There are a lot of skills that college students need to learn and practice. Perhaps one of the most essential of those skills is self-advocacy, knowing how to ask for and get the things that you need to be successful. The term self-advocacy is very often used in the context of students with learning disabilities or learning differences, but it is an important skill for any college student. In this article, we use the term generically, as a skill that is important for any student. The more that your student is able to recognize and ask for what they need, the better their chances of success.
Students who may have relied on others to advocate for them in the past now have to learn to communicate their own needs to others. They need to learn to speak up for themselves and to be assertive. Taking responsibility and control is not always an easy thing to accomplish. As a college parent, you may need to help your student learn this important skill. Although it may seem easier to do things yourself, and you may feel that you are better able to get the results that you feel are necessary, helping your student to learn how to advocate may be one of the best things that you can do for your college student.
According to the Colorado State University Access Project, there are three important stages or elements to successful self-advocacy:
- Know Yourself
- Know What You Need and Want
- Know How to Get What You Need and Want
This is the time for your student to take control and direction of their own future. They will need to take responsibility and act on their own behalf as they problem solve and seek the help that they need to be successful.
Helping your students learn to advocate for themselves begins with helping students know themseves. This may actually be one of the most difficult elements of the process. Your student may want to avoid certain issues, or may assume that they understand. You may need to help guide your student through a process of examining their strengths, challenges, and what is going on in their life right now. As you help your student think about the type of learner and person they are, you may need to call upon your best questioning and listening skills. Help your student consider what they have accomplished and how they have gotten where they are. Help them think about their successes and failures. Who have they relied on, and what do they need help with? Some of these needs may be obvious, and some may be more subtle.
Know What You Need and Want
Once your student has made progress getting to know themselves better, they will need to think about what that tells them about their needs — and wants. This may involve prioritizing and examining values. Unless your student is clear about what they need and what is important to them, they will not be able to successfully advocate for those things. Your student will need to know their rights and responsibilities. Your student will need to know what resources are available on campus and how to attain access to those resources. They may need to take a long term vision to know where they want to go. Students who are not clear about what they need to be successful will not be able to work to get the help they need to succeed. It sounds obvious, but it may not be an easy process for your student to turn self-knowledge into the practical knowledge of knowing what is necessary to accomplish important goals.
Know How to Get What You Need and Want
Once your student has determined what they need and want, the next step is understanding how to get those things. Knowing yourself and knowing what you need can only lead to frustration if you do not know how to attain what you need. Your student may need to get organized and make some important decisions. They will need to communicate those needs clearly to the right people on campus. They may need to help do some problem solving to accomplish their clearly articulated goals. They may need to develop a support network by working with faculty members, an advisor, and/or other professionals on campus. Your student will need to use good communication skills to express their needs assertively. They will need to be articulate, assertive, and persistent — all sometimes difficult skills for college students to practice.
The skills of self-advocacy are multilayered and are anything but simple. Helping your student accomplish the tasks of knowing themselves knowing what they need, and knowing how to get what they need, will give them an independence and success both in and after college. They will be learning important skills and life-long strategies that will help your student both now and in their career and personal life. Although it may be difficult, as a parent, to step back and let your student take over advocating for whatever they need, their accomplishment of these lessons may be some of the most important things they will learn during the college years. Your student will graduate not only with a college degree, but as a more self-aware, competent, and confident person.