It’s not about conning your way into a better grade by buttering up the person doing the grading. It’s not even about ensuring you have someone willing to write a glowing recommendation letter. Being a model student will not only impress your professors, but will help you make the most of your college career too.
Some of the most important people you will ever meet are the professors who teach your college classes. But these folks do more than impart knowledge. They also serve as judges of your academic work and in many cases, of your potential to succeed in the future. Undoubtedly, it’s in the best interest of every student to make a positive impression.
“Making a good impression is extremely important not only for grading, but also for developing relationships with professors that can act as mentors, advisors, or networking connections later in your academic career,” says Mallory Smith, a student at Stanford University. “When faculty know you and care about you, they can write strong letters of recommendation, advise you with courses and careers, connect you with research opportunities, and much more.”
Want to succeed in this important dimension of college life? Here are six proven strategies for making a great impression.
1. Get off to a good start
Although everything covered in a given course is pretty important, the first few days are crucial. If you get off to a good start, chances are the instructor’s initial impression of you will be a positive one. The phrase “first impressions last” may be cliché, but the sentiment still holds true.
“Start every class at full intensity,” says David Rudd, who teaches business and economics at Lebanon Valley College in Annville, Pennsylvania. “It’s easy to think that the first few sessions of a class are going to ease you into the content and that you can afford to cruise at low speed in the first week or so. This is especially true with freshmen who think that the first material they see is really a review of high school.”
For a quick start, study the course syllabus and start working right away on assignments. Have your textbooks in hand, and get a jump on readings. By taking a business-like approach to the tasks at hand, you can assure yourself a productive start.
2. Be visible
It’s easy to remain anonymous as a college student. You can sit quietly in class, complete all the assignments, and probably do okay. But if you want to be remembered, you need to make yourself visible. The best way to do this? Participate.
“Participation is key,” says Buford Barr, a professor at Santa Clara University in California. “You’ve got to be there anyway, so get the most out of it. I tell my students, if you sit in the front row, you are going to get a half a grade higher.”
Speaking up in class may or may not be an expectation, depending on the type of class and the instructor’s preferences. But even if it’s optional, participating in class discussions is a great way to show that you’re engaged—not to mention helpful in learning and retaining the information.
“Professors appreciate it most when students come to class ready to engage in lively discussion,” says Bob Herman, a recent graduate of Butler University in Indianapolis, Indiana. “That’s what it’s all about for them.”
If you don’t feel confident about expressing your opinions, a good way to get started is to ask for clarification about something you have read.
“Ask questions,” says Alicia Huppman, an assistant professor of human resource management at Peirce College in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. “You’ll get more from the class and I will remember you when class participation points
3. Put in the work
Everybody knows that it takes hard work to succeed in college. But it’s a fact of life that every student doesn’t work hard all the time. In fact, professors often complain about students who skip readings, miss assignments, or submit work that shows a lack of effort.
“Professors want their students to succeed but aren’t going to hand out grades just for showing up,” says Rick Muthiah, Ph.D., Dean of Learning Support Services at George Fox University in Newberg, Oregon. “Demonstrating your commitment to learning, particularly in a specific professor’s course, will help set you apart as a student who wants more than just an easy A.” At the most basic level, this means completing all assignments and studying enough to do well on exams. But if you can go beyond what is required, it looks even better.
“If your weekly assignment is supposed to be three pages and you turn in four, I will know you weren’t just trying to fill space but wanted to write a good paper,” Huppman notes. “That makes a wonderful impression and tells me a lot about your work ethic.”
Huppman remembers one student who routinely made an effort to find an article or two about topics discussed in class each week and passed them along with her comments and a request for feedback on her analysis.
“She showed me she was truly interested in the topic and also that she valued my opinion,” Huppman says. “I am still in touch with her, and wrote her a reference for employment.”
4. Build relationships
For many students, individual contact with faculty is limited. Yet most professors are highly approachable. If you take the time to interact with them, they will remember you.
A great move is to help a professor get to know who you are as a person, says Marjorie Hansen Shaevitz, author of adMISSION POSSIBLE: The Dare to Be Yourself Guide for Getting Into the Best College for You. “At the very first class, go up and introduce yourself,” she advises. “Sure, he or she might not remember your name, but at least your face will become familiar.”
As the term progresses, take advantage of opportunities to connect outside of class. “Make a point of scheduling occasional meetings with your professors during their office hours,” Muthiah says. “You might point out some interesting things you’re learning in a class, ask questions about a topic that is confusing to you, or inquire about why your professor chose to study the field he or she is teaching in.”
Keep in mind that most college instructors genuinely like teaching and working with others, or they would be pursuing other types of careers. That means they enjoy talking with students and are likely to be very accessible. As long as you are polite and don’t overstay your welcome, occasional office visits or hallway conversations should be well received.
5. Communicate about problems
If you’re having problems that affect your role as a student, don’t keep them to yourself. Otherwise, a positive impression could turn into a negative one.
“Communicate with me,” Huppman says. “If you are struggling with an assignment, or a life event interferes with a deadline, tell me before you are late, not after. I am probably very willing to work with you, but particularly if I know that you are a good student. I respect students who step up and take responsibility for their work.” Huppman says she appreciates it when a student not only shares a problem but also offers a suggestion of how they can work together. She recalls an instance where a student facing a health problem e-mailed her and submitted a suggested schedule for making up the work that she missed.
"I was happy to work with her, and she was able to complete the class, due to her diligence and savvy suggestions for working out a solution,” Huppman says.
6. Pay attention to details
Among your academic responsibilities is staying informed. Keeping tabs on class-related details will reinforce your image as a serious student. You can keep pace by regularly reviewing the syllabus for each course, keeping track of your grades, and checking e-mail and course websites frequently. And be sure to question instructors about any details that might not be clear.
“Clarify questions with your professor, but only after you’ve done your part in following instructions and material that has already been given to you,” Muthiah advises. “You won’t win points by asking whether the assignment is a three-page or five-page essay when the details are given in your syllabus.”
Students and professors agree that throughout your college career and even beyond, efforts to foster positive impressions will pay off—for you and your instructors.
“We want you to learn and we want you to enjoy what you are learning,” Huppman says. “But you are a big part of that equation, and making a positive impression by giving your best effort will make you stand out.”
A good impression is one thing; a bad impression is quite another. “Avoid interrupting other students or the professor when they’re speaking; that shows that you think what you have to say is more important than what they have to say, and it’s disrespectful,” Smith says. “Don’t be late on assignments or late to class. If you do have an extenuating circumstance that requires you to ask for an extension on something, don’t act like you are entitled to accommodations; respectfully request their consideration and fully explain the situation.”
Smith concludes with these basic tips: “It’s pretty simple—don’t be rude, disrespectful, annoying, tardy, or lazy.” It’s all pretty straightforward stuff, really. And not only will you be making the professor’s life a little easier, but your own as well.