The following article is by Dr. Marcia Y. Cantarella, Ph.D. Author of I CAN Finish College: The Overcome Any Obstacle and Get Your Degree Guide

I was with a group of students recently talking about how they connected with their professors. One student with a GPA of 3.9 said he owed every A he earned to the conversations he had with his professors. His story runs counter to what most students do, but he has the grades to prove his point. He knew how to get his professors on his side.

Students become intimidated by professors and assume that asking questions of them will have one of two outcomes. The questions will prove to the professor that the student is a dummy. Or the questions will bother this supremely busy person. Neither sounds like a good idea and so students avoid questions and contact at all cost—unless they are desperate. Then when they have failed the exam or waited too long to start the paper, they throw themselves on the mercy of the person that they have avoided for so long. That is not likely to work out well and certainly will not get professors on your side.

I CAN Finish CollegeFaculty go into their work with two goals: one is to engage in research about subjects that they love and the other is to share what they love with others in the hope that they will love it too. That second goal is called teaching. It assumes that there will be engagement. Nothing is more distressing to a teacher than having students texting in class, not responding to questions or just not showing up at all. Those things will not get the professor on your side.

Faculty’s work begins with asking questions. They have things they want to know about their subject areas and so they live in inquiry mode. Asking questions is the best way to engage with them. You usually get way more than what you asked for. Students going to ask about a paper topic may walk away with more than one text on the subject and lots of ideas for a plan. Professors love to help students improve and will spend time explaining things. They want to have you know what they know. That is how you get your  professors on your side.

Professors can be your best ally for recommendations, suggestions for graduate schools, connections to alumni, awareness of programs and opportunities including scholarships. Why would you not want this person in your corner—on your side.

But students all the time do things that will not only not engage professors on their side, but will actually irritate them. Turning in work late (or not at all…) is high on the list of irritants. Not doing the work, the reading, the homework is going to damage your grade especially if class participation is part of the grade and you can’t be responsive in class. Sitting like a lump is not a winning strategy and won’t get your professors on your side.

Not following directions for doing work is also not a good way to get a good grade. If the professor says a 5 page paper with a minimum of 2 sources then a 3 page paper with no sources (or Wikipedia) is not going to get a winning grade. Follow directions for meeting or talking to your professors. They set up office hours for a reason. They have other things they have to do or places they need to be. Respect their time and respect them. They are not your best buds and should be addressed by the title Dr. or Professor unless they tell you otherwise.

Courteously go to them with questions about something you did not understand in class or ideas you have to further a conversation. Go when you want to get ideas for writing that big paper that will be 40 percent of your grade. Go to ask how to do better on the next test or quiz. Go when you are not sure of how to study properly for this class.

Your professors, if they are on your side, will be part of the growing network of people who will help you on your life path and goal to a career. You want their good words on letters of recommendation to employers, graduate schools or those offering scholarships. They will love the student who is engaged, polite, interested and follows directions well. They want to and will be on your side if you are that student.

To learn more about Dr. Marcia Cantarella’s  book I CAN Finish College: The Overcome Any Obstacle and Get Your Degree Guide  and how you can overcome the obstacles on the path to your degree, visit or

I Can Finish College

Marcia Y. Cantarella, PhD, is author of I CAN Finish College: The Overcome Any Obstacle and Get Your Degree Guide  For more on this topic see Chapter 3.  You can learn more about Dr. Cantarella at

More articles by Dr. Marcia Cantarella from her book I Can Finish College

I CAN Finish College