Home :: academic tips :: fight for first year in college :: ask for help
"I don't need any help."
"If I keep studying, I'll get it."
"I'm smart, I'll figure it out."
"Only dumb people have tutors."
"What will others think if they know I'm getting tutored?"
"I'm cheating if I get my own private teacher."
"Something must be very wrong if I need that kind of help."
"I never needed to ask for help in the past."
Asking for help is smart, not stupid.
Most people are hung up on the idea of asking for help. From the time we're born, we are told that the American ethic is self-reliance. Pull your own weight, row your own boat, pull yourself up by your bootstraps, and a host of other similar sayings pervade our culture.
There's also a notion that if you reach out for help, you'll be labeled as abnormal, and we all know how important it is to be in the center of the bell curve. I've always been stunned by the irony of teenagers who strive for the absolute autonomy and individuality as they separate from their parents, only to dress, speak, and act precisely as their peers do. They often go to extraordinary measures not to color outside the careful lines drawn by their peers. In short, if no one else is being tutored it's not cool.
I remember when my daughter took statistics in college. She's a bright young woman who graduated with honors. But statistics nearly drove her nuts. She began to have that typical self-doubt and her confidence slipped. This is quite normal, but what she did was not. After consulting with the teacher, she decided that she needed extra instruction; so, she hired a tutor. She met with him quite regularly and salvaged her grade through hard work and determination.
If you still have doubts about the normalcy of tutors, think about Olympic and professional athletes. Can you possibly imagine any high-caliber athlete not having a private coach, at least periodically? Most private coaches travel with their athletes to be close by when trouble arises.
What about the top level musicians? Could you imagine them not having private, ongoing tutoring or teaching? They must have help to keep them sharp in an increasingly competitive world.
So, if tutors (coaches and private instructors) are good enough for the very best competitors in our country, don't you think we all should give them a try, especially when we're faltering a bit? Besides, many schools even offer tutoring free of charge.
Talk to the professor early in the semester. You'll see this one come up over and over again because it's one of the best pieces of advice I can give. Don't wait until you're literally bailing out water from a sinking ship. Once you see some water seeping in, talk to the captain of the ship. Early is much better than later, but most students with problems wait too long to come in. And the first thing I or any other professor will say is, "Why'd you wait until now?" Many times, when students come in asking how they can salvage their grades, it's just too late.
Ask for recommendations from the professor. Often the professor will know who is a good tutor and who is not. Finding the right fit is vital, and often the professor can recommend the best graduate assistants and even undergrads who are most suited to help to you.
Go to the student counseling office. Most colleges have a counseling office that will help you find a tutor. Often they keep databases of tutors and their fees, and you can usually obtain a printout. Tutors' rates will vary depending upon their expertise, but at least you'll get an idea of prices. Most universities have standard fees that tutors should charge; so, even if you go off campus for a tutor, you'll know the ballpark figures.
Look at tutors as an investment, not an expense. Don't get hung up on money. Tutors are among the best dollar-for-dollar investments you can make. Like private coaches, they speed up your recovery from problems and can provide stress relief. They may cost several hundreds of dollars, but the relief is worth thousands. However, let me say again: Many schools will offer free tutoring.
Don't be afraid to change if things don't work out. Remember that tutors are people who have individual personalities and quirks that you might find annoying and whose teaching style is not productive for you. If so, move on to another tutor. Tutors provide a service and when the service is a liability, cut your losses. If you find this awkward to handle face to face, do it by e-mail or letter. Often an e-mail or letter with a follow-up phone call, at most, takes care of a tough situation. But don't continue to pay for a bad product or service.