Professor-Student Relationships: What You Need to Know

It's usually a bad idea, and at some schools is expressly prohibited

A Couple Holds Hands Over a Cup of Coffee

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While relationships between students and professors aren't unheard of, they can be a source for all kinds of problems. A professor is in a position of authority over a student, whether or not he or she is that student's teacher or supervisor, which makes any dating arrangement tricky at best.

Ultimately, if the two are consenting adults (there's no scenario where it's OK for a high school teacher to date a current student), there's not much anyone can do to prevent them from pursuing a romantic relationship. But expect there to be consequences.

Is It OK for College Students and Professors to Date?

First things first: A student must be 18 years old to legally be able to consent to a relationship with an adult.

Beyond that, some schools have specific rules about what to do if a student and a professor want to pursue a romantic relationship. If that's the case at your institution, know that the answer to your dating question lies in the faculty and/or student handbook. Breaking those rules could jeopardize the professor's job and the student's status.

What to Do if Your School Has No Policy

If you're at an institution where there aren't official rules about dating, there are most likely some guidelines or unofficial community expectations. Is it frowned upon? Is it OK to date a professor, so long as you're not in one of his or her classes? Be aware that even if you're not breaking any rules, your relationship, and how it's perceived could cause problems.

Even if the professor isn't the student's teacher when the relationship starts, problems could arise if the student ends up in the professor's class later on. As a member of the faculty, the professor holds power over the student. Many schools discourage professor/student dating for these reasons.

Additionally, other students may perceive a student dating a professor as having an unfair advantage. If you're dating a professor whose classes you take, students may think you're getting special treatment or grades you haven't earned, no matter if you actually are.

Say your professor/partner tutors you in a subject you're struggling with or helps you figure out which classes to take and get you the classes you need. From your perspective, you're just enjoying the benefits of a nice relationship.

But it's unfair to other students, who don't have the same access. A student dating a professor should be prepared for tension with peers, as they may envy the inside access to the faculty world.

What If It Doesn't Work Out?

Dating a professor can have tricky long-term consequences. If you break up, you may still have to see each other regularly around campus or, worse, in class. All those questions about fairness the relationship initially raised will remain, only the student may now be at a disadvantage, with his or her ex having power over grades and reputation with other faculty members.

The student could potentially damage the professor's reputation as well if he or she shares details of the relationship.

Ultimately, you both need to consider the rules and have a discussion about the potential risks of a relationship. Be sure that it's worth it because the costs could be severe.