Demystifying Office Hours - What are they and how do I use them?

Office hours (in-person or online) are your time to meet with your instructors and/or TAs to ask questions, get and share feedback, learn about opportunities, make connections, and more.

What is the point of office hours?

  • Get clarification or ask questions: If you are unsure about directions for an assignment, or about anything else for your course, use office hours to talk with your instructor.
  • Show interest: Perhaps your instructor is doing exactly what you want to do someday. You can use office hours to learn about their career.
  • Get mentorship: Take office hour time to develop relationships with the people you might later ask to write a letter of recommendation. When you visit office hours, you get to practice professionalism, relationship building, and communication!
  • Learn about opportunities: Connect with your instructors during office hours to learn about opportunities for research, employment, conferences, and more. 

How do I know when and where office hours are?

  • Your course syllabus should list when and where office hours are being held for your class. If you cannot find this information on the course syllabus, connect with your instructor before or after class or by sending an email. If office hours conflict with your schedule, it is appropriate to reach out to your instructor to see if they may be available during a different time or if they have any recommendations for other course supports. 

Helpful tips to make the most of office hours:

  • Prepare before you go: Write your questions down beforehand, and have them available when you meet with your instructor. If you want to talk about a test, paper, or reading, have the information ready for you and your instructor to reference.
  • Be active in the conversation: First, say hello and introduce yourself. If your instructor teaches several courses, indicate which course you are taking. Then, begin the conversation. You might say: I'd like to ask you about ... or would you mind working through this problem together? 
  • If you do not understand, ask more questions! Seeking clarification demonstrates that you want to learn. Be sure you have answers before you leave. Asking questions can feel intimidating; however, questions are a positive! They show your investment in learning the course material. 
  • Take a friend or a classmate: It can feel less intimidating to go with someone else from your class. Plan to meet together beforehand and decide what questions you will ask your instructor. 
  • Make an exit plan: Before you visit office hours, decide what information you need to acquire at the meeting. If there is a certain time you need to leave by, consider telling your instructor when you start. Knowing your exit cues ahead of time can help you to transition smoothly into saying thank you for meeting with me.
  • Make visits a habit: This is your time, and visiting office hours shows your investment in learning. Your instructors are incredible resources and can help with your classes. So plan to use office hours regularly. 

Pro tip: If you are successfully navigating course material, consider using office hours to ask about the research your instructor is doing, or to engage in an informational interview to learn more about your instructor's career. You could also ask about conferences, workshops, or other professional opportunities. 

This blog post was adapted from Effective U.