Tips for Communicating with Your Instructor

Good communication with your instructor will play a critical role in your success as a student and help you get the most out of your Penn State education. Whether you need help with a challenging concept or want to request an academic reference letter for graduate school, don’t hesitate to start these conversations at a distance. It may be intimidating, but remember, your instructors want to help you succeed. Follow these strategies to make your communication with them meaningful and positive:

Make a strong first impression with a polished introduction. At the beginning of your course, create a connection with an introductory message that is concise and friendly yet professional. Share why you picked their course and what you hope to gain from it. If the course has already started or you have reviewed the syllabus, mention something specific that you learned or enjoyed (or are excited to learn). If you are familiar with your instructor’s background or professional accomplishments, take a moment to acknowledge their expertise.

Show that you are resourceful by doing basic research. Avoid asking a question that could be easily answered by reading the syllabus or doing a simple online search. Instructors will explain concepts and provide answers to more complicated questions, and very much appreciate your effort to find information first. Not only will you demonstrate that you are resourceful, but taking that extra step will show them you respect their time.

Reach out as soon as you have a concern or need help. The earlier you reach out to your instructor, the more time you will have to work through your challenge or concern. If you find yourself struggling with course material or extenuating unexpected circumstances, be proactive and take immediate action; it will better position you for success.

Provide details in your communications. If you are struggling or have an issue, instructors will appreciate details to help them know how to help. Take time to explain the struggle or issue and what strategies, steps, or resources you have tried to resolve it. Share any work you have done. If you feel speaking in real time will help, visit their office hours (listed on the syllabus) or request a meeting.

Get the most out of office hours by preparing in advance. Online office hours are times that instructors reserve in their schedule specifically to answer student questions. This is a great opportunity to connect with your instructor and get explanations you may need about the course material. You will have a limited amount of time, so make it as productive as possible with preparation. Write down your questions in advance and make notes about issues or specific concerns.

Be professional and courteous. Take time to prepare your communications with a respectful, positive tone to avoid appearing too casual. If you are feeling discouraged or frustrated with your course, pause before communicating so that you can formulate a calm and collected message. Review our tips for communicating via email in an effective and appropriate way.