Reach out, let professors be an invaluable resource to you

Being a student on a Big Ten campus can seem intimidating, especially on a campus as big as the University of Illinois where class sizes can range from five to more than 600 students. 

Every once in a while, someone will ask me if I feel like just a number among the more than 32,000 other undergraduates on campus. And every time, my answer is the same: never. 

I can thank my professors for that.

The University of Illinois has some of the most amazing professors in the world — professors who have real-world experience in their fields, professors who are more than willing to go out of their way to help you if you ask for it, professors who devote their lives to giving students the education they need to be successful after they graduate. 

One of the biggest mistakes students make in college is not getting to know their professors.

Most professors and teaching assistants make themselves extremely available to students. They typically hold weekly office hours, and they give out their email addresses on the syllabus. Many are more than willing to schedule special meetings with students who reach out to them for help, and some even go as far as giving out their phone numbers in case of an emergency. 

Taking advantage of those opportunities will only help students better understand the class material. 

But students who reach out to their professors from the beginning, either by introducing themselves in class or during office hours or by sending an email, are already ahead of the game. In a large class, introducing yourself to your professor will help you stand out among the crowd. In a small class, getting to know your professor right off the bat will only enrich your learning experience. 

Oftentimes, the better a professor knows a student, the more inclined they are to help when that student asks. And, in turn, the students who demonstrate to professors that they are hardworking and willing to go the extra mile often do fairly well in their courses.

What’s even better is that many professor-student relationships extend beyond help in the classroom. In my three years at the University, I have turned to some of my favorite professors — especially those who teach classes in my major — with questions about projects, other classes, internships and potential job opportunities. I have listed many of them as references on internship applications. I have asked for letters of recommendation. I have asked for their harshest critiques and their honest opinions. I have sat in their offices for hours picking their brains about my future career field. 

I have asked them to share their experiences, their wisdom and their advice, and they have never let me down. 

Because of them, I have become a better student and a better journalist. About to enter my senior year, I feel more confident in my career choice than ever before because I have had professors who have helped me more than I could have ever imagined.

The same goes for professors in departments across campus. Most of our professors at the University know more than we do and are willing to share their knowledge with whoever cares to ask for it. We, as students, need to take advantage of that opportunity while we still can. 

The more you reach out to your professors, the more they get to know you. The more you ask them for help, the more they are willing to teach you. And the more you learn from them, the better equipped you are for the real world.

Lauren is a senior in Media. She can be reached at [email protected] Follow her on Twitter @LaurenRohr.