1.6 Getting Help

One of the most important skills any university student can develop is how to seek appropriate help when they need it. Chances are, your university has a whole host of support systems and services available, but many students either do not know about them or do not know how best to use them.

Your Professor’s Office Hours

Professors keep office hours each week so that students have dedicated time during which they can ask for clarification of readings or lectures, get guidance on upcoming assignments or exams, or obtain additional feedback to help them improve on future assignments or exams.

Writing Centres

While university writing centres can assist students with writing papers, which we will discuss in more detail in Chapter 3, many also have supports available to help students develop learning and test-taking strategies.


Academic librarians can help you find supplemental information to help you better understand your course materials. Many students forget that their public library can also be a great resource. In addition to providing access to resources and study space, many offer free computer training if you do not feel that you are up to speed on programs like Word, PowerPoint, or Excel. Or, if you need to put together a presentation and want to use video, audio, or graphics see if your public (or academic) library has a Makerspace where you can use professional-quality video, sound, and editing equipment for free. Again, these services will have librarians or other staff on hand to help you out.

Other Campus Resources

Being a good student is not just about learning how to study well. It is also about achieving balance and well-being in other areas of your life too, including physical and mental health. Most universities have services dedicated to helping students succeed. Check your university’s website or calendar to see what is available, such as counselling or psychological services, advising, a tutoring centre, a career centre, fitness classes, peer support, a student advocacy office, or services for students with disabilities.

A Note About Asking for Help

Asking for help can be intimidating, and sometimes students walk away from a meeting with their professor or a support service feeling like they did not get what they needed. Our best advice is to prepare ahead of the meeting.

Professors are more than happy to clarify class materials to help their students succeed, but it is the responsibility of students to keep up with the course readings and lectures. A great starting approach is to first read the syllabus and course materials, re-examine lecture materials, and then make note of questions you still have after accessing the available information. If you have missed class, make sure you check the course syllabus to see what was covered that day and then obtain notes from a classmate, or make notes based on the assigned readings before you visit professor’s office hours for further clarification.

Academic support services can also provide you with help on course assignments and with exam preparation. If you want a librarian to point you in the direction of scholarly sources for your paper topic or you are hoping for assistance writing a paper, be sure to seek help well in advance of the due date and try to prepare some specific questions or concerns. Bring draft notes and ideas to demonstrate your efforts in advance of the meeting.

Finally, the best way to get the productive help you need is to be clear about what it is you are looking for. Try coming up with answers to these questions as you prepare for a meeting or appointment:

  • What am I trying to accomplish?
  • Where am I getting stuck?
  • What have I already tried?
  • What do I already know?
  • What would help me move forward?


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Navigating an Undergraduate Degree in the Social Sciences Copyright © 2019 by Diane Symbaluk, Robyn Hall, and Geneve Champoux is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.