By Kristin Tracy

As the novelty of college life starts to wane, students begin to realize why they’re really there. Learning takes center stage. What could be scarier than ghosts, goblins and ghouls? Midterms and proving that the information you’re learning in class is sticking in your brain and can then be regurgitated to prove your understanding and the integration of your new knowledge.

Fear not. Now is the time to take advantage of your school’s resources – writing centers, tutoring, academic coaching, etc. All schools offer some version of these supports. Larger universities might have several places for tutoring support while smaller schools may just have an academic resource center with peer tutoring. It’s important to take advantage of the academic support provided by your institution, as these resources are funded by the tuition money you already paid. If these resources aren’t enough for you or don’t meet your needs, you might need to consider independent tutoring sources outside the school.

Professors and Teaching Assistants (TAs) have office hours or are available via zoom or email. You’ll want to reach out to them first as they can point you in the right direction for appropriate tutoring for their course. And, contrary to popular belief, professors want you to do well in their class. They want you to succeed! They can provide all the supports and make themselves available, but you must seek them out for them to do so. They’re not going to track you down to make sure you understand all the concepts discussed in their class.

These people are experts in their field. They have a slew of alphabet soup following their names, which can be frightfully intimidating. They are the superheroes of academia, right? Well, sort of. However, they are also human beings. In fact, they were human beings before anything else, and they once stood exactly where you’re standing right now. They really are all about YOUR SUCCESS. Here’s a template to help you with the daunting task of reaching out to them.

Asking for a time to meet out of class for extra help:

Subject: Time to meet for extra help?

Suggested Email text: Dear Professor (insert professor’s last name):

I am concerned about (insert what you’re worried about: grade, upcoming test, presentation, etc.) Do you have time to meet with me (insert day/time before test, presentation, etc.) for me to get extra help?

Thank you, (insert your name)

That wasn’t so scary, right? Press send and you’re on your way. Send this email again if you don’t hear from them in a few days. Give them at least three business days to respond. Remember, they are people too, and they may be teaching several classes totaling hundreds of students. If you don’t hear from them it doesn’t mean they don’t want to get back to you, but sometimes they can be busy or overwhelmed too. It’s helpful to reach out to them before the test; however, that’s not always possible.

Sometimes students don’t realize they need help until the midterm comes back with a lower-than-expected grade. It can be tempting to hide under a rock, drown your sorrows in alcohol or perceive the professor as your enemy. These coping strategies are detrimental to your success. And remember, your professor wants you to succeed – even if they were the one to give you the bad grade in the first place. Reach out and ask for help. Here’s another template to help you with this.

Asking for suggestions on raising your grade:  

Subject: Grade

Suggested Email text: Dear Professor (insert professor’s last name):

I am concerned about my grade in your class. I think I have (insert grade), and I would like to get (insert realistic grade) for the term. Is this grade possible? Do you have recommendations about how I can increase my grade? Will there be opportunities for extra credit? If it’s easier, I can meet with you during office hours or before/after class (note – check your schedule to make sure you CAN meet during those times). Please let me know what time would work best.

Thank you, (insert your name)

There are extra steps to take if you are a student with a disability. Many of these students don’t realize there are additional supports available to them. Any college or university receiving federal money is responsible to offer accommodations to students with disabilities. There are only a handful of post-secondary schools who don’t receive federal funding. Nine times out of ten if you type the word disability into the search box on the school’s website, the disability office will come up in the search results – regardless of what they choose to call it.  

Email, call or stop by the office to see if you qualify as a student with a documented disability. You may have sent in your IEP or 504 Plan with your admissions materials. This does not mean you’re all set with accommodations. Sometimes there are funny state laws blocking Admissions from sharing this important documentation with other offices. Go to the disability office directly to discover how to get connected to their services.

Here are some accommodations they might be able to offer:

Communication Access (Captioning, Interpreting, Transcription)

Course Substitutions

Exam Accommodations

Flexible Attendance

Note-taker/Audio Recording

Textbook/Handout Alternative Format

Time Extensions

If you are a student with a disability and have had accommodations in secondary school, you may have decided to try out college without accommodations to see if you can make it on your own. While this can be a brave, bold choice, please keep in mind that 100 level courses are the equivalent of high school honors courses. If you weren’t taking honors courses without accommodations in high school, chances are you will need accommodations your first year of college.

Disability support offices serve all students with disabilities. This includes learning disabilities, ADHD, physical/mobility, health/chronic conditions, blindness/low vision, deaf/hard of hearing. Numerous students with mental health conditions don’t realize these conditions are classified as disabilities and protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act. These students are eligible for accommodations too.

Whether you have disability or not, make sure you’re taking advantage of all the resources available to you. Best wishes for a successful semester!

About the Author: Kristin Tracy is an Educational Consultant specializing in assisting students with disabilities transition from high school to college. Kristin has lived experience as she suffered a stroke her senior year of college, which informs her work giving her unique insight about the needs of students with disabilities. She holds two masters’ degrees, a MA in College Student Personnel from Bowling Green State University and an MS. Ed in Rehabilitation Counseling from Hofstra University. She worked in higher education administration for twenty years, seven of them as the director of student accessibility services at Chestnut Hill College. Look for her memoir coming soon. Kristin truly demonstrates that anything’s possible.