How to Ask a Professor for Help

As a student there are likely many times in which you have thought about seeking assistance from one of your professors, yet have failed to do so for a variety of reasons (fear of being seen as "stupid", anxiety over having missed several class periods, nervousness about not knowing what to expect, or feeling uncomfortable talking with an authority figure).

Whatever the reason, you are not alone. You can learn how to approach a professor for help.

Step 1: Identifying Reasons for Seeking Help

Examples of reasons you may wish to speak to a professor:

  • You performed poorly on a quiz, exam, or other class assignment.
  • You are unclear about an assignment, exam/reading schedule, policy on attendance, etc.
  • You want to turn in an assignment late or take a test at a different time.
  • You are unsure about your current major.
  • You have missed class due to sickness.
  • You are considering graduate school in the professor's area of expertise and want to ask the professor for a letter of recommendation.

Prior to meeting with your professor, have a clear idea of your purpose.

Step 2: Determining When to Meet

Once you have identified the specific reason(s) you need or want to speak with your professor, determine how quickly to do so.

  • Check your syllabus for office hours and policies.
  • If you need to speak to him/her as soon as possible, try calling, sending an email (if a professor checks it frequently), or approaching him or her for a face-to-face discussion in his/her office.
  • Be sure to ask if this is a good time to approach the professor for your specific need. Also, keep in mind that a professor is typically less receptive to answering questions immediately before an exam is to be distributed.

Step 3: Organizing Your Talk with Your Professor

Arrive prepared with your list of why you need to approach your professor for help. Any anxiety you may experience can be lessened if you are organized beforehand.

  • Have all of your questions listed on paper beforehand. This will greatly minimize any chance of forgetting to ask a particular question of importance to you.
  • Have paper and pen available. It is best to record all information provided from your professor rather than rely later on your memory.
  • If you have a question about class material it is strongly advised to have your text, class notes and syllabus with you (in case you need to refer to such).

Step 4: Talking with Your Professor

  • Be sure to arrive on time and be mindful of possible (and likely) time constraints.
  • Don't hesitate in asking to meet again if you did not receive all the information you needed