Thinking & Learning

Seeking Academic Support in College

One of the biggest challenges of college for many students, especially during freshman year, is knowing when and how to get academic support. What resources are available to them now that they’re “on their own”?

In high school, your child’s teachers were probably much more hands-on when it came to making sure students got the academic help they needed. And you had at least a partial view into your kid’s learning.

Now, with your kid enrolled in college, it’s much harder to know what’s going on with their learning. Of course, that’s by design: College is a stepping stone toward adulthood, and they’re being asked to function much more independently, including monitoring their own academic well-being.

But that doesn’t mean it’s easy for all kids—or even most of them. And students who come from high schools that didn’t ask much of them academically might struggle more than those who attended more rigorous high schools.

What kinds of support is available to college students, and how should your new college student seek them out?


Office hours. Most professors offer office hours when students can drop by (or make an appointment) to check in with them about coursework. Office hours are a very good thing. Encourage your kid to take advantage of them, even if they don’t feel like they need academic support. They can help your kid build a relationship with their professors—which is so much harder in college than it is in high school—and lay a foundation for times when they do need to ask a question or seek help. Plus, these are good opportunities for students to practice talking one-on-one with adults they don’t know well, which can become great practice for job interviews down the line.


Peer tutoring and teaching assistants. Most universities will have programs that pair students with peers for academic support on particular topics. To access this support, your kid can look up their on-campus tutoring center. There might be tutoring office hours, similar to those offered by professors, or they might be able to schedule one-on-one time with a peer. Graduate students who work as teaching assistants may also offer tutoring or office hours to help undergraduates with coursework and papers, as can librarians.


Cultural houses and other affinity groups. These spaces might seem more social than academic, but they really can serve multiple purposes. For one, finding a space where your kid feels connected and supported will benefit them all around. Within the opportunities for social and emotional support, affinity communities can also offer academic guidance, especially since they tend to mix students of different year groups with graduate students and faculty, too.


The university’s office of accessibility. After high school, students with disabilities are no longer protected by the Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act (IDEA). But they are protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which entitles them to accommodations that allow them to access educational materials. All universities that receive federal funding must have an office of accessibility (or something with a similar name) to support students with disabilities. If your child has specific learning needs, syncing up with this office ahead of time is a great idea. Students will often need to be pretty proactive to receive the support they need; for example, their professors will each need to sign off on their accommodations, and they’ll need up-to-date evaluations, too. Read more about the types of accommodations that might be available to your college student.

Regardless of what specific support network exists at your student’s university or community college, encourage your child to build these connections before they need help. There’s no need to wait for an emergency. And remember—now that they’re in college—even if they’re still living under your roof—they should do as much of the relationship-building as possible without your help. (Yes, that rule still applies if you’re footing the bill.)

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