Okay, so maybe “hundreds” is a bit of an overstatement, but who’s to say it doesn’t happen? Imagine this. It’s your first day of the spring semester and you’re sitting in your general education statistics class. Surrounded by a sea of people, you wonder how your professor will remember who everyone is. Answer? He won’t.
Maybe you’re reading this and thinking, “Why would I want to be recognized by my professor?” Maybe you’re one of those students that likes to keep their presence on the down low, not drawing attention to themselves. Maybe you’re just there to get the grade and move on. That’s great. Lucky for you, your class is big enough it should be easy to do that.
Regardless, fostering those relationships with your professors, both in and out of the classroom, is important. So, we’ll start with the ‘why’ before we get to the ‘how.’
WHY SHOULD I CARE WHAT MY PROFESSORS THINK?
If you haven’t realized this already, you should probably care simply because they’re your professors. They’re in control of your grades. Get on their bad side? Your grade may suffer because of it. On the flip side, if they like you, you could get some extra help. Now, this isn’t to say that your professors are going to play favorites (no one likes a teacher’s pet) and give you higher grades just because they want to, and they still probably won’t give you an extension on that paper you procrastinated writing, BUT what they might do is offer you some extra credit opportunities. Some professors, if you have a good relationship with them, will allow you to do extra assignments or attend after class workshops and events to help raise your grade.
Aside from holding the key to your grades, professors can be of value to you later in life. Professors are great people to use as references on a resume, or to have write a letter of recommendation for you. In most cases, your professors see you multiple times a week. Plus, based on the assignments you turn in, they can tell what your work ethic is like. Overall, employers will see references and letters from college professors as a valuable part of your job applications.
Besides being good references, most professors also have connections, and those connections are what you really want, and sometimes need, in order to land the perfect job post-graduation. This is mostly true of professors that teach within your major and minor areas, however it can also be true of those gen ed professors that you would least expect. When I was in college, I had a professor within my media department who seemed to know everyone. He worked under actor Desi Arnaz, who pioneered the multi-camera setup for TV. He was a director on several TV shows, like Empty Nest and Benson. His claim to fame? He once shared a hot tub with Cher. During his classes, we would hear all sorts of stories about his life. Clearly, we enjoyed them. They were fun, and almost unbelievable, stories. Still, the point is that this man has connections. For anyone seriously pursuing a career in media, he was the man to help you get there. Other professors were able to put students in touch with great internship opportunities, freelance work and more. This is true of nearly any major. Your professors have real-life experience. They’re not just there to lecture you to death. Plus, even if they don’t have direct experience in the field you’re pursuing, always remember this. You NEVER know who someone else knows.
HOW DO I GET TO KNOW MY PROFESSORS AND GET THEM TO KNOW ME?
I went to a small liberal arts college in the middle of Nowheresville, Kentucky. Don’t look it up. It’s not a real place. Anyway, being at a small institution, class sizes were also small. The largest class I was a part of had around 30 people in it and felt similar to that of my high school classes, so creating those coveted relationships with my professors was somewhat easier. Still, you could get by flying under the radar if that’s the route you chose. You still had to WANT those student/professor relationships and pursue them, just as you would in a larger college.
So, how do you go from being that weird kid with curly hair and odd-shaped glasses to being Daniel, that weird kid with curly hair and odd-shaped glasses? One sure-fire way to do just that is to be a bad student. Be disruptive. Fall asleep in class. Turn assignments in late. Skip class often. Pay no attention to the professor at the front of the room. Sure, that’ll get you noticed and your professors will definitely know who you are, but if you’re wanting the relationships we talked about earlier… the ones where your professors want to help you succeed in life… that won’t cut it.
