What Students Should and Shouldn’t Say to Their Professors (and Why)

What Students Should and Shouldn’t Say to Their Professors (and Why)


Two articles from USA Today College have been circulating heavily in my social media feeds: 6 Things You SHOULD Say to Your Professor and 5 Things You Should NEVER Say to Your Professor. With the fall semester and new students in mind, I’ve reblogged and modified the columns (in part) below; anything I’ve added/amended is in brackets.

“Did I miss anything?/If I leave early, will we do anything important?”

Let me answer this one for you in one word: Yes. The answer will always be “yes.” The reason is [that] professors never stand up in front of a room or create an activity they consider useless. Professors value their course and think the content is important every day. [...] Also, don’t ask for exit permission—your professor can’t fairly give it. Just go; be responsible for the consequences and don’t make early departure a habit. [...] Every class day is a day committed by you and your professor, and is important to your professor. It should be important to you, as well. Conveying otherwise? Not professional. Try this instead: “I need to leave class early today. I noticed on the schedule that you are going over chapter six. I read chapter six and started on the assignment. I will have it done on time and do not need to leave early again.”

“I just took your class for an easy A.”

[Most] professors translate this statement as the student didn’t care about the course material or want to put any effort into doing the work. [Again], professors care about their course curriculum and they hope  it will be respected and taken seriously. When professors grade, quality counts—taking quizzes, writing papers, and completing group presentations are all part of earning a passing grade.

“I didn’t know we had anything due in this course.”

Saying this to a professor is [essentially] equivalent to asking, “What days does this class meet?” and, “Do we have a book in this course?” At the college level, students have assignments due in every class, every semester. It is a student’s responsibility to look at the course syllabus. At the collegiate level, a student should not be relying on class announcements or personalized emails to be alerted to upcoming due dates either.

“I was busy studying for my other classes so I didn’t do my work for this class.”

Unfortunately, that is not an excuse. Students need to learn time-management skills and effective study habits. It is an insult for a professor to hear that [her] class wasn’t as important as another one. Try this instead (via Jason Mittell): “I decided that other work/obligations took priority over meeting your deadline, and am willing to pay the consequences for that choice.”

“I’m so lost!”

Instead of conveying blanket lost-ness, be specific. Don’t make your professor tease out where you’re stuck, which wastes time. Show that you’ve attempted to help yourself and you’ll get more focused assistance. Try this instead: “I am confused about our upcoming paper. Here is what I’ve done: I read over the assignment sheet. I reviewed your examples. I am stuck on the transitions and two of my sources. Can you help with that?”

“I really needed a 4.0 in this class!”

Professors learn about desperately needed grades at the end of a term. Too late! All grade goals require a collaborative conversation initiated by you on day one or week one. At the beginning or middle of the term, try this instead: “I am striving for a 4.0 and I’m prepared to work for it. I’ve reviewed the syllabus. I would like to make an appointment so I can ask questions and discuss my plan for achieving my goal.” 

“I worked so hard! I deserved an A!”

Your professors grade on tangible work that meets set standards. Work early and some professors may offer feedback ahead of the due date. Some may not, but try saying this: “I have two very specific questions.” They’ll likely answer Try this instead: “I am working toward an A on our assignment, so I finished my project early. Would you be willing to take a look and give me some feedback?”

“Will this be on the test?”

No need to mine for test gold and lose credibility. Show your professor you think all content is worthwhile. You won’t have questions handed to you, but you may get an assist if you’ve skipped a critical study area. Try this instead: “I used my notes and textbook and downloaded your lectures and PowerPoints to create a study guide for our upcoming exam. Would you look and see if I’ve missed any major areas?”

Again, I’ve reblogged these tips from USA Today‘s 6 Things You SHOULD Say to Your Professor (by Ellen Bremen) and 5 Things You Should NEVER Say to Your Professor (by Jorie Scholnik).