As children, we were encouraged to politely ask for help when something was too far out of our reach. Then, in secondary school, we were told that teachers are always there and that support is all around us. It was easy to find help — it felt like most people wanted to help. Leaving our childhoods behind, it’s easy to see that the situation is the same, yet inherently different at university.
It’s a hard truth to accept, but in many situations, you’re on your own as a university student. I’m not saying this in a pessimistic light because this also means that you are independent, and that in itself is an achievement. Still, being alone means any support you receive is entirely up to you.
Everyone is out there trying to prove something, sometimes to others, but most of the time to ourselves. But what does that mean? Well, now it is your turn to seek out your own avenues of success, which means learning to ask for what you require. To succeed in university or any situation, we must advocate for ourselves.
I know this sounds scary because any form of confrontation forces us to step out of our comfort zones, and that’s a risk. Yet, there are ways to make it easier.
When you want to advocate for yourself, make a plan before each term.
This plan can change from year to year because, as we know, life is turbulent, but your life plan’s foundation needs to remain solid and buildable: What are your goals? What do you need? And how are you going to receive it?
Everyone is unique in what they need to succeed in an academic setting. It’s entirely normal not to be fully comfortable, or not even to know what “success” means for you until your third year of post-secondary. Even so, as you progress and begin exploring what matters to you, take note of your needs, and set yourself up early to be successful.
For example, plan to attend your lectures regularly, keep a timely schedule, carefully note the syllabus, and choose courses that serve you and your degree — including those pesky prerequisites.
And after establishing what you need, always plan on how you’re going to get it. For me, I find I’m always more focused if the professor releases their slides before class, but maybe you need something else. Like needing additional help that the classroom isn’t giving you, or just wanting clarity altogether.
In some cases, instead of putting pressure on yourself, use the free resources on campus that can enable you to focus on your subjects and stress less about your courses. Attending a drop-in academic counselling session to get help determining the right schedule for yourself, or quickly checking in to ensure you are on the right path in your degree can be monumentally helpful.
Likewise, if you find your schedule overwhelming and you find yourself struggling in some classes more than others, that’s okay. Student Services offers a broad catalogue of course tutoring available through appointment or drop-in to help you out when you might need it. By taking charge and seeking out these resources, you are already starting to advocate for yourself.
However, other times, you might need to advocate for yourself in an entirely situational circumstance. Perhaps something has come up, and you need an extension for a deadline. Or, after hours of studying, you might have thought you understood a majority of the material, only to receive a less than satisfactory grade after exam day. In either situation, you are now in a position where to get what you want, advocating for yourself is essential.
Something I wish I had known earlier in my degree is the fact that professors are there to support us, and they are not authoritarians. So, once you have built a rapport through introduction, participation in class, or email, don’t be afraid to ask for what you need.
Obstacles to your academic success are entirely overcomable. Professors are there to teach us what they know and ensure we understand. If you are trying to learn, and the information is still not sticking — it’s not your fault. This means that there is a communication barrier, and open dialogue needs to occur to progress forward.
Professors are people who make the same mistakes as us, and they can only help when you participate in solid communication with them. This communication might mean attending office hours to discuss a grade or asking for a possible deadline change. Either way, by having a plan, showing that you care, and backing it up with reasoning or research, help can and should be given to you.
Advocating means taking action. It’s a skill that will carry you through your professional, academic, and personal life. Practicing it day by day will be the key to making it more manageable.