5 Ways To Overcome Shyness When Approaching Professors for Help

QUESTION: I know I need to go to office hours and ask my professor for help. But I’m a naturally shy person, and I’m worried that approaching a professor for help will be awkward or make me look bad in some way. How can I get over these feelings and actually go to office hours and have a productive conversation with my instructor?

I have heard questions similar to these often. Many students are shy during there first year or two in college. Some of us never get over that. Shyness if often magnified when we think about approaching someone in a position of power.

However, don’t let shyness keep you from getting the help you need to make the grade.

If you are really intimidated by the prospect of walking into office hours and asking for help, here are a few ideas that may help:

1) Take a classmate with you. If you have a study partner in the class, you can both go to your professor’s office and take turns asking questions. That way you both benefit from the meeting, and you will feel more comfortable speaking up.

2) Write out a list of questions to ask in advance. While you’re in class, or while you’re studying your notes, make a bullet list of questions you need to ask your professor. When you go to office hours, you can start the conversation by reading those questions verbatim off your paper. That will get the conversation started, and you can go from there.

3) Bring examples of problems you have already worked on. This is something professors will really appreciate. Instead of showing up and asking questions blindly, you can show examples of problems you have already tried to solve. Doing this will help the professor quickly assess where your misunderstanding is. It will also make it easy for you to know what questions to ask. You both can then walk through the proper process of finding the right answer.

4) Email the Professor in advance. This is what I found to be most effective. If I had questions about an assignment or concept, I would shoot the professor a quick email that went something like this:

“Good morning Dr. Jones,

I was working through the XYZ assignment this week, and I am having problems doing XYZ. Here’s an example of how far I’ve gotten (attach a screenshot or PDF). Would you mind if I came by and talked to you about this on Thursday? I’m sure there’s probably a simple step I’m overlooking.”

As mentioned earlier, by doing this you’re giving the professor an opportunity to examine what you have already done. When they respond, they will likely ask you to meet them at a particular time. No need to be shy, because you’ve already “broken the ice” with an advance email.


There comes a time when you’ve got to just jump in and do the things that are uncomfortable. In college, if you keep your mouth shut, nobody will know you are struggling. We’ve got to speak up.

Usually, we are overestimating the discomfort of the situations we dread. The best way to get over being shy is to launch yourself into social situations and get used to speaking to different people.

When it comes to office hours, remember you’re in college to learn. Professors are there to teach. They’re looking forward to meeting with you and they LOVE sharing their knowledge with students.

So, pack up your notes and confidently head over to Office Hours!


If you have a question you’d like answered about College, you can email it to Jonathan@CollegeKidNowWhat.com. 

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