Navigating the Classroom and Professors

One of the hallmarks of the Wake Forest experience is the relationships that can be developed between students and faculty. Like any relationship, those have to be built over time, with deliberate effort.

Faculty want students who are actively engaged in learning. Students can – and should – bring their ideas to the table. Each first year student will take discussion-based seminar classes – a First Year Seminar (FYS) and Writing 111 (unless they got AP/IB credit and are placed in a different writing level). These classes are deliberately small and offer a lot of room for students to participate actively. Students should feel free to speak up, ask questions, and voice their opinion. Your student doesn’t have to agree with everything other students (or even the professor) say during these seminars – sometimes the best classes are ones where there are vastly differing opinions and ideas. Those hearty discussions often prompt the most learning.

Students can help make a good first impression with their faculty by showing up prepared for each class. That means having read the appropriate material before class, but also being aware of all the details of the course syllabus. The course syllabus is essentially the contract for the class – it tells students what the assignments are and when they are due, when tests/papers/quizzes are due, whether there is an attendance or class participation policy, what the grading system is, etc. So if a student emails a professor to say “what happens if I miss class today?” and there is a clearly-stated attendance policy on the syllabus, that student is revealing that they have not done their homework in knowing their obligations for the class.

Professors also like to connect with students during their office hours (regular hours each week that are set aside for students to drop in and talk to their faculty). Encourage your student to utilize office hours to get to know their professors as people, not just as faculty members. Wonderful friendships can develop when students and faculty members discuss and share ideas and discover mutual interests.

Sometimes first year students do not want to go to office hours and ask for help because they feel like they “ought to know” how to do well in their classes, and they are embarrassed that the professor might think less of them. Most Wake students are accustomed to being shining stars in high school; perhaps they haven’t ever struggled academically. Suddenly they’re in classes with peers who are just as good (or better) than they are. This can hurt some students’ confidence. Should this happen to your Deac, you can remind them that the smartest students are those who ask for assistance when they need it.

A lot of the pressure and anxiety students feel about class are tied to what they think your expectations are (whether real or imagined). Students tend to be terribly afraid of disappointing their loved ones with “bad” grades and are their own toughest critics (we’ll talk about that in a future weekly message). For now, know that as the semester continues, and students receive more grades on tests or papers, they will become more comfortable with the pace of college level work and what is expected of them. You can help by listening and providing encouragement, reminding their student to do the best they can, to get any help they need, and be to be honest in all academic (and other) matters.


— by Betsy Chapman, Ph.D. (’92, MA ’94)


To contact the Office of Family Engagement, please visit our contact page.

If Your Student Has a Problem

One of the best ways parents/families can help their students is to let them handle their business as independently as possible. Use the Stop, Drop, and Roll method when your student contacts you with a problem, a decision to make, etc.

Orientation 2021 presentations