Every day you wisely make use of conveniences that make your life easier. Chances are good that you cooked something quickly in a microwave oven; communicated with someone or even a group of people within seconds via a text message, email, or a video chat; and maybe you even drove a car or took advantage of public transportation to get to school or work.
Who would want to go back to cooking their food over an open fire, waiting for snail mail to deliver a message, or walking wherever they needed to go? Or who would buy a microwave, smartphone, or car, and then not use it? To not take full advantage of these amenities would be less than intelligent, right?
Why, then, do so few students utilize the very university services that make learning more convenient, efficient, and easier?
Here are eight university resources you should be taking advantage of.
It’s standard practice for postsecondary faculty to hold office hours specifically to help students. Not all learning can take place within the typical 2 ½-3 hours that courses meet face-to-face (F2F) nor does every student learn at the same pace. Therefore, professors are usually required to spend a certain number of hours in their offices ready to help students.
Furthermore, with modern technology, students have other options, such as the telephone, email, instant message, text, video chat, etc. by which they can reach their professors. Granted, a professor may not be working at 1 AM on a Thursday night when you’re finishing up your paper, but you can ask a question while it’s fresh in your mind and chances are good you’ll receive a response fairly soon. Faculty want students to reach out, especially when they need assistance.
Similarly, courses are filled with other students who bring a certain amount of knowledge and experience to the classroom. Online classes tend to have a higher ratio of non-traditional enrollees who have work experience (80%), a college degree (associate 20% and bachelor’s 40%), and perhaps more life experience at an average age of 34 (“Online Student Demographics Infographic,” 2011). Your classmates can be helpful when it comes time to find an expert to interview for a research paper or information on where to find gainful employment after graduation.
Most students meet with an advisor when they first enroll in a university and possibly sporadically after that. However, academic advisors have a breadth of training to assist students during all stages of their academic careers. The National Academic Advising Association shares this general list of ways advisors may help students to:
• craft a coherent educational plan based on assessment of abilities, aspirations, interests, and values.
• use complex information from various sources to set goals, reach decisions, and achieve those goals.
• assume responsibility for meeting academic program requirements.
• articulate the meaning of higher education and the intent of the institution’s curriculum.
• cultivate the intellectual habits that lead to a lifetime of learning.
• behave as citizens who engage in the wider world around them. (1990-2012)
What this means is that as a student, you can work with an advisor to lay out a clear educational plan with progress checks along the way, to better understand what to expect in various courses, and how you can connect your education to a career and a productive live after graduation.
Whether I teach F2F or online, I often take my students on a tour of the library, and I typically get comments from them to the effect that they have been a student for a certain number of semesters and never used the school’s library. Rather, students may rely solely on the Internet, or, as some tell me, they prefer the public library from their hometown. Although some decent resources may be found through these venues, keep in mind your university library is designed specifically to help you, a college student, rather than the general public as is the case with the Internet and public library.
Your school’s academic library offers tutors, tutorials, research assistance, resources to search for financial aid, career information, technology, work spaces, meeting rooms, and other such resources. They may even have specialized assistance for the courses you’re taking. In fact, recent studies are showing that students who utilize their university’s library resources achieve higher grades (see Cox, B. and Jantii, M. “Discovering the Impact of Library Use and Student Performance,” Educause Review Online. 18 July, 2012).
Similar to the library, other centers are known mostly as places where students can get help with writing, math, reading, and other important skills. However, most learning centers do much more. They may offer tutoring in specific subjects (e.g., accounting or foreign languages), workshops on common areas of need (e.g., APA style), assistance with study skills and time management, and other areas as defined by student need. Many are expanding into the virtual world to offer online resources that are available 24/7. Learning Centers are always worth checking out.
Another great resource available at many universities is technical support. This may range from telephone, chat, or email assistance, to actual remote or in-house troubleshooting. There may be computer labs where you can use hardware or software for courses without having to purchase it, stores where you can buy needed equipment and software at deep discounts, workshops, online tutorials, adaptive learning needs, and even opportunities for fun, such as gaming. See this guide from Ball State University for an example.
Furthermore, there are a lot of specialized services available that center on various student demographics and needs. For example, postsecondary institutions have an Office of Disability Services which, as Ohio State University’s states, “collaborates with and empowers students who have disabilities in order to coordinate support services and programs that enable equal access to an education and university life.”
Other specialized resources may serve military, minority, international, and other student groups with a goal of helping everyone feel integrated and supported within the academic community.
College can be difficult. When the stresses of family, job, and adult life in general pile up, you may feel the need for another type of support than those listed above. That’s where student assistance programs can help. West Virginia State University provides an excellent overview of the types of services your own university may offer. These could include workshops on stress management, counseling services, drug and alcohol recovery programs, suicide prevention, opportunities to intern if you are interested in a career helping others, and a host of other support.
Finally, paying for college, gainful employment after graduation, and possibly supporting a family are common concerns among students. Many colleges operate a Student Employment and Placement Office, such as this one at the University of Tennessee. Here you’ll find current job openings that may assist you with working your way through school, or a job when you graduate. Be sure to check out any workshops or other forms of assistance with finding a job (e.g., building interviewing skills), mentoring programs, job fairs, and other such opportunities.
The bottom line is that students must stop viewing their educational experience with tunnel vision; there is much more support available for you than you are probably utilizing. With the rapid advance of elearning, some of these are available 24/7 to fit your schedule, and most are not cost prohibitive. In fact, many are actually free. As a student, even online, you are not alone. Seek out these resources. You’ll be glad you did.
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