Most universities assign first-year students an academic advisor, someone who is meant to provide guidance during course selection time, ask questions about your academic goals, and help you explore options available to you on-campus.

In reality however, this often doesn’t happen. While well-meaning, advisors are often given too many students to build a meaningful relationship with each one and you might yourself struggling to get an appointment, never mind having a heart-to-heart about your goals.

That doesn’t mean you can’t still get that guidance, though. While you might have a formal advisor, there’s always room for an academic mentor. These are professors in your area of study who share your interests, you can bounce ideas off, and can offer suggestions when it comes to things like seeking out internships or thinking about studying abroad. So how do you find an academic mentor and then make the most out of your relationship? Read on.

Drop by office hours. Seems obvious, right? But many times, students don’t take advantage of their professors’ office hours until they have a question about an assignment. There’s no reason, however, that you can’t sdrop in to begin building a relationship with your professor that’s not strictly tied to classwork. You might ask for their advice on joining an extracurricular that intersects with the class topics or bring an article you’ve found to discuss. Once you’ve built a rapport over a few visits, ask if they’d be OK with you seeking guidance from them from time to time.

Seek out professors in your major. Maybe there’s someone on the faculty who you haven’t taken a class with yet, but they’re an expert in your area or you’re familiar with their work. Seek them out! Drop by their office hours (see a common theme?) and go to any talks they give. Introduce yourself and explain your interests. You might find that even though you’re not their student yet, they appreciate your interest and are happy to talk shop.

Keep them clued in. As you build a relationship with an academic mentor, think about what it is that you’re looking for and then convey that to your mentor, so they can understand how to best help you. For instance, sophomore year might be all about building out your resume with the right extracurriculars, while junior year might be about looking for the right internship that will help set you up for graduation.

Your needs will change over your time at the school, but it’s important to keep your mentor clued in so that they can keep their eyes and ears open for opportunities for you and know how best to help. Building these informal relationships is what college is all about.