While fashion may not be the most important aspect of making a good impression on professors, several Case Western Reserve faculty members noted that appearance can play at least a minor role in how they perceive students.
On self-marketing and presenting oneself best, most professors said that this something that they think best helps a student at the beginning of the semester. Both Associate Dean Molly Berger of the History Department and Design and Innovation Assistant Professor Casey Newmeyer agreed that if there is time to put more effort in one’s classroom appearance, it would be when classes begin.
Both professors recognized that they might be biased however. It can be inferred that the initial well-dressed look seems to give off the appearance of respect for the professor and raise interest in the general course information.
Berger also expanded her preference, showing that a student’s appearance is not a priority as long as it doesn’t influence their activity in class.
“If a student is doing well in class, I’m not offended by a rumpled just-rolled-out-of-bed look, as long as they don’t continue their nap in class.”
Some professors do prefer a more professional look in certain situations. Physics Professor Rolfe Petschek explained that in situations where a student comes to him with a specific interest or is giving presentations in his class, he prefers and sometimes requires students to dress in business casual. However, Petschek—like many of the other professors—focuses more on the ethical behavior of students in his class than their appearance.
In some instances, a bad appearance can have such a negative effect on the student’s impression that a good appearance can’t improve the professor’s perception of them. Petschek provided an anecdote of when a student’s attire was less than appropriate for a presentation, even in his casual class setting, which left him with a slightly more disinterested feeling towards the student.
“Professors write recommendation letters, have extensive networks and can be a vital resource for students seeking employment or graduate studies,” said Newmeyer.
She believes it’s important to make a good impression on every professor. This idea that professors are likely to be helpful to those students who have impressed them or maintained a good relationship with them was one that expanded across all who were asked.
Overwhelmingly, professors seem to care more about students’ active participation and interest in their class than their appearance, as it should be. However, it is clear that appearances and impressions—especially at first—can only help.