How to talk to a college professor. 5 tips to make it manageable.

What? Why are you saying that? Why would I ever want to you to do such a scary thing as to walk up to a professor, act like they are a human being, have a conversation, make a connection, and form a relationship? When I talk to my clients about this, it often elicits them wanting to vomit.

Look-I’m not asking you to talk to them about what they do in their past times or where they grew up. Though, some of the most fun conversations include those details. I started and ran a program at a school where the faculty came into the residence halls and taught the students something completely out of their discipline. The results included cribbage tournaments, guitar lessons, concoction cooking, and magic trick mayhem. It was always packed and beyond fun.

Talking to a prof is a skill that needs to be developed. It is typically outside your comfort zone,  but is possible. Not only is it possible, it is something you can get good at and actually enjoy. It is scary at first, but is so worth learning. If you are feeling paralyzed, here are some tips to get you going:


1.       Be prepared. Look up your faculty availability. They will have their office hours posted and most of the time their schedule. If they have 10 minutes in between classes, it might not be the best time to open a conversation that needs more time and attention than that. It is enough time to ask their meeting preference, i.e. make an appointment, pop into office hours, etc. It’s ok to let them meet your face. 

2.       Ease in. Often, my students feel better about opening the door with an e-mail. That way, they have a bit of a buffer. I don’t recommend having your entire conversation through technology. This is an opportunity to connect, people. If you can open the door with an e-mail, the next step is to get to an in-person meeting.

3.       Air on the side of formal. Not a formal dress-but formal communication style. Let me get specific. It is not cool in e-mail or an in person communication to say, “Hey Prof” “What up” or sling slang that you do with your friends. Also, avoid text language. I very unfortunately write this due to personal experience. While I am more casual in my role as faculty when I am one, we all have preferences. I don’t typically go by Dr. Kreyssler, but prefer a student go there first instead of feeling friendly and calling me “red”. Yes-that happened. Go high people.

4.       Go armed. I give my students three questions to take with them every time so they feel prepared and aren’t stumbling around their nerves. Can you tell me what my grade is? How would you suggest I improve? and Can you tell me about opportunities for extra points in your class? You start there, they will take over. Guaranteed.

5.       Practice. The more you practice this, the more comfortable you will feel. If you practice early, you will have the skill when you really need it. Taking the time to navigate a faculty conversation when you are at ease is easier than when all hell has broken loose in your academic life.  Who wants to learn this skill when you are all hopped up on anxiety and fear? Your faculty will care for you then as well, but they will know you as a person who isn’t on the edge first.

Molly Kreyssler