5 Successful students ask for help

Always remember that your college staff and faculty want you to succeed. That means that if you are having any difficulties or have any questions, there are college resources available to help you get assistance or find answers. This is true of both academic and personal issues that could potentially disrupt your college experience. Never hesitate to go looking for help or information—but realize that usually you have to take the first step. Asking for help requires two things, self-awareness skills and self-advocacy. Self-awareness is an understanding of your particular strengths and weakness and an awareness of when you need help. Self-advocacy is the ability to speak up for yourself and to ask for help when you need it. So self-awareness is recognizing that you need help and self-advocacy is asking for it.

Successful students recognize that they do not need to do this all alone. There are two important groups on campus available to you as a student,  your professors and Student Services. Talking with your professors is your best first step for most issues. Your professor may recommend you contact Student Services or Campus Services for additional support. Successful students find out about the different services that are available at the college early in the semester, even before they need services so that when something does happen, they can access support because they already know what is available. Having an idea of what is available really helps when something goes wrong because you don’t then have to figure out what might be possible when you are already in crisis or panic mode.


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Student Services are in place because colleges know that students benefit from having support at different points in their college career. It is expected and accepted that students will use services as needed. In some cultures, asking for help or accepting help can be seen as a sign of weakness; in college culture, if you have questions or have difficulties that impact your learning, NOT seeking help is seen as a weakness.  Take the example of tutoring. Tutoring is a service used by students who are doing quite well in their studies as a way to confirm their learning and understanding. It is also used as a support to students who are having difficulty in understand some aspect of their course materials. Using tutoring  is not a sign of weakness but is seen as a smart move on your part.

Student Services and Campus Services

All colleges provide a variety of supports to students during their college careers. Student Services and Campus Services are available on campus to provide academic and out of class services geared to supporting students’ success and retention. The names may be different at your college but the purpose of services will be similar. Read on to learn more about typical services available at Ontario Colleges:

Student Services

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These services can be accessed through the Student Services Department on your campus:

Accessibility Services

Accessibility Services provides equal access to educational resources and an optimal learning environment for all students with disabilities, both temporary and permanent, with valid supporting documentation. Colleges give all Human Rights Code-related requests for accommodation meaningful consideration.

Generally, the student is responsible to meet with a counsellor in Accessibility Services to discuss their functional limitations and accommodation needs and provide Accessibility Services with supporting documentation. Students are not required under the Ontario Human Rights Code to disclose their disability diagnosis (with the exception of Learning Disabilities) to receive accessibility supports and services and/or academic accommodations. Students are encouraged to meet with a counsellor prior to the start of a semester to provide information and arrange accommodations.

Counselling Services

Counsellors assist students in adjusting to the demands of college life by helping them with academic planning, stress management, problem solving, and career and educational planning. All counselling is voluntary, may be by appointment or drop-in, easily arranged and confidential.

Academic Counselling/Advising – Counsellors provide guidance to plan program coursework, select electives, or deal with academic challenges. Students can explore options and gather information on how to become a more effective learner.

Stress Management and Problem Solving – When stress and pressure of school or life affect a student’s ability to cope with their program, counsellors provide short-term support to develop coping strategies, problem solving, and decision making skills. Community referrals may be made.

Career and Educational Planning – Through exploration and assessments, counsellors assist students with career decision-making and developing a personal educational plan.

Indigenous Services

Most, if not all, colleges provide students a centre and services that provide a culturally based support system to its First Nation, Métis and Inuit (FNMI) student population. The centre is a place where FNMI students are welcome to gather, study, access computers and socialize. Counselling and Advisor services are usually available to assist current and prospective students in the areas of individual, academic, personal and social support.

Library Resource Centres

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The Library Resource Centre supports teaching and learning by providing students with the information resources they need. Discover scholarly articles, eBooks, and streaming video that will help you with your studies.

On campus, the library generally offers print collections, group student spaces, a computer lab, and a quiet study environment. Library staff offer support to students to develop their information and research skills. Research assistance is available in person or by phone, and often by email, text, or online chat.

Tutoring Services

Tutoring services are often available to enrolled students who need assistance to improve academic performance. Services may include one-on-one peer tutoring, walk-in services and groups. Peer Tutors can provide one-on-one help with course content, and pass along useful study strategies, but they will not do a student’s homework or assignments. Walk In offers brief tutoring assistance by faculty and senior tutors in Math and English as well as other core subjects. Group tutoring provides an effective setting for students to learn from each other with the assistance of a peer or faculty facilitator.

Campus Services

Campus Bookstore

The Campus Bookstore serves the needs of the College community for required and supplemental textbooks and supplies. In addition, the Campus Bookstore Store often has a line of school supplies and a variety of convenience items.

Health Services

Most college campuses have a health centre where medical professionals provide first aid and primary health care services to all staff and students. The Health Centre may also be able to assist with pre-placement health clearance needs.

