– Jean-Bertrand Aristide
Having a safe, supportive environment where you can learn is just as important as the learning itself. It is important to remember that your study environment does not consist of just one thing. Look around you and think about the friends, family members, coworkers, and/or community that have helped you in different times of your life. It is the same with your educational journey. It’s important to develop a network of people around you that you can use as academic, emotional, and social support as you continue down this path.
Some support that you can find is formal, which means that it comes from a program or an office on campus. Other support is informal, and can come from classmates, your professors, or other connections that you establish.
Where do you draw support from? Read through this list and assess your support network. Where is your network strong? Where do you have gaps?
Academic support: Where do you go if you need help with…
- editing a writing project or presentation?
- finding sources or information for a project?
- Understanding difficult assignments or readings?
- studying for a test or high-stakes exams?
- focusing on your academic work?
Career planning and support: Where do you go if you need help with…
- Planning your academic schedule?
- Deciding on a major?
- Finding a job that’s within your professional interests?
- Practicing interviewing or getting your resume polished?
- Finding internships?
Emotional support: Where do you go if you feel…
- like everyone else knows what’s going on except for you?
Who can you add to your network? How do you find them?
Institutional Resources for Support
There are many resources that students can tap into for support. These resources are common at most colleges and universities, and they are always free for students. Look at the list below. Does your college or university have something similar?
- Disability Resource Center (DRC): DRCs work to make college accessible for students with disabilities. They can work with professors to ensure that students have the necessary accommodations so their learning can be supported. If you are unsure about whether you have a disability, DRCs can provide testing for Attention-Deficit Disorder, learning disabilities, mental health diagnoses, or chronic medical conditions.
- Learning Centers: Learning Centers often offer tutoring and study support for students. They can help with specific classes, as well as things like creating a study schedule, studying for exams, and reading effectively. Learning Centers sometimes hire peer tutors, so if you are strong in some subjects, you may want to consider working in a Learning Center to help other students as well!
- Writing Centers: Writing Centers support student writing. They can help with any stage of writing, from understanding an assignment to brainstorming for a paper to polishing a final draft. Remember that writing is not just “essays.” You can also get writing help with lab reports, business memos, cover letters, or CVs. Writing Center tutors are also often peer tutors, so you may work with people who have experience with the same kinds of writing assignments that you are working on!
- Reference Librarians: Reference librarians or Subject librarians are librarians who specialize in a particular discipline or field of study. They can be a great help in finding sources for a research paper or understanding the citation conventions of your field.
- Advisors: There are so many kinds of advisors. You can connect with academic advisors, financial advisors, or departmental advisors, just to name a few. The main job of an advisor is, well, to advise you! It’s a good idea to visit with an advisor at least once per term, even if you do not have a problem. Financial advisors can help you stay on top of your finances and may be able to advise you in how to pay for your studies more effectively.
- Special programs for migrant, low-income, or first generation students: These programs are generally federally run, but they have branches at many campuses. Check with your college or university to see if these programs are available. They can offer financial help, mentoring, tutoring, and many other kinds of support:
- TRIO Program: The TRIO Student Support Services (SSS) Program “provides services to low-income students, first generation college students, and disabled students enrolled in post-secondary education programs. Eligible students may receive (among other services) personal and academic career counseling, career guidance, instruction, mentoring, and tutoring. The goal of SSS program is to increase the college retention and graduation rates of its participants and help students make the transition from one level of higher education to the next” (from https://www.benefits.gov/benefit/411). Here is an example of the TRIO program at Portland State University: https://www.pdx.edu/trio-student-support-services/
- College Assistance Migrant Program (CAMP): The CAMP program “is a federally-funded program designed to support students from migrant and seasonal farm worker backgrounds during their first year in college. The program provides students with both financial assistance and support services, with the goal of preparing them to continue their education at a four-year college or university” (from https://www.pcc.edu/camp/). Here is the federal website: https://oese.ed.gov/offices/office-of-migrant-education/college-assistance-migrant-program
- Educational Opportunities Program (EOP): The EOP program “supports the academic, personal, and professional development of students who have traditionally been denied equal access to higher education” (from https://eop.oregonstate.edu/)
Informal Support Opportunities
- Research Opportunities: Are you interested in research? Do you really like a particular subject and want to go deeper into it? Very often college campuses will have student research groups that are open to undergraduates and graduates. You should start by looking on your departmental or college website for student groups associated with your discipline. Find out how you can join and start attending meetings! You could also check in with the professor of a class you like. Let them know that you are interested in research and would be open to opportunities if they come up.
- Study Groups: Having a study group can be a real life saver! Start by connecting to people in your classes. Talk to the people you are sitting next to. If there are people you feel comfortable with, suggest meeting before class to go over the homework or the readings. Study groups can also meet online, via Zoom. It can also be useful to just have a group chat set up with other people in your major. Some departments have Slack Channels, Facebook groups, or other ways to connect. It’s a good idea to join these groups, even if you are not a regular participant.
Creating a Supportive Study Environment
All of the suggestions above can help create an environment that will support you in your learning. The last thing to consider is where you study! For some students, home is busy and distracting–it can sometimes be difficult to focus, even if it’s the place you feel most comfortable.
If this is the case for you, find a place on campus or close to campus where you can go. If you get in the habit of going there to study, you’ll begin to associate this place with learning, and it will become an even more supportive environment for you. Here are a few recommendations for places:
- Library: Libraries are often seen as places where you have to be quiet and where you can’t eat or drink. This is changing on college campuses. While there are still many libraries that have quiet floors and strict eating/drinking policies, there are also now often study floors where students can chat, work together, and sit in comfortable locations. Libraries also often have study rooms that you can book for some privacy with yourself and your books or with your study group.
- Student centers: If the library doesn’t work for you, try a student center! There is often a building that is for students to hang out. These buildings will also often host a cafeteria and meeting rooms. Multicultural centers can also be fruitful places to study, especially for students who want to connect with others from their same culture. If you are studying at a Predominantly White Institution (PWI), multicultural centers can be a welcome break from White American culture.
- Favorite cafes or parks: Some students feel too intimidated or tired to study at school when they are done with their classes. For these students, a nearby cafe or park can be a neutral place away from the pressures of school and home life.
As you build your supportive study environment, always think about what you need and what will work for your specific situation. Make sure you are getting the support that you need and that is available to you, and identify a place where you can go to work that will nurture you in your studies.