Office Hours: Helpful tips to get the conversation started – Part 2

*Not sure what office hours are, what they are for, or why students use them? Click here to read Part 1 of this blog post!

Office hours are a great opportunity for students to build a relationship with their instructor, receive mentorship and advising, learn about unique opportunities, get help with course content and so much more. While there may be a misbelief that office hours are only for struggling students, the truth is they are an unwritten and underutilized strategy for success, confidence, and connections.

If office hours are so great, what gets in the way of students attending and getting to know their instructors?

Feelings of intimidation – When an instructor seems extremely knowledgeable about a subject, is in a different age range/stage of life, or is teaching a very large class it can be easy to feel intimidated. Many instructors forget this power differential and might be surprised that students feel intimidated. For students, it may help to remember they are human too and likely really enjoy students, otherwise they would not be teaching!

Large class sizes – Sometimes a class will include hundreds and hundreds of students, so it is likely a professor has not had a chance to meet a student individually nor get to know them. This is the perfect reason to take advantage of office hours to do just that!

Feelings of shame or embarrassment due to missed assignments, low scores, content confusion, or lack of attendance – Too often students feel embarrassed or ashamed for any of these things and retreat into themselves, silently disappearing from the instructor’s radar. Unfortunately, this is even more difficult for the instructor who may wonder if everything is ok or may interpret such actions as a student not caring. It can be scary to acknowledge that you are confused, are behind on course material, or are struggling in other ways that are impacting your ability to stay present in class. Even so, an instructor cannot help if they do not know what is going on. Office hours are the perfect opportunity to connect more privately and get some support.

Unclear expectations – As shared above, students are often very unclear about the purpose and expectations for office hours. Hopefully, this 2-part blog post and the additional recommended resources will help students be more informed!


Not sure what to say

Many of the barriers above can leave a student feeling completely unsure of what to say to an instructor during office hours. Here are ideas to get the conversation going!

Sample conversation starters for course support:

  • I am having difficulty in class right now because of a personal issue. Could I talk with you about it?
  • This assignment is difficult for me to get started on. Could we talk together about ways to approach the assignment and brainstorm some steps in the process?
  • I have been trying X methods of studying so far, but I wonder if there are different strategies you might recommend for engaging with course material?

Sample conversation starters for relationship building: 

  • I am just stopping by to say hello and introduce myself. I’m enjoying your class.
  • I read on the department website that you research [X], can you tell me more about your research?
  • I’m still exploring my major options – how did you know you wanted to study your field?
  • If you could do your undergraduate study again, what one/two things would you change?
  • What is one thing you wish all students knew?
  • What one tip do you have for a student to make the most of their time at UVA?
  • What common mistakes do you see students make?
  • What things do you like to do outside of teaching?
  • What do you love about this subject? This department? UVA?

What are some additional strategies to overcome these barriers?

  • bring a classmate or a friend along with you!
  • email an instructor a simple “hello” or “thank you” or something to help break the ice
  • attend office hours with a specific question written down to help you feel comfortable
  • ask your instructor to coffee or lunch – the School of Engineering and the College have programs that will pay for this!
  • practice introducing yourself with a friend or in the mirror, so you’ll be ready to do so with your instructor
  • read more about your professor online, you may discover a great connection and conversation point!
  • meet you professor within the first two weeks of class while it is easy to say “hey, I’m new to your class!”
  • Know that you can stay for just a few minutes or have a longer conversation – both are great!

Next step:

Choose one of these ideas or conversation starters above and plan to attend an office hour this week! With some practice, you’ll feel more and more comfortable using this invaluable resource.


Post authored by Christy Rotman, College Life Skills Coach


Looking for more tips, try these additional resources:

College Students: How to Make Office Hours Less Scary” an NPR article by Elissa Nadworny:

Introducing Faculty Office Hours” a satirical video from Arizona State University:

Great tips from UC Berkeley, a peer institution:


By Christy Rotman
Christy Rotman College Life Skills Coach