With schoolwork, everyone needs some help now and then

By Ashleigh Viveiros
Special to SchoolFinder.com

Even the best of us have encountered that one course we just can't get a grasp on or the assignment or essay we don't have a clue how to start. Before you consider settling for a mediocre grade, remember that help is available in most universities and colleges across Canada.

Whether your school calls it the student resource centre, tutoring services, or a learning or writing centre, the goal is the same: to help you succeed in your chosen program.

Most academic support services can be broken down into three categories:

  • Writing services, which help students with the basics of grammar, thesis formation, documentation, editing, and other steps in creating a better essay for the university/college level.
  • Workshops, which often include tips on time management, study skills, note-taking and memory techniques.
  • Course-specific tutoring in subjects like math, science, and other common trouble areas.

Although tutoring can come from instructors, peer tutors who are trained to help other students are becoming more and more popular at many schools, and the benefits of peer tutoring may well outweigh those of staff tutors.

"It's helpful for the student when we're peers because we know the stresses," says Mary Ann Keane, a peer tutor at the University of Winnipeg.

While tutors are generally paid for their time, many schools, such as Carleton University in Ottawa or Memorial University of Newfoundland University, offer most of these services for free. Other schools may charge fees.

Fees can pose problems for those cash-strapped students who say they wouldn't even bother finding out about the help their school offered if it wasn't for free.

"I don't think that if it wasn't free I would have searched out tutoring," says Dawn-Marie Kerr, a computer accounting technician student at Red River College in Winnipeg.

Kerr sought out the college's tutoring services (which offer students eight hours of free tutoring a semester) early in the year to keep up with the rapid pace of her program, and has since found it necessary to start paying for private tutoring as well.

"I would literally have had to drop out in the end," says Kerr. "I wouldn't have passed anything (without help)."

"Some of the instructors go through things way too quickly," she adds. "(In tutoring) you can just take the one-on-one time to work it out."

But even if a university or college does charge for help, schools generally try to be as flexible as possible.

At the University of British Columbia, for example, the school operates a free drop-in centre for students to get general help in a number of key subject areas. For additional tutoring in other subjects, students can split the hourly fee among a larger group, allowing more students to get help at a lower cost.

Although students of any level can seek help, it's often the newer students either fresh out of high (secondary) school or returning after an extended period of time who are making the most use of these services.

"For students who are coming from high school it is to help them over that humongous black hole that stretches between high school and university," says Keane, citing the higher expectations, longer essays, and more extensive research required at the post-secondary level.

Keane says younger students, who may have received high marks in high school, are often reluctant to seek help right away.

"But that stigma usually lasts as long as it takes them to get their first D," she says.

More experienced students often frequent the tutoring services because they're taking courses in subjects they're unfamiliar with such as a required math or science course. They may need a refresher on the material or on how to write for that discipline. Other students just need someone to give their paper a once-over.

"The younger people come because they're scared," says Keane. "The older people come because they need assurance that they're right."

Modified on April 23, 2009