Financial Aid

The Financial Aid Office administers the Ontario Student Assistance Program (OSAP), as well as the College’s Tuition Bursaries, Entrance Awards, Scholarships, and many other external awards available through the community. Your application to OSAP may also qualify you for assistance through government grants and other funding sources. The Financial Aid Office also administers applications for Work Study Programs for jobs on campus. Work Study Programs provide employment opportunities to domestic full-time post-secondary students with a demonstrated financial need.

Registrar’s Office

The Registrar’s Office (sometimes called Registration) serves all current and potential students, from the initial application to a College program, through to your graduation, and beyond. Here are some of the ways the Registrar’s Office can assist:

  • Application to a program
  • Admissions information
  • Registration to a program or to part-time studies
  • Student fees and billings
  • Academic grades
  • Academic transcripts
  • Education tax receipts (T2202As)
  • Letters of enrollment
  • Convocation
  • General information

Talking With Your Professors

College students are sometimes surprised to discover that professors like students and enjoy getting to know them. The human dimension of college really matters, and as a student you are an important part of your professor’s world. Most professors are happy to see you during their office hours or to talk a few minutes after class.

Active participation in learning is a key to student success. Talking with your professors often leads to benefits beyond simply doing well in that class.

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  • Talking with professors helps you feel more comfortable in college and more connected to the campus. Students who talk to their professors are less likely to become disillusioned and drop out.
  • Talking with professors is a valuable way to learn about an academic field or a career.
  • You may need a reference or letter of recommendation for a job or internship application. Getting to know some of your professors puts you in an ideal position to ask for a letter of recommendation or a reference in the future when you need one.
  • Because professors are often well connected within their field, they may know of a job, internship, or research possibility you otherwise may not learn about. A professor who knows you is a valuable part of your network. Networking is very important for future job searches and other opportunities. In fact, most jobs are found through networking, not through classified ads or online job postings.
  • Think about what it truly means to be educated: how one thinks, understands society and the world, and responds to problems and new situations. Much of this learning occurs outside the classroom. Talking with your highly educated professors can be among your most meaningful experiences in college.

Guidelines for Communicating with Professors

Getting along with professors and communicating well begins with attitude. As experts in their field, they deserve your respect. Remember that a college education is a collaborative process that works best when students and professors communicate freely in an exchange of ideas, information, and perspectives. So while you should respect your professors, you shouldn’t fear them. As you get to know them better, you’ll learn their personalities and find appropriate ways to communicate.

Here are some guidelines for getting along with and communicating with your professors:

  • Prepare before going to the professor’s office. Go over your notes on readings and lectures and write down your specific questions. You’ll feel more comfortable, and the professor will appreciate your being organized.
  • Don’t forget to introduce yourself. Especially near the beginning of the term, don’t assume your professor has learned everyone’s names yet and don’t make him or her have to ask you.
  • Respect the professor’s time. In addition to teaching, college professors sit on committees, do research and other professional work, and have personal lives. Don’t show up two minutes before the end of an office hour and expect the professor to stay late to talk with you.
  • Realize that the professor will recognize you from class — even in a large lecture hall. If you spent a lecture class joking around with friends in the back row, don’t think you can show up during office hours to find out what you missed while you weren’t paying attention.
  • Don’t try to fool a professor. Insincere praise or making excuses for not doing an assignment won’t make it in college. To earn your professor’s respect, come to class prepared, do the work, participate genuinely in class, and show respect—and the professor will be happy to see you when you come to office hours or need some extra help.
  • Try to see things from the professor’s point of view. Imagine that you spent a couple of hours preparing PowerPoint slides and a class lecture on something you find very stimulating and exciting. Standing in front of a full room, you are gratified to see faces smiling and heads nodding as people understand what you’re saying – they really get it! And then a student after class asks, “Is this going to be on the test?” How would you feel?
  • Be professional when talking to a professor. You can be cordial and friendly, but keep it professional and on an adult level. Come to office hours prepared with your questions – not just to chat or joke around. Be prepared to accept criticism in a professional way, without taking it personally or complaining.
  • Use your best communication skills. Learn the difference between assertive communication and passive or aggressive communication.

Tips for Success: Talking with Professors

  • When you have a question, ask it sooner rather than later.
  • Be prepared and plan your questions and comments in advance.
  • Be respectful but personable and communicate professionally.
  • Be open minded and ready to learn. Avoid whining and complaining.
  • There is no such thing as a “stupid question.”

Resolving a Problem with Your Professor

The most common issue students experience with a professor involves receiving a grade lower than they think they deserve – especially new students not yet used to the higher standards of college. It’s depressing to get a low grade, but it’s not the end of the world. Don’t be too hard on yourself — or on the professor.


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Take a good look at what happened on the test or paper and make sure you know what to do better next time. Review the chapters on studying habits, time management, and taking tests. If you genuinely believe you deserved a higher grade, you can talk with your professor.

How you communicate in that conversation, however, is very important. Professors are used to hearing students complain about grades and patiently explaining their standards for grading. Most professors seldom change grades. Yet it can still be worthwhile to talk with the professor because of what you will learn from the experience.

