Your GPA, while important, is not your biggest selling point in the professional world. That shiny new degree won’t mean much unless you know how to communicate well with your colleagues and superiors.
That’s why it’s important to think of college as your training ground for the real world—a place where you can hone your soft skills so you can successfully navigate the workforce. Your professors, for all intents and purposes, represent your future managers, so it’s important to know how to interact with them in order to maintain a good working relationship.
And if you want to get on your professor’s good side, there are a few things you should never say to them…
1.“Did I/Will I miss anything important?”
I once told a professor that I would be missing her class next week due to a prior engagement. Rather than simply asking what materials I should read, I asked, “Will I be missing anything important?”
“Every class is important,” she shot back.
Needless to say, I never asked her (or any other professor) that question again. While my 19-year-old brain thought my question seemed innocent enough, it suddenly dawned on me how disrespectful it really was.
Imagine pouring hours of your time and ideas into a lesson only to have a student question its value. Sure, not every lesson is going to give you an “a-ha” moment, but you should at least appreciate the effort that goes into them.
2.“Can you tell me what we did in class?”
Again, put yourself in the professor’s shoes. You spend an hour (or more) giving a lecture, engaging the class, and answering questions. Then an absent student emails you or pops in to ask for a summary of the highlights right there on the spot.
If you miss a class, do your due diligence before bugging the professor. Contact another student in the class; ask them about any assigned reading and if you could (pretty please) borrow their notes.
After you’ve made your own effort, you can ask the professor for any handouts you may have missed in class (check online first), or if you have any specific questions regarding the material.
3.“Is this going to be on the test?”
This is basically another way of saying, “Should I bother listening right now?” It makes you look like you’re only concerned with scoring well rather than actually learning the material.
Instead of asking what’s going to be on the test, use your notes and available class materials—like lectures and Powerpoints—to create your own study guides. After you do that, follow up with your professor to confirm whether you’re missing anything. You can also use this time to ask about the format or length of the test.
4.“Did you get my email?”
Keep in mind, professors interact with dozens of students a week, not to mention their own colleagues. Imagine how many emails they get.
If it’s urgent, skip the email entirely and talk to them in person during office hours. If you do email them, allow at least 48 hours for a response. If they haven’t gotten back to you within a week, send a very polite follow-up email.
And ALWAYS remember to use a professional tone in your emails. That means no “lol” or “Hey, what’s up?”
5.“I wanted to take this class because it seemed fun and easy.”
This one seems like an obvious no-no, but I’ve heard students say this during class introductions. Telling the professor you hope the class is easy isn’t exactly the best way to make a good first impression.
Every class, no matter how “fun” they sound, should be approached with the same thoughtfulness as any of your required classes.
6.“Professor So-and-So gave me a C on this paper. Can you read it and give me your opinion?”
You should never put another professor in the awkward position of questioning their colleague’s grading methods.
If you really think you got an unfair score, the first person you should talk to is the professor in question. If you do this, don’t go in with a defensive attitude; keep an open mind and be prepared with questions about what areas you can improve upon for future assignments.
Professors (even the tough ones) will generally be impressed that you’re making a concerted effort to improve in their class. A 10-minute face-to-face could go a long way as long as you make a good case for yourself!
7.“I just started this paper last night and got it done right before I came here. Pretty impressive, right?”
Most of us procrastinate at some point (we are human after all). However, it’s best not to brag about your procrastination skills to your professor, even if you’re confident with the results.
They want you to approach the assignments they give you with consideration and an appreciation for the subject. Telling them you did it at the last minute is like telling them their class is an afterthought.
8.Nothing at all
Saying nothing at all can be just as detrimental to your grade as saying the wrong thing. Professors remember students who engage them with questions or comments on the material.
So even if you’re shy or introverted, try to think of at least one relevant question per week that you can ask during class. Starting a discussion can help you overcome your fear of speaking in public—which will ultimately help you in other aspects of your life.
Remember, getting on your professor’s good side doesn’t mean brown-nosing your way through the semester. A little respect and courtesy go a long way even in your not-so-favorite classes. By improving your academic relationships (which can also help your grades), you’ll develop a better understanding of how to interact with your future managers.