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Surely you’ve heard that the friendships you make in college last a lifetime. But did you know that the same can hold true for your college professors? Play your cards right, and your profs can become lifelong mentors and friends.

It can all fall apart if you don’t take relationship building seriously from the start, however.

“Research shows that when you first meet someone, that impression serves as the basis for all future interactions with that individual, up to a point of course,” says Susan Hill, assistant professor of psychology at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth.

Try these tips for making a good first impression on your professors so you can lay the foundation for lasting relationships.

1. Introduce yourself.
Don’t assume it’s your professor’s responsibility to break the ice. He or she has far more students than you have professors, so it’s on you to make the first move. “There’s no better way to make a good first impression than showing the enthusiasm to introduce yourself,” says Daniel Connolly, associate dean of undergraduate programs at the Daniels College of Business at the University of Denver in Colorado. “Enthusiastic students tend to make good impressions on professors because it shows their eagerness to learn.”

2. Open up during office hours.
And don’t be afraid to open up to your profs. “Most students stop by during my office hours the day or two before a test to ask questions about the material, but very rarely do students come by to introduce themselves, talk about what they want to do with their major, or just chat about their goals, dreams, aspirations and how their coursework might contribute to them,” says John Fea, associate professor of history at Messiah College in Grantham, PA. Taking the initiative to strike up meaningful conversations makes a positive impression on your professor and can have a lasting impact on your relationship.

3. Look ‘em in the eye.
When you’re chatting it up with your prof, watch your eye contact. “Looking someone in the eye conveys a sense of connectedness and engagement in the conversation,” says Deborah Ricker, dean of academic services at York College of Pennsylvania. “If students can’t, or won’t look me in the eye, I wonder how serious they are about the conversation.”

4. Choose your seat wisely.
You don’t have to sit right under your prof’s nose to make a good impression, but planting yourself somewhere in the front half of the classroom can help you stay engaged. Obviously, glassy eyed inattention does not earn positive professor points. “In lecture, students’ attention tends to bottom out about 30 minutes into class, which is just when faculty are getting to the most important information,” says Chris Hakala, a psychology professor and director of the Center for Teaching and Learning at Western New England University in Springfield, MA. “Proximity to the professor does have an impact on that.”

5. Take your classes seriously from the get-go.
Professors can tell who is ready to learn and who is distracted by the newfound freedom of college life. Don’t be a slow starter. “Start every class at full intensity,” advises Dr. David Rudd, professor of business administration at Lebanon Valley College in Annville, PA. “It is 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. This is a trap. Most of the time there is a collegiate, higher-level thinking twist on the material.”

6. Ask good questions.
In college, you don’t get points just for raising your hand and restating the obvious. Critical thinking is what interests a prof, not incessant chatter. “The professor notices when you ask insightful questions and make pointed comments in class,” says Rick Scott, professor of finance at Saint Leo University in Saint Leo, FL. “The interaction in class becomes a relationship.”

7. Take responsibility for missed work.
Make attendance a priority, but if you do miss class, be proactive and follow-up with your professor. “Whatever you do, do not ask, ‘Did we do anything important in class yesterday?’ That is offensive to the professor who works hard to try to make every class valuable,” says Cynthia Edwards, professor of psychology at Meredith College in Raleigh, NC. “Get the notes from a friend, do the reading, and then ask questions about anything on which you are unclear.”

8. Watch your digital communication.
When you’re emailing a prof, make use of everything you’ve ever learned about proper writing. “Every email must be professional with appropriate greeting, spelling, grammar and punctuation,” says Steven Benko, assistant professor of religious and ethical studies at Meredith College. “Emails that start with ‘hey’ or look hastily composed and replete with errors do not make a good impression and do not create the atmosphere for a good response.”

In the end, it’s worth the time and effort it takes to ensure your first impression on professors is a good one.

“Developing relationships with faculty can be valuable,” says Robin Lauermann, associate professor of politics at Messiah College. “Not only will you gain more from your academic experience, but the faculty can be mentors, references, and otherwise important contributors to your development.”


Robyn Tellefsen

Robyn Tellefsen is an NYC-based freelance writer and editor who specializes in career education. In addition to writing for The CollegeBound Network and Employment Network's suite of sites, she provides proofreading and copyediting services for various publishing companies. She has a bachelor's degree in communications from Wheaton College (IL).

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