Follow these guidelines to talk about a grade or resolve any other problem or disagreement with a professor:

  • First go over the requirements for the paper or test and the professor’s comments. Be sure you actually have a reason for discussing the grade — not just that you didn’t do well. Be prepared with specific points you want to go over.
  • Make an appointment with your professor during office hours or another time. Don’t try to talk about this before or after class or with e-mail or the telephone.
  • Begin by politely explaining that you thought you did better on the assignment or test (not simply that you think you deserve a better grade) and that you’d like to go over it to better understand the result.
  • Allow the professor to explain their comments on the assignment or grading of the test. Don’t complain or whine; instead, show your appreciation for the explanation. Raise any specific questions or make comments at this time. For example, you might say, “I really thought I was being clear here when I wrote.…”
  • Use good listening skills. Whatever you do, don’t argue!
  • Ask the professor for advice on what you might do on the next assignment or when preparing for the next test. You may be offered some individual help or receive good study advice, and your professor will respect your willingness to make the effort as long as it’s clear that you’re more interested in learning than simply getting the grade.

Controlling Anger over Grades

If you’re going to talk with a professor about your grade or any other problem, control any anger you may be feeling. The GPS Life Plan project of the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities System offers some insights into this process:

  • Being upset about a grade is good because it shows you care and that you have passion about your education. But anger prevents clear thinking, so rein it in first.
  • Since anger involves bodily reactions, physical actions can help you control anger: try some deep breathing first.
  • Try putting yourself in your professor’s shoes and seeing the situation from their point of view. Try to understand how grading is not a personal issue of “liking” you — that they are really doing something for your educational benefit.
  • It’s not your life that’s being graded. Things outside your control can result in not doing well on a test or assignment, but the professor can grade only on what you actually did on that test or assignment — not what you could have done or are capable of doing. Understanding this can help you accept what happened and not take a grade personally.

E-mail Best Practices

E-mail has a growing role in education and has become an important and valuable means of communicating with professors. Especially when it is difficult to see a professor in person during office hours, e-mail can be an effective form of communication and interaction with professors. E-mail is also an increasingly effective way to collaborate with other students on group projects or while studying with other students.

Getting Started with E-mail

  • If you don’t have your own computer, find out where on-campus computers are available for student use, such as at the library or student computer lab.
  • Use your college e-mail for all communications with college staff and faculty.
  • Give your e-mail address to professors who request it and to other students with whom you study or maintain contact. E-mail is a good way to contact another student if you miss a class.
  • Once you begin using e-mail, remember to check it regularly for messages.

Be sure to use good e-mail etiquette when writing to professors.

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Using e-mail respects other people’s time, allowing them to answer at a time of their choosing, rather than being interrupted by a telephone call. But e-mail is a written form of communication that is different from telephone voice messages and text messages. Students who text with friends have often adopted shortcuts, such as not spelling out full words, ignoring capitalization and punctuation, and not bothering with grammar or full sentence constructions. This is inappropriate in an e-mail message to a professor, who expects a more professional quality of writing. Most professors expect your communications to be in full sentences with correctly spelled words and reasonable grammar.

Follow these guidelines:

  • Use the subject line to label your message effectively at a glance. “May I make an appointment?” says something; “In your office?” doesn’t.
  • Address e-mail messages as you do a letter. Include your full name if it’s not easily recognizable in your e-mail account.
  • Get to your point quickly and concisely. Don’t make the reader scroll down a long e-mail to see what it is you want to say.
  • Because e-mail is a written communication, it does not express emotion the way a voice message does. Don’t attempt to be funny, ironic, or sarcastic, Write as you would in a paper for class. In a large lecture class or an online course, your e-mail voice may be the primary way your professor knows you, and emotionally charged messages can be confusing or give a poor impression.
  • Don’t use capital letters to emphasize. All caps look like SHOUTING.
  • Avoid abbreviations, nonstandard spelling, slang, and emoticons like smiley faces. These do not convey a professional tone.
  • Don’t make demands or state expectations such as “I’ll expect to hear from you soon” or “If I haven’t heard by 4 p.m., I’ll assume you’ll accept my paper late.”
  • When you reply to a message, leave the original message within yours. Your reader may need to recall what he or she said in the original message.
  • Be polite. End the message with a “Thank you” or something similar.
  • Proofread your message before sending it.
  • With any important message to a work supervisor or professor, it’s a good idea to wait and review the message later before sending it. You may have expressed an emotion or thought that you will think better about later. Many problems have resulted when people sent messages too quickly without thinking.

Key Takeaways

  • The college and its staff want to see you succeed, but you have to ask for the help you need to succeed.
  • Using Student or Campus services is not a sign of weakness, but seen as a trait of successful students.
  • Participating in your learning by respectfully talking with professors. The benefits of active communication with professors often leads to benefits beyond class grades.



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A Guide for Successful Students Copyright © 2019 by St. Clair College is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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