If you’re a high school senior, May is a very busy month: you’re preparing for the end of the school year both academically (taking AP, IB, and final exams) and socially (going to prom and graduation and participating in other rituals/traditions). Additionally, you’ve now decided which college you will attend. You’re probably looking forward to the summer, during which you will likely do some or all of the following: relax, have a job or internship, travel, and spend quality time with friends and family.
There is another very important task you should be doing this summer: getting ready for college. I’m not talking about registering for housing, attending orientation and signing up for classes, or buying everything you’ll need to outfit your dorm room, although you’ll no doubt have to do all of that. Rather, I’m talking about mastering the life skills you’ll need to be successful in college.
Several years ago, I wrote a blog post that advised students to learn a variety of skills before starting their freshman year, including doing laundry, managing their time, making a budget, and advocating for themselves. In this post, I’m going to expand on that last skill and also will discuss two others that go hand-in-hand with it: communicating effectively and using available resources.
Self-advocacy is a task that is essential for succeeding not just in college but in life. Perhaps in the past, if you’ve had difficulty with a teacher, advisor, or coach, your parent has stepped in and helped you deal with that person/situation. In college, your professors and other adults likely will not talk to your parents, so it’s crucial that you learn how to navigate challenges on your own.
Professors are usually happy to talk with and help students. They want you to succeed! Take advantage of office hours to get help or even just to introduce yourself and get to know your professors, especially if you’re in large lecture classes. If you don’t understand your grade on a test or assignment, go to office hours or arrange another time to speak privately with the professor. Politely ask them to explain your grade and to offer suggestions for how you can do better next time. I strongly advise against asking a professor to reconsider or change your grade unless you have legitimate reasons for doing so.
You also may need to self-advocate when dealing with roommates. At the beginning of the semester, collaborate with your roommate(s) to set ground rules and expectations so that there will be less likelihood for misunderstandings and conflicts later. If a problem does arise, talk with your roommate in private (in other words, not when their or your friends are in your room). If you still can’t resolve the issue, speak with your resident advisor (RA). As with professors, you need to approach your RA yourself and should not have your parents contact that person.
Whether you’re talking with a professor, a roommate, an employer, or anyone else, effective communication is a critical component of self-advocacy. Although you may be hurt/upset/angry about a situation, it’s best to stay calm, not attack the other person, and use “I” statements to describe what’s bothering you (“I feel,” “I think,” “I want,” etc.). The other person will be much more receptive to what you have to say if you can communicate this way.
Another important part of self-advocacy is using the resources available to you. Colleges offer a wide variety of useful services but often, students don’t take advantage of them. Some examples are academic advising, a tutoring center, a writing center, counseling services, and career services. Don’t hesitate to use these and other resources if you need them. Usually, they’re included in tuition, and like your professors, the staff in these centers and offices want to help you.
You can work on mastering all of the above skills this summer. If you’re going to have a job or internship, those are excellent opportunities to practice self-advocacy and effective communication. You can even practice with your friends and family members. And, summer is a great time to explore the resources and services your college has so that you’ll know what’s offered before you even set foot on campus.