This is the first of three posts about college students asking for help. In this post we’ll consider why students sometimes have difficulty asking for help, in Part 2 we’ll look at who students might turn to for help and in Part 3 we’ll consider how students can most effectively seek help.
Many high school students planning to go to college spend a lot of their time reviewing vocabulary words for their SAT College Board exam. They learn big words, important words, roots of words, and definitions. But if your college student is going to succeed in college, there may be one important word that he needs that never shows up on his entrance exam. It may be the most important word that he can use in college. What is that word? “Help.”
As a parent, helping your child understand early in her educational career that asking for help is important may be one of the best lessons that you can teach. This lesson might start in elementary school – or even at home earlier than that. As a college parent, it is important that you reinforce that message. As one college professor has stated, “Asking for help is the new smart!” Help your college student understand the importance and necessity of asking for help and advocating for herself.
Asking for help isn’t always an easy thing to do, and it is a lesson often learned early in life. One study, conducted in 2008, suggests that many students begin to learn the lesson as early as elementary school, and that students’ ability to speak up for themselves and seek help from a teacher may vary by economic and social class. But all is not lost. If your student is now in college, it isn’t too late to help him understand why he should seek help and how to go about doing it. And yes, it is a lesson he may need to be taught – it may not come naturally.
Why don’t students ask for help when they need it?
It may be difficult for some parents to understand why a student would have difficulty asking help – either with schoolwork or any other aspect of his college life. Most students know and understand that support is available. However, there are several myths, misconceptions and barriers that may be holding your student back.
- “If I just keep studying, or study harder, I’ll figure it out.” Sometimes, the problem may be as simple as putting in more time and effort. However, sometimes, a student may need not just to study more but to study smarter or differently. She may need help getting through an academic barrier to understand how to approach the material differently. Getting help may just make the difference.
- “Only dumb students ask for help.” Ask the faculty and staff at almost any college tutoring center and they will tell you that often the best students in the school are the students who most often take advantage of tutoring help. These students know that getting help may mean the difference between that B+ and that A, or being on the Dean’s List, or snagging that graduate school acceptance.
- “Other students will think I am dumb if I ask for help.” Deep down, most students respect students who do well. It doesn’t matter how that happens.
- “The professor will think I am dumb if I ask for help.” Most professors love their subject and want others to learn about and love that topic as well. Professors understand that not everyone is naturally talented in every subject, but they want students to explore and learn. A student who asks for help obviously cares about learning and doing well.
- “I’ll be cheating if I ask for help.” Of course, it matters what kind of help you ask for. Asking someone to write your paper for you, or take a test for you, is obviously dishonest. But asking for help in understanding the material, or in organizing your material, or proofreading your work is certainly legitimate. If your student wonders whether a certain type of help is OK, he should ask the professor to clarify.
- “I’ve never needed help before, I shouldn’t need it now.” College level work is very different from what most students have experienced in high school. Many students who had no difficulty in high school may now find themselves facing more difficult material and very different expectations. What worked before may not work now. As parents, we can reassure our students that the college accepted them because the college believes that they can do the work – even if it means asking for some help.
- “I need to prove that I can do this on my own.” Independence is important to many college students. But independence doesn’t always mean that you need to do everything by yourself. Knowing when to ask for help on your own may be one of the best indicators of maturity and independence.
Helping your college student understand the importance of asking for help may be one of the factors that can increase his chances of succeeding in college. There are many real barriers that can stand in the way of students seeking the help that they need. As a college parent, you can help your student explore his motivation and possible reluctance to ask. Just knowing that you need help may not be enough. In our next two posts, we’ll explore some of the sources of help for students and the things that your student can do to make sure that he is taking the most advantage of all of the help that is available.