Colleges and universities are a student’s new ‘home away from home’, and as such, must provide comprehensive support to their student body. That support comes in many different forms and knowing what is available should be part of the research a family completes before selecting a college. Support may be of several types – academic support, health and wellness support, professional support, and social support. Applicants need to have an awareness of both who they are and what they need in order to be successful as in-dependent college students. Don’t be blinded by the beautiful buildings, the ex-citing faculty, and the excellent facilities; look beyond the obvious and ask lots of questions about your options, should you need some help while enrolled. Here are the main areas of support you should learn about:
Academic support: At some point during your college career, it is likely that you will find yourself in need of assistance in a particularly challenging course. Most colleges have a learning center, a writing center, and/or an academic support center that may offer a wide range of services. Ask about tutoring in specific subjects – is it free or do you have to pay? Who does the tutoring? Are there mechanisms in place to help students write both research papers and academic essays? In this same vein, ask about faculty support – do professors encourage students to meet with them and work through challenges? Are there small study groups created for students in very large lecture classes that encourage feedback, questions, and offer homework help? Some colleges also offer exam prep classes and one-on-one tutoring for student athletes. Also look at the library facilities on campus – what are their hours? Can you make photocopies there for free? Are there plenty of computers, either in the library or at a computer center, that you can use? Is there solid IT support should your own computer break down? If you enter college with a diagnosed learning disability and know that you will require support services in college, it is imperative that you become familiar with the official process for requesting LD support on campus. This will require some paperwork on your part and is sometimes completed before you enroll. Does your college offer the specific assistance you require? Are there workshops available, learning specialists who under-stand your needs, and the appropriate facilities? Do they charge a fee?
Health and Wellness support: Just like at home, you may fall ill at some point during your college career. The most obvious sup-port is a Student Health Center. Where is it? What are their hours? How do you get there if you are sick? Who runs the clinic and whom will you see there? Then, find out about the nearest hospital. If your illness or injury requires a hospital visit, know where it is located.
So many students enter college with a diagnosed psychological challenge – anxiety, depression or eating disorders are some common examples. Know about mental health support that you might need, including on-campus counseling, medication management, support groups and a crisis center. How easy is it to get an appointment? Do you have to be referred out to a local practitioner? Talk to your therapist at home to be sure you are asking the right questions; your mental health is an important part of your ability to transition well.
Professional support: Your goal, upon graduation, will be to enter the workforce right away or to enter post-graduate schooling. Does your college prepare you for the direction you have chosen? Is there a strong career center with connections to commerce, across the disciplines? Are there workshops offered for students that prepare them for writing resumes, conducting successful interviews, and meeting with prospective employers? Is there guidance for students seeking entry into a graduate program? Is there specific support for students bound for a professional graduate program – medical, law, dental, veterinary, physical therapy, and pharmacy school? And does the school help you find that important first job – what is its success rate?
Social support: Most students arrive on campus rather fearful and anxious about their unfamiliar new life and surroundings; it may even be your first time away from home. In order to connect quickly to your new community, does your college offer special programs or academic courses just for first-year students? Does your residence hall conduct workshops for new students? Are the student clubs and organizations widely publicized and are new students encouraged to attend meetings? Finally, does the college offer a mentoring program – this is a wonderful way for a new student to be mentored by a senior student who can ‘show them the ropes’.