I, regrettably, very rarely went to my professor’s office hours in undergrad. I was, instead, perfectly content sitting in the back of my lectures and waiting to pull a few all-nighters right before final exams to figure out what I needed to know. Now, going to my professor’s office hours often and early (and going to bed at a decent time instead of 3 AM) has been the key to doing well on my finals. Here is a breakdown of why office hours are so helpful and how you should utilize them.
What’s the Point of Office Hours?
Office hours help students understand or clarify concepts that may have been difficult for them to grasp after reading and going to class. It can also help students get one on one mentoring from an expert in the field and allows you to create a professional relationship with a professor that could benefit you if someday you need a letter of recommendation. In essence, you are literally able to go and speak to the person who writes and grades your exams, could you imagine being able to do that for the LSAT?
Additionally, office hours are also really helpful for the professor in assessing the quality of their lecture material. For example, my criminal law professor had so many students going to his office hours that he had to hold them in a classroom. My professor told us that he took this as a wake-up call that his teaching style wasn’t sticking. Consequently, he made a few minor changes to his approach and was able to transfer his office hours back to his office because fewer students needed to attend.
When Should I Go?
Some of my classmates would go into their professor’s office hours at the beginning of the semester simply to introduce themselves. This is a good idea if you’re trying to network or especially if you go to a big school and want the professor to be familiar with who you know who you are in class or if you decide to email them a question. You should also go to office hours when:
- You have questions about course content.
- You missed class and want clarification on material. (Note this should be only after going over your classmate’s notes and the reading- office hours are not time set aside for professors to reteach a lesson)
- If you’re doing poorly on your practice hypos and want to know what you are missing.
- Or if you’re thinking about working in the area of law your professor teaches and want to speak with them about their expertise.
How Often Should I Go?
How often you should go to office hours depends on how much help you need in clarifying a concept. While professors often encourage me to come back as often as I want, I don’t think you should be going into office hours just for the sake of going, because you might be taking valuable time away from another classmate who needs it. In summary, go to office hours as often as you need but not to just repeatedly get face time in with the professor- it’s blind grading anyway.
What Should I Talk About?
Before you go to office hours, you need to prepare. Bring a pen, your notes (even your outline) and come with questions. While I’m a firm believer that no question is a stupid one, using a professor’s time to ask simple questions will make it seem like you want them to do the work for you, which they likely won’t respond well to.
Also, don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it. For example, I was having trouble with negligence in my Torts class and not only did my professor give me practice exams to take but also offered to offer feedback on them once I was finished. While this likely won’t be the outcome with every professor, it doesn’t hurt to ask!
- Don’t be afraid- seriously! Professors have specifically set aside time to help you and most professors would actually like to see their students.
- Go while there is still a lot of time in the semester. Believe it or not, some students get strangely territorial about having office hours to them and you don’t want to have to engage in this if you can avoid it.
- Don’t go into an office hour hopelessly lost about a subject if you haven’t attempted to fix it. By doing this you are telling your professor that you rather waste his time instead of putting the time in yourself.
- Speaking of time, for the sake of valuing everyone’s time, if you can, email your professor in advance so you’ll know they’ll be there and they’ll know someone is coming.
In conclusion, office hours are one of the most valuable assets to the law school experience – utilize them often and utilize them effectively.
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