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How to Ask for and Get Help in College

It can be tough to know where to go if you feel in over your head as an undergrad. Here's a guide to finding help in college, from academic to emotional.

College can be an exciting time in your life. For many students, it’s the first time they’re on their own—living away from Mom and Dad and making some big decisions about their future. But it can also be overwhelming for these same reasons and many more—challenging classes in unfamiliar subjects, demanding professors, roommate issues, and, yes, homesickness. With all the new situations you face as an undergrad, it can be tough to know where to go, what to do, or who to turn to if you’re feeling in over your head.

Luckily, colleges have plenty of resources to help students navigate the often-rocky road of campus life. Whatever your situation, there is someone on campus who can help you figure out a solution to your problem or just let you blow off some steam. From your dorm’s resident assistant (RA) to the chaplain, staff members want you to have a great college experience, and their job is to help you succeed. Rather than feeling alone with your worry and anxiety, use the help available to you on campus.

Related: I'm Having Trouble Adjusting to College Life—What Should I Do?

Academic help

Unless you took Advanced Placement or college-level courses in high school, your new intense workload will be a big adjustment. If you took one or two college courses in high school, multiply that amount of work by five or six classes.

Reading assignments differ drastically between high school and college. In college, many professors assign long reading passages for discussion in the next class. Students share their own interpretation of the assignment or the professor will ask a question to get the conversation started, and the discussion flows from class participation. If you skipped those reading assignments in high school and do the same in college, you won’t have much to contribute. Worse yet, not doing the reading early on might hurt you later in the semester when the work gets more difficult or builds on what was covered in the first few weeks.

But if you’re keeping up with the assignments—reading or otherwise—and are still having trouble, speak up before you fall hopelessly behind. Don’t be afraid to approach your professor and talk with them. Sometimes it’s easier to explain a concept when you’re one-on-one, and maybe they can give better examples or explain something more thoroughly.

If you’ve been struggling with the material or your papers haven’t met the professor’s standards, it might be time to seek outside help. Ask your classmates if there’s a study group you could join (or start one!) or visit the school’s tutoring or writing center. Maybe you need better note-taking or organizational skills, or your learning style doesn’t mesh with the professor’s teaching style (for instance, if you’re a visual learner who grasps information better when it’s written or drawn and your professor lectures for an hour with no visuals)—in which case, you’ll have to work with your tutor to develop new studying and learning habits.

Dropping a class should always be a last resort—especially if it’s required for your major. Seek help before you take that step.

Related: Making the Most of Your Academic Advisor

Personal and emotional help

There’s more than just academic help available. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, anxious, depressed, or just “not right,” you can speak with a professional counselor at your college’s health center, usually at no cost. Sure, Mom and Dad might only be a phone call or text away, but it can help to know there’s a sympathetic ear right on campus if you need it.

College can be a tough adjustment all by itself, but if you’re dealing with personal issues that have nothing to do with school (such as family or relationship problems), it can impact your college life. The school’s counselors are trained and sessions are confidential (unless you’re at risk of harming yourself or someone else). You might only need one session or regular appointments for a few weeks. Depending on the issue, your counselor may refer you to another professional or your family doctor for additional help.

Related: Mental Health: What It Is and How Students Can Find Help

Job search help

Most students don’t stop by the career services office until their senior year, but don’t wait that long! The career services staff can help you throughout your college career, whether you’re looking for summer jobs, internships, job shadowing opportunities, résumé assistance, or self-assessments and information about various professional paths if you aren’t sure of a major or career and need some guidance.

This office also provides other opportunities like on-campus job fairs, recruitment events, résumé writing, job interview and business etiquette workshops, and connecting current students with alumni, which could lead to an interview or even a job! You can also meet with a career counselor one-on-one to discuss your professional goals and how they can help you meet them.

Some schools require students to meet with the career services staff before they graduate (if not before their senior year), but many don’t, so it’s up to you to take the initiative. If your post-college life is a big question mark, or you need some help meeting your professional goals, talk with someone in career services.

Related: Who Ya Gonna Call?

You might feel lost in the crowd on campus sometimes, but you don’t have to. College is all about growth, and it’s not always easy. College staff members are enthusiastic, empathetic, and truly concerned about students’ personal, professional, and academic well-being. No matter what you’re struggling with, you can find the help you need.

Not sure where to start? Talk with your floor’s RA or hall director and they can direct you to the right office. Sometimes it’s simply a matter of knowing what help is available and where to find it. 

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