College success starts with learning the art of self-advocacy.

From the moment a student steps onto his campus, it’s imperative that he begins to speak up for himself -- in and out of the classroom. Being proactive in college isn't merely good theoretical advice; it can be the difference between success and failure.


Before a student can be proactive, she has to accept full ownership of her college career. Much of what affects a student’s academic success occurs outside of the classroom. Without the proper balance of work, play, sleep, nutrition and exercise, it’s unlikely a student can bring her best self to her studies.

The Classroom

Showing up and speaking up in the classroom is an absolute necessity.

While simple attendance may be a no-brainer to the parents paying the bills, students often cut class. And they do so at their peril. Repeated absences send a clear negative message to professors and can result in dismissal from the course. Once in the classroom, it’s also important for students to be mentally prepared and actively engaged. Participation grades can not only boost a student’s final grade; it can leave a lasting positive impression on a professor who may teach future courses.

The Professor

The professor can be a teacher, guide and mentor.

Speaking up in class is only the first place where a student can assert herself with her peers and her professors. Meeting one-on-one during a professor’s office hours can help clarify course content and forge a relationship with someone who may become a mentor on campus and in the world after graduation.

Academic Resources

When material is unclear, the first stop should be at the professor’s door. However, colleges offer an abundance of additional resources put in place to assist in student body success. There are writing centers and business labs, peer and professional tutors, and librarians with a wealth of knowledge in their library and its databases. Additionally, many schools have student support programs for students in need of more individualized attention. Asking is the first step to success.


Students are often required to meet with academic advisers who help in the short term by showing new students how to navigate course selection. These advisers can also make certain that students stay on track to graduate on time in majors that suit their strengths and interests. Students should also contact advisers working in the college’s career center for advice on resume building, interview strategies and job searches.

Residential Services

Getting along with roommates is crucial to a good college experience.

It isn’t enough to self-advocate only with regard to academic life. Because so much of what affects a student’s ability to perform well occurs in his living environment, he needs to address roommate and housing issues promptly. If direct communication doesn’t work, a student should bring issues up the organizational pyramid, from the resident assistant to the resident director and beyond.

Extracurricular Activities

Just as working with professors and advisers will help secure a good academic record, becoming active in extracurricular activities can help students assert themselves among their peers. Joining a college community is good practice for future committee membership and leadership roles, and some organizations have real-world affiliates post graduation.


On rare occasion, a student may need to escalate an incident to deans and even the college president and trustees. Going to the president may be a last resort. However, it’s one that is open to a student self-advocating their success.