it with me to class–just in case I got thirsty. This turned into a couple really great habits. First, I started to pay attention to hydration. Too much coffee (or soda, or energy drinks, or really anything with caffeine) will dry you out, which can lead to health problems down the road. Plus, water helps you feel more awake and alert without the twitchy side effects of caffeine. Second, I wasn’t spending as much money on disposable water bottles from vending machines. This left me with more cash to spend on things I really wanted.

3. Using a planner

When I was in college, I had a typical course load (usually about 5 classes per semester), but I also worked at the Honors Office and I was in a ton of extra curricular activities, from the student advisory council for my major to volunteering at my church. My senior year, I was on campus for 14 straight hours on Wednesdays. Keeping all of this straight took some serious planning. I’ve always used a planner, but in college it became a big necessity. Over the four years I was there, I bounced around in terms of planner types from weekly spreads to daily ones, from notebook sized planners to pocket sized. But the point was, I had to have my planner or I was basically up a creek without a paddle. This habit has really served me well as I’ve entered the work world. Using my planner every day helps me keep track of not only the classes I teach or the students I’m meeting with, but also when I need to pay bills, or when I have to attend a big event, like a wedding (because you hit your twenties and it seems like someone gets married every weekend for years).

4. The glory that is sleep

Sleep as a habit might seem counterintuitive. Sometimes, you feel invincible: sleep? who needs sleep? I can stay up all night and it’s not a problem! And sometimes, you feel like if you leave your bed, it might never forgive you. The point is that in college, it’s easy to fall into the trap of inconsistent sleep habits: four hours one night, ten the next, and so on. Getting regular amounts of sleep is key for all kinds of important things, including how your brain processes memory (think about that next time you cram in an all night study session before an exam)! When I was in my senior year of college and trying to be and do enough for 2 full time jobs, I started paying attention to how much sleep I was getting. Spoiler alert–it usually wasn’t enough. I’d push through and then collapse on breaks. This kind of sprint to the finish line and collapse isn’t healthy when you’re in college, but it’s impossible once you graduate and breaks disappear. Today, I track my sleep using a fitbit, and I can always see a difference when I haven’t gotten enough sleep.

5. Learned how to cook

I moved off campus and into an apartment my senior year. Instead of eating out some (or most) meals, I spent time cooking. That year, on one of those awfully long Wednesdays, I learned that cooking at home was saving me some major cash. In one of my classes, the students were comparing how much they had to budget on food each week. I was shocked. They were spending in one week what I was spending on food for the entire month. Cooking meals at home was a habit that I developed that has been super helpful since starting work. For one thing, I am still saving money, which is fantastic. For another, eating at home is way healthier than eating out. To make cooking at home during busy times something that was feasible, I’d batch cook and freeze individual meals–basically creating my own lean cuisines (except mine had a lot more substance and flavor). Over time, I’ve refined this habit. I still batch cook (or meal prep) all my lunches for the week on Sundays. It takes me about an hour, and costs me pennies compared to what I’d have to pay if I ate out. Plus, the food tastes better and it’s fun to experiment with new recipes.

Do you have any good habits you’ve developed since starting college? Share in the comments below!

How to Have Your Most Successful Semester Yet

I love the beginning of a new semester, and it’s not just because I’m mildly addicted to new office supplies or that fall is my favorite season. The start of a new semester is also a chance to start new habits, accomplish new goals, and be the best version of yourself yet. There’s so much potential at the beginning of the semester. In this post, I’m going to touch on five things that you can do to set yourself up to have your most successful semester yet!

1. Write all of your deadlines on your calendar

One of the best ways to set your semester up for success is to write all of your class assignment deadlines into your calendar. Forgetting to turn in an assignment can tank your grade in a class. Using your syllabi to write down when everything is due at the beginning of the semester decreases the probability that you’ll forget something.  If you chose to use a digital calendar, like Google, you can also set reminders so that you remember to start the assignment on time. While you’re at it, this is probably a good time to make sure that you save all assignment guides, directions, etc. to a single place: a binder, notebook, or on your computer. That way when you go to complete the assignment, you’ll know exactly what you need to do.

2. Get to know your professors outside of class time

As I’ve written in other posts, getting to know your professors outside of class time can set you up well for the rest of the semester. Getting to know your professors can help when it come time to ask for letters of recommendation, or references for an on campus job. Beyond those reasons, having an established relationship with a professor can also be helpful if you run into problems later on in the class. Struggling with a concept? Perhaps something crazy happens to your computer the night before your major paper is due. Having a pre-existing relationship with a professor outside of the classroom can lead to extra help or understanding if you hit a stumbling block later on in the semester. As a final bonus, professors are well connected on campus and are good resources for learning more about extra curricular or other opportunities, honors, and awards–all the things that look good on a resume. In short, professors are your ultimate resource. Make good use of them.

3. Join a new extracurricular or take on a leadership role in one you already participate in

The beginning of the semester is a great time to try out something new. Joining a new extra curricular at college is a good opportunity to explore new interests that you haven’t tried before. Most universities have a wide variety of clubs and teams that cover an extensive array of activities: try horseback riding or waterskiing. Maybe check out the debate team or Model UN. Perhaps you’re interested in running for student government or you’ve always wanted to know more about Asian cultures. Try joining the student senate or explore the cultural centers on campus.  These types of activities are great for getting experience in a field you might want to work in and for getting to know students outside of your dorm floor or major who share your interests. If you’re already a member of a club or activity, try taking on a leadership role in your club or team. Join the executive board or take the lead on a big project or event.