- INTRODUCE YOURSELF
It sounds like a no-brainer, but you’d be surprised how many students don’t do it. Many think, ‘Oh, my professors know my name. They say it every day when they take roll.’ That may be true, but I can promise your professor isn’t going to recognize you outside of class, and maybe not even during class, based on the roster alone. Introducing yourself to your professors is easy. After class, walk up to them and say, “Hi, I’m Daniel,” and extend your arm for a good, firm handshake. Maybe even add something like, “I’m really looking forward to your class.” This, though a small act, will give your professors some time to mentally match your name with your face. It also shows your professors that you are invested in the class (even if maybe you really aren’t).
- SIT IN THE FRONT SECTION
Some professors do assigned seating, others don’t. This tip is for those classes where you walk in and are tempted to choose a seat in the back row where you can avoid getting called on to answer questions. It’s simple. Don’t be that person. Choose to sit in the front section of the room. I’m not saying you need to be in the front row, just somewhere within the first few rows where your professor can clearly see you. Take notes, be attentive. Answer questions when you’re asked (or say you don’t know, that’s perfectly acceptable too). By sitting toward the front, you’ll show your professor, yet again, that you are invested and are truly there to learn.
- ASK QUESTIONS
You’ve heard it before. No question is a dumb question. Remember that. Embrace that. Sometimes it’s easier to sit there, take notes and keep your mouth shut if you don’t understand something, but if you want your professor to notice you out of the rest of your colleagues, you need to take the road less traveled and raise your hand. Asking questions is not a sign of weakness, rather it’s a sign of strength. It shows your professors that you are truly paying attention to what they’re teaching and that you’re curious to learn more. It also shows that you care about the quality of your education and that you actually want to learn. No professor will mind to slow class down for a minute to back up and reclarify something that you missed. That’s their job and they’ll appreciate you for it in the long-run.
- STAY AFTER CLASS
Do you have a question about an upcoming assignment you found in your syllabus? Was there something discussed in the days class that you still aren’t entirely sure about? Is there something that relates to what you learned in class that’s a little off subject? Don’t run out as fast as you can when you’re dismissed. Stay after and ask those questions! Unless your professor has another class immediately after your class lets out, he or she isn’t going to mind to spend some extra time with you to discuss whatever’s on your mind (regarding class… they’re not your therapists). In most cases, even if your professors do have another class to teach, they’re probably in the same classroom or at least nearby and have a few minutes while other students are rolling in. If they don’t have time to talk, at least let them know you have some questions that you would like to discuss and see what options he or she offers you, then follow through with whatever they suggest.
- VISIT DURING OFFICE HOURS
Every professor, except maybe adjuncts, have office hours. Even adjuncts will make time for it, meeting in another spot on campus. “Office hours” is a time set apart for professors to meet with students. In order for them to work, guess what students (that’s you) have to do? Meet with their professors. If you’re looking for extra credit work, visit during office hours. If you have a question you didn’t get to ask during or after class, visit during office hours. If you want an explanation of why you got a B, rather than an A, on your latest paper, visit during office hours. Moral of the story, if you have anything you’d like to discuss with or ask your professors, visit during office hours. Most times, you may be tempted to email your professor in order to get these things accomplished. That, however, will not give you the face-to-face time that you need with your professor in order to make yourself stand out from the hundreds of other students he or she sees every day. If it’s something urgent that you need answered after office hours and it can’t wait until the next day, email. If it’s not, visit during office hours.
- ASK FOR SUPPORT
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, ask your professors for support! No professor is going to write a letter of recommendation for you just because they felt like it. You have to ask. If you’re looking for a way to land the perfect internship or job and you think your professor could help, ask him or her if they will. Everything before this has been a platform to get you a ‘yes,’ but in order to receive an answer, you have to first ask the question.
All in all, remember that professors are people too. They can get frustrated and overwhelmed just like students do. Keep that in mind and if your professors seem to be having an off day and they move past your question without answering or tell you they don’t have time to talk with you after class, just try again the next day. Your professors are there for you and are there to help you learn and grow. Still, it won’t happen if you don’t put in the effort too. Be attentive, be engaged and interested. Create lasting relationships with your professors and stand out from the rest of your class.
Have other tips for standing out in classes of hundreds, or a story about your experience in a large class? Tell us in the comments!