COLUMNS

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September 6, 2021

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4:58 p.m.

Help Can Only Help

As hard as it may seem, especially as we transition from online to in-person learning, asking for help makes life at UChicago much more manageable.

Now that O-Week is finally around the corner and classes are to be in person, the idea of college life is finally going to start setting in for incoming first-year students. Being in an in-person college classroom setting comes with a vastly different dynamic, of course, and it is one that current college students have either never experienced or not experienced in a while. For many incoming first-years, however, this year marks a shift from remote high school classes to in-person college classes. For many students, this shift is going to make asking for help all the more necessary and all the more difficult. During remote learning, it was fairly easy to feel very disconnected from classes and the material being taught. That disconnect made it less intimidating to email a professor and attend office hours virtually. The shift to in-person classes shouldn’t change that habit of reaching out and asking for help when needed, but it might make it harder. While I was only on campus for two quarters before classes transitioned to remote instruction, I do remember attending lectures and being too intimidated to ask my professors questions, much less for help. My advice as a third-year student to first-years is very clichéd, but it is advice that needs to be repeated each year: Ask for help when you need it.

Where should I even start? As a UChicago student, you’re going to have to fulfill the core requirements, which means taking classes that are not required for your major. Oftentimes, your non-major classes are the ones that you will have difficulty in. For me, that class was calculus. During my first year, I would hesitate to ask my friends or professors for help because I didn’t want anyone to know that I didn't understand what was being taught in class. I’d tell myself that I’d figure it out if I looked through my unintelligible notes from the lecture that day. I recall sitting at my desk for hours reading the textbook, going over my notes, and cranking out practice problems—but calculus still wouldn’t click for me. I’d tell myself that it would be fine and that I didn’t really need to understand it that well. Instead of asking for help ahead of time, it took getting my first midterm back to push me to reach out to my professor. I went to my professor’s office hours for the first time, and it wasn’t nearly as bad as I imagined it would be. My professor was actually eager to help me, as most are. That being said, I will also acknowledge that, at first, I was embarrassed to admit that I didn’t understand the material as well as I thought I did. But, at the end of the day, there was no harm in acknowledging that I was struggling.

You may find yourself in a similar situation, and it may not even be a core class as it was for me. It may very well be one of your major classes, and that’s perfectly fine. It may even be a bit intimidating to ask for help because of feelings of imposter syndrome, all while being surrounded by plenty of brilliant students and faculty. However, seeking help when you need it does not make you any less intelligent or deserving of being on campus. You’ll hear this a lot as a college student, but your professors are there to help you succeed. You certainly won’t be the first nor the last person struggling to understand concepts being taught in class. As a first-year on campus, you’re going to have to adapt to college culture, and a crucial component of said culture is being aware of your own needs as a student.

Of course, there’s this notion that you’re supposed to be independent in college. Consequently, you’re going to want to try to learn on your own and leave it at that. However, being independent is also being aware of your strengths and weaknesses and seeking the help you need. You also have a responsibility to yourself as a student, and that’s acknowledging when you’re struggling academically. Your professors are there to help and are willing to do so (at least most are), and if they aren’t, there are other ways to seek help on campus, such as going to the core tutors, attending your TA’s office hours, forming study groups with people in your class, or asking friends for help.

As you’re facing the transition from remote learning to in-person classes, know that you’re never alone in this transition. While it may be quite daunting to admit that you’re not performing as well as you thought you would be, it’s imperative to acknowledge sooner rather than later that you may want help.

Jennifer Rivera is a third-year in the College.