Unlike in high school, office hours are a big part of the college experience. It allows you more time to learn about the subject material outside of the main lectures, which is very common amongst college students who are significantly more interested in the subject matter than high school students (in most cases). Let’s discuss the significance of office hours in more detail.
The big reason for office hours in college is that lectures alone are almost never enough when it comes to teaching students about the subject matter at hand. This is in part due to the scheduling aspects of college – most classes only meet about twice a week, compared to high school where classes are just about every single weekday. So with only a few hours every week to learn about the subject material through lectures, office hours are the prime way to supplement that time in order to truly grasp the subject material fully. Of course, the office hours are optional by nature, but for students who are either struggling with the basic material or who really want to learn all the intricate details that are (technically) outside the scope of the class itself, office hours are a huge benefit.
Note that there are often two different types of office hours. The first type of office hours are with the professor themselves. They will usually have a few hours dedicated once per week to take students and answer any questions they have. This is a very valuable aspect of the college experience, simply because you are getting help from someone who is a true expert in the subject material. So any sort of question you may have, the professor is very likely to be able to answer it, making them an invaluable resource when it comes to expanding your understanding of the subject.
The other sort of office hours involves the teaching assistants. These teaching assistants are typically graduate students that work under the professor themselves in their own research, meaning that they obviously know a thing or two about the subject matter as well (although not as extensively as the professor themselves). Where teaching assistants are most commonly used are for homework related questions. They are typically there to help guide you through the homework each week, rather than have the professor take on that responsibility. Teaching assistants are often the ones actually grading your homework as well, meaning that if anyone would know how you should be completing the homework, it is them.
So if you are in need of some extra assistance with your college courses, which office hours should you go to? As already alluded to above, teaching assistants are more suited to those who are explicitly asking for help with completing their homework. The fact that teaching assistants prepare for their own office hours by reviewing the homework assignment for the week should make it clear that helping out with homework is their main objective. If you are genuinely more interested in the subject material in general and just want to pick the brains of the expert on the subject, going to your professor’s office hours is much more ideal. Note that your professor will typically be much more receptive to students who are generally curious about the subject material rather than students who are just trying to get their homework done, so if you really are just looking for help with your homework, it is probably best to go to your teaching assistant’s office hours (unless there is a conflict in your schedule that means the professor’s office hours are the only option for you).
Office hours are a huge part of the college experience, whether it be to help get your homework done, or to simply help you understand the subject material a little bit more. And with the ability to get help from both the professor themselves as well as the teaching assistants, you can receive vastly different forms of office hours depending on which one you attend. Although office hours are technically optional, you should definitely take advantage of them whenever possible, in order to benefit from the entire college experience!