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How to help your child seek out support for common problems in college

By Rae Jacobson, MS

College students with learning and thinking differences may need support for a variety of issues. These tips can help them know who to contact and how to get the specific support they need from them. 

For academic questions and concerns

The place to go: Academic advisor/Academic offices

The time to go: Whenever they face challenges in school or with a professor who’s not responsive.

The way to approach it: Explain that the academic office can direct students to the best person to help. But they can also go straight to their advisor. In either case, they should be clear about what they need help with. When they meet with their advisor, they should have specific questions to ask or a request to make. For example, “I’m having trouble getting my algebra professor to return my calls or emails. Would you be able to help me contact him?”

For unresolved or serious academic problems

The place to go: Course instructor

The time to go: Whenever your child has a question, needs to discuss , or wants help with coursework.

The way to approach it: Let your child know it’s best to approach instructors during office hours, when they’re less likely to be rushed. Students should go in with a clear idea of what they need. For example, your child could say, “Sometimes it’s hard for me to hear you when there’s background noise. Would it be OK if I taped the lecture?”

For problems with accommodations

The place to go: Office of Disability Services

The time to go: Any time students help that relates to their learning or thinking differences.

The way to approach it: Students can explain what accommodations they need and be specific about the trouble they’re having. For instance, “My art history professor doesn’t understand that I need extra time on tests, even though he has my documentation.” That way, the office will know who needs to be contacted and how to provide support while things are being worked out.

For problems with roommates

The place to go: Resident advisor (RA)

The time to go: Any time a student is having problems with a roommate — like disagreements over other people staying over — that can’t be solved one-on-one.

The way to approach it: Tell your child to explain the specific concerns and ask how to handle the situation. Students who would like the RA to step in should make that request clearly: “I’ve already tried talking to my roommate about picking her garbage up off the floor. Would you be able to talk to her?” Students can also request a peer mediation. And if they think more help is called for, they can ask the resident director to step in.

For emotional or mental health problems

The place to go: Counseling Center

The time to go: Any time your child is stressed out or depressed, or having other emotional difficulties. Make it clear that it’s OK to talk to a counselor any time — there’s no need to wait for a crisis.

The way to approach it: Encourage your child to be honest and open about problems and needs. The counselor needs to know exactly what’s going on. University counseling is totally confidential (unless the student is in immediate danger). And let your child know that if the first counselor doesn’t feel like a good fit, it’s fine to request someone else.

For problems with or questions about health or medication

The place to go: University Health Services

The time to go: When your child has questions about medication or how to practice safe behavior, or is just plain feeling sick.

The way to approach it: Your child should be ready to describe any question or illness and provide any required information (typing or writing it down may help). Encourage your child not to be embarrassed about asking questions and disclosing personal information. As with counseling, health services are confidential. The professionals should be helpful and nonjudgmental.

Watch as an expert explains how kids can build a support network in college.

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