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A strong support network is something even the strongest and most independent students will benefit from. But the benefit isn’t limited to the student. Just as you feel good when you help someone else, other people are willing and able to help strategize, provide guidance, or even just a listening ear.

Sometimes it can feel awkward to ask for help. You may be concerned that your situation isn’t important. Perhaps you’re not sure who to turn to.

Kayla S., a senior at the University of Tampa, notes, “I was worried at first because I didn’t know where to go when I was feeling stressed. I think many students can relate to that. But through [the network of] professors, friends, and academic advising, I was able to build my support system. Although it takes time and the right steps, all students can do it.”

Friends, Old and New

Whether you’re part of a student organization or a bowling league, keep in mind that the people around you can be great sources of support. Cultivating friendships of varying degrees of closeness can help you when you need to unwind, play, study with others, or cry on someone’s shoulder.

Professors, Advisors, and Mentors

Get to know your instructors, more experienced students, and peer mentors for when you have questions about academic material, want to explore your interests and career goals, or feel stressed about balancing multiple academic and other responsibilities.

The 2011 National Student Engagement Survey found that 83 percent of college seniors talked with a faculty member or advisor.

Karen Pollack, an instructor at Temple University in Pennsylvania, says helping students figure out their goals is one of the great pleasures of teaching.

Kayla explains, “Advisors helped me when I was trying to make my class schedule and had an issue with a professor. Through seeking help, I was able to form a relationship with [them] that I would consider part of my support network.”

Developing relationships with faculty early on can reduce anxiety if you experience something that affects your school performance. If you’re ill or need more time for an assignment, let your instructors and teaching assistants know. While some instructors will be stickers for deadlines, others will happily accommodate reasonable requests.

Debra Dumond, assistant dean of students at York County Community College in Maine, says, “If a faculty member doesn’t get back to a student right away, some students assume that the professor doesn’t really care about them.”It’s important to remember that instructors have demands outside the classroom as well. At Ashford University, instructors will return communication within two business days. During that time, don’t forget to use the Ashford Café within you classroom to see if other students can be a resource.

So, you want to get to know your professors..

What’s the best way to seek their support?

Conversations with instructors and academic advisors can complement what you’re learning in class. Professors are also great resources for career development, recommendations, and even support if things get rough. According to the National Survey of Community College Student Engagement, greater faculty involvement predicts better grades, better rates of college completion, and greater satisfaction with college overall.

If you’re having trouble, emailing an excuse the day a paper is due may not be received well. If you’ve been communicating with your professors from the get-go, they are more likely to be flexible and offer support.


John Hipple, a counselor at the University of North Texas Counseling Center in Denton, urges students have regular conversations family if possible. “Students who are never in touch often let problems build up before seeking input,” he explains. Family members may also be feeling the added stress of a partner or loved one returning to school. Talking about the experience of pursuing a degree and what’s happening in a course can help restore feelings of value and connection between family members when the impact of school means less time together.

Kayla suggests, “Make time because telling them about what you are doing in class can help ease stress without even knowing it.”


“For help with grades, there are teachers and tutors,” says Ray V., a graduate student at Indiana University in Bloomington. “For help with scheduling, there are advisors. For help with activities, there are coaches and administrators. What about other things, though?”

Ray continues, “A friend or relative or pet dies. A relationship fails. A goal isn’t achieved. These have concrete physical and mental consequences. These are the things that my peers [and I] have oftentimes struggled to find help with.”

Your health care provider or local community resources can help. Sixty percent of student respondents to a Student Health 101 survey said they’ve been helped by a professional counselor.

Nonetheless, some don’t seek support because they feel ashamed, or that “normal” people don’t get that kind of help—that counseling is only for “crazy” or severely ill people. But according to the 2011 National Survey of Counseling Center Directors (NSCCD), only about 35 percent of clients have severe psychological problems.

The other 65 percent visit for help with academic pressures, sadness, and other common issues. As Kayla notes, “Emotional stress to me would be when you’re having problems with a significant other, or troubles with body image [or] depression. Counselors can help.”

Misconceptions about counseling prevent many students from reaching out, whether for help coping with stress or a more significant issue like depression, drug abuse, grief, or an abusive relationship. A 2006 student survey by the Jed Foundation, an organization devoted to improving the mental health of college students and reducing suicide, cites embarrassment as the number-one reason students avoid getting help. Some fear the judgment of others and this leads to a stigma. To get started, check out the Ashford University Emergency Assistance page. Here you will find national resources that you can connect with for immediate support and assistance.

But the NSCCD finds that more than 40 percent of students talk with a professional counselor, either at an individual or group session, or at workshops and presentations. Support groups are another great way to get support from peers who are managing similar stressors. Through some quick research online, local support groups should be easy to locate when available. Remember, getting help when it’s needed is nothing to be embarrassed about.

Anytime is a great time to develop and deepen the relationships that will sustain you through periods of stress. Rather than sitting on an island, all alone, go out and meet people, the ones who will be there when you need to recharge.

Take Action!

  • Make connections with a variety of peers, from buddies to confidants.
  • Get to know professors, advisors, and other academic resources.
  • Family members are an important part of your support network. Talk with them about your school experiences, both the rewarding and challenging.
  • Check out other resources, like tutors, clergy, career services, and cultural group leaders.
  • More than 40 percent of students talk with a professional counselor. There’s no shame in seeking help.

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Get help or find out more

If you or someone you know needs help, don’t wait to get it. In addition to the resources you already use, you can also find assistance through these organizations:


The Jed Foundation

The Trevor Project
1-866-4-U-TREVOR (488-7386)

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
1-800-273-TALK (8255)

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