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Maximizing Meetings with Advisors & Professors as a College Student

professor and college studentWhen I was a freshman advisor at Duke, most of my advice dealt with issues such as feeling overwhelmed academically, struggling to make friends and figuring out majors and careers. Looking back, however, one issue that I never discussed with my advisees but wished I had was how to make the most of a meeting. I know what you’re thinking: Huh? What do meetings have anything to do with being a college freshman? Allow me to explain.

In high school much of the information you needed to succeed was handed to you on a silver platter. But if you want to optimize your college experience – i.e. excel academically, extracurricularly and ultimately career-wise – you need to be immediately proactive about meeting with faculty and staff. A meeting, however, isn’t just about showing up and winging it. You want to impress the person who’s taking time out of her busy day to meet with you and convince her that you’re worth developing a professional relationship with.

Set a Goal for the Meeting

The key to making the most of a meeting is preparation. A day or two before a meeting – whether it’s in person, online or via telephone – I create an agenda and the first thing I do is figure out the goal of the meeting. In other words: what’s the purpose of the meeting? Once I figure it out, I write it at the top of the agenda to serve as a guide.

Let’s assume that you’re meeting with your economics professor because you’re interested in this area. Being interested, however, is an insufficient goal. The goal needs to be measurable so that you can assess whether or not you achieved it by the time the meeting ends. In this case, is the goal to gather information? Is it to get recommendations for extracurricular opportunities? Is it to learn about summer internships? Is it all three things? Or is it something else entirely? If you don’t have a goal, you’re not going to know what to talk about during the meeting. It’ll be like driving around without a destination.

Do Your Research

After I’ve determined the goal of the meeting, I research the person I’m going to talk with. This may strike you as odd given that the meeting is supposed to be about you. Paradoxically, however, the more you know about the person you’re meeting, the more potential opportunities you create for yourself. For instance, let’s assume that you’ve decided that you’re meeting with your economics professor because you want to identify extracurricular opportunities. If you didn’t do any research about your professor, you could still ask decent but general questions like “What extracurricular opportunities exist?” But if you did research on her, you might learn, for example, that she researches the economics of education – an area of economics that you probably didn’t even know exists – which in turn could impact the issues you want to discuss with her. At worst, such research enables you to ask more specific, detailed questions.

Create the Agenda

The final step in preparing for a meeting is to come up with the issues that you want to discuss, i.e. the meat and potatoes of the meeting. This not only includes coming up with questions that you want to ask, but also anticipating questions that you’ll be asked and preparing for them. For that meeting with the economics professor, your agenda might like look like this:

Goal: Identify extracurricular opportunities related to economics.

  • Questions to ask
    • What extracurricular opportunities exist in general?
    • Can you tell me more about your research on the economics of education?
    • What career opportunities exist for people who specialize in this area?
    • If I’m interested in this area, what do I need to do in terms of academics, summer internships and extracurriculars?
    • What extracurricular opportunities related to your research exist?
  • Questions she may ask me
    • Why are you interested in economics?
    • What do you want to do career-wise?

Ending the Meeting

You should always end each meeting with the following two things. First, ask who else you should talk to. You want to connect with as many experts as possible and one of the best ways to do so is through referrals. Second, have a follow up plan with the person you’re meeting. You don’t want the first meeting to be the last one. Every initial meeting should serve as a springboard for developing a long-term relationship because such relationships can potentially lead to your getting mentors, other connections, references and letters of recommendations and opportunities.

Finally, a last bit of advice: don’t be late for the meeting – not even by a second. This may seem obvious, but when I was an advisor my advisees were often late and not for good reasons (news flash: “I couldn’t find your office” isn’t an acceptable excuse). Remember: first impressions matter so when you’re late, you’re telling the person that you’re supposed to be impressing that you don’t respect her time and that you’re not very responsible.

If you follow these tips, you’ll be on your way to maximizing every facet of your college experience.


About the Author

Ziggy Yoediono – a Harvard, Yale, Duke and University of Rochester educated/trained psychiatrist with an MBA and a former college academic adviser – is the founder of ZIG Consulting, a college life coaching firm where every student works one-on-one with him in terms of academics, career, social life and extracurriculars.While college resources such as academic advisers and career centers should be optimized, some students want more personalized, continuous, detailed support - whether it’s because they want that extra edge or because they’re struggling - that colleges can’t always provide.Whether it’s a general issue like figuring what you want to do with your life or a more specific one like applying for certain internships/jobs or to certain graduate schools, ZIG Consulting can help you every step of the way! You can find him at