4. Do some service

Spending some time giving back to your campus or city community has many benefits from being a great talking point in interviews to giving you valuable experiences, to helping to improve where you are spending most of your time.  According to Americorps, there is also a growing body of research that shows volunteering to have a beneficial impact on your health! Many colleges and universities have resources for students who are looking to volunteer in the community. Some every plan campus wide volunteer days or offer credit hours for getting involved. If you are interested in learning more about how to get involved in your community, check out Americorp’s tips for college students looking to volunteer: https://www.nationalservice.gov/sites/default/files/documents/VIA_tips_volunteering_college.pdf

5. Plan in something fun to do

All work and no play makes Jack (or Jane) a dull person. Make sure that in trying to have your best semester ever, you leave some time free for fun.  Taking time off and being social are good for your mental and emotional health. Don’t just go on a Netflix binge, however! Not that an evening with pizza, ice cream and your favorite binge worthy show isn’t necessary every once in a while, but the idea here is to get out and get social. If you’re not interested in planning things on your own, check out what your campus activities board has planned. Many colleges offer free or discounted movie nights, cultural nights (that often include free food), and other concerts and events.

Introduce Yourself to Your Professors, They Said.

Introduce yourself to your professors, they said. Ask them about the syllabus, or their office hours, they said.

“Introduce yourself!” is one of the most common pieces of advice given to college students at the beginning of the semester. While it’s good advice, a lot of students can make small mistakes that end up making what should be a positive interaction an awkward one. In this post, I’ll walk you through (1) Why you should absolutely introduce yourself, (2) common mistakes that students make, and (3) some of the best ways to reduce the awkward factor.

Screenshot 2017-08-27 10.47.38

Why you should ABSOLUTELY introduce yourself to your professors.

There are a lot of benefits from getting to know your professors. But, to do this, you need to introduce yourself. Why? because depending on the size of your school, professors may have anywhere from 60-over 300 students per semester. That’s a lot of names and faces for anyone. If you want the professor to learn your name, your best bet is to initiate.

Having your professor know who you are from go has a lot of benefits. Professors are great people to have you write letters of recommendation Thinking of applying to any scholarships this year? you’ll probably need a professor to write you a letter, and most professors won’t write letters for students just because they sat through one of their classes. Maybe you need a reference for a job? Professors can also be a good sources for this–especially if you’re going for a campus job. Professors are connected. You might be at a school for a few years, professors spend their career there. Professors are also excellent sources of help in a difficult class. Knowing them can make a lot of difference.

There are a lot of benefits to having your professor know who you are.  SO, you want to make a good first impression. BUT, common advice can leave you looking more like an idiot than a great student. Here’s why.

Common Mistakes

Often, students are advised to ask professors about something on the syllabus or about their office hours. This seems like great advice because these are low stakes topics that should be of concern to both students and professors. What’s the problem?

  1. You asked a question about the syllabus, when the answer is IN the syllabus. If there is one major pet peeve that is shared among university professors, it is when students ask endless questions about the class and the answer is in the syllabus. We give you the syllabus so that you have all this excellent information at the beginning of the school year. Don’t just ask a question about the syllabus when the answer is pretty clearly already in there. Doing this says to the professor that you are Lazy, that you didn’t put forth the effort of finding the answer before you asked. Advice: Don’t ask a question about the syllabus JUST to ask a question about the syllabus.
  2. You asked a question about office hours when the professor already told you when they were. Similar to the syllabus pet peeve, professors kind of expect you to know how office hours work–and they’ll usually tell you the first week of class. Professors would prefer not to have to re-explain an administrative thing like office hours individually to every student.
  3. You found an unimportant pretext for talking to them. I really don’t recommend this one, and it comes from personal experience. My freshman year of college, I wanted to introduce myself to my Math professor, I didn’t have any questions about office hours or the syllabus, and I thought I needed to have some pretense for talking to him after class. So, I told him I was concerned about getting out of class late because I had another class across campus that met 10 minutes after this class ended. His response? Mile high eyebrows. Why, you ask? Because in reality it wasn’t HIS problem. It was MY problem. If he ran class over, then it was my responsibility to figure out how to handle the situation gracefully: leave before the end of his lecture or arrive late to my next class. Also, this was the second class, so it was like I was asking him if he was going to do a bad job in class.

Reduce the Awkward Factor

There are easy ways to reduce the awkward factor when introducing yourself to a professor. Below are a couple of examples of students who have done this really well.

  1. Keep it Simple. Last semester, I had a student introduce himself to me on his first day of class. He came up to the front after class, shook my hand, told me his name and said he was excited for the class this semester. This worked. It was straight forward, simple, and to the point. I highly recommend this option.
  2. Ask for a clarification–but only if its needed. Sometimes, syllabi or verbal instructions CAN be confusing. If you have actually read the syllabus through and there is something that is unclear, then you should ask about it. For example, if assignments are due online, but only a date and no time is specified, asking if the professor wants them at the beginning of class or at midnight is a really great question to ask. This shows that you are detail oriented and capable of reading the syllabus through.
  3. Stopping by office hours. If you didn’t manage to introduce yourself after class one of the first few days, this can be a great option. But, professors are busy people, so I don’t recommend just stopping by office hours to chat. Rather, have a specific question or two about the class, assignments, or a previous lecture. Since the semester has started, this should theoretically be a more focused/less random type of question. When in doubt, ask for advice: ask about what makes a successful student in the class, about what clubs/organizations are available for someone interested in this topic, about where you could go to get more information on interesting topic X that you talked about in class.

In short: Introducing yourself to your professors at the beginning of the year is a good strategy for doing well in their class. Don’t come up with a random excuse or ask them questions you should be able to find the answer to. DO be straight forward, professional, and keep it focused. Good luck!