Your professor is available to meet with you on a weekly basis. The time slot is called “office hours” and most of the time, no students show up. For lots of students, the though of meeting with your professor one-on-one is terrifying—something to be avoided at all costs! Yet, not going to office hours is like walking past a $20 bill on the sidewalk and not picking it up.
Most students go to office hours to ask about grades, to seek help when they are performing poorly in class, to alert them to a personal issue affecting their school work, or to ask for a letter of recommendation. There is nothing wrong with this, but there is nothing strategic about it. If the first time you attend office hours is for a letter of recommendation, you are not going to get a very strong letter. You will attend office hours to build a relationship and make that professor part of your professional network. If you work to maintain that relationship, that professor is more likely to alert you to scholarship or job opportunities, research experiences, or events that might be of interest to you. And if you do ask that professor for a letter of recommendation, it will be a good one.
You should plan to attend office hours within two weeks of the start of the course. Introduce yourself, tell them why you are taking the course, and let them know one or two interesting things about yourself. Maybe a sibling or parent attended the same college. Maybe you like to compete in fishing tournaments, or run half marathons. This is the kind of thing that would help differentiate you from the other students in the class. Ask the professor what their area of research is. This will give them a chance to talk, and will take the pressure off you. If they say something you find interesting, say so. Let the professor know how you feel about taking the class. Maybe this is the first time you are taking a class in that subject matter and you are a little intimidated. Or maybe this is a more advanced treatment of a subject you had and enjoyed in high school. Maybe you don’t know anything at all about the subject. Give voice to your hopes or fears. Finally, ask them what the most successful students in their classes do. This will give them a chance to tell you exactly where you should focus your efforts and energies in that class.
Bring a pen and paper, and write down the answer to that last question. Thank them for their time, make a graceful exit, and say “I’ll see you in class.” You have just laid the foundation. The professor will recognize you in class and will remember you when you return to office hours later in the term. Most importantly, you effectively positioned yourself for future opportunities.