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Student services you may not even know you need

By Ashleigh Viveiros

As you head off to university or college for the first time, there are a few basic things you're expecting from your school: a good education, obviously, but also access to a decent-sized library, computer labs, and somewhere to grab a hot cup of coffee and a doughnut before an early-morning class.

But what few froshes realize when they begin the school year is that schools often strive to go above and beyond providing just the basic services for their students.

In fact, most Canadian schools go all out when it comes to making sure their students have what they need to be safe, happy, and successful during their post-secondary education. Here's a taste of just a few of the most common student services available in schools across the country.

Food cupboards

While the stereotypical image of the starving student may be useful when trying to get a few extra bucks out of your parents after a visit home, it's not quite so funny when you can't afford to put food on the table.

With this in mind, many student associations have set up school food banks where students can stop by and pick up some of the essentials on a regular or casual basis.

Some food banks require you to sign up ahead of time to receive a hamper, while others are okay with you just dropping by. Either way, don't let your pride get in the way of taking them up on their offer to help - it's hard to concentrate on schoolwork when you can't hear yourself think over the rumbling of your empty stomach.

Security programs

At some point this year, you're likely going to be stuck at school after dark. And whether your campus is big enough to qualify for its own postal code or is nestled deep in the core of an urban centre, walking alone to your car, bus stop, or dorm can be an unnerving experience.

Rather than taking the risk that you might be mugged, or worse, many schools offer students some form of a safe walk program, where volunteers or security guards escort you to where you need to go (within a reasonable distance) after dark. At some schools, security vehicles or buses will even drive you to your bus stop or nearby apartment.

While these volunteer escorts don't haul around handguns or even pepper-spray to protect you from the possible dangers, they do often carry a two-way radio with a link to campus security, just in case.

Mostly, they're there to prove there's truth to the old saying: there's safety in numbers.

You can contact this service by stopping by your school's security office or using one of the special security phones some schools have set up around campus.

Health services

Most schools have some sort of a health centre on campus to provide health-related services to its students. Often, a registered nurse is on hand at the centre throughout the school week, ready to help you out with any minor cuts or bruises you may suffer after a rousing game of foosball in the student lounge.

More seriously, though, health centres provide students with valuable health information - ranging from healthy eating to sexual well-being - and are staffed by professionals who are willing to discreetly answer any health questions you may have, or refer you to someone who can.

And if you have a chronic illness like epilepsy or diabetes and are worried about having an attack at school, you should let the staff at the health centre know about it so they'll know what's happening in case of an emergency.

And, yes, many university and college health centres do hand out free condoms to students. But let's not all rush them at once, okay?

Counselling services

Whether you're feeling down about breaking up with your significant other, stressed out about what courses to take, or agonizing over what to do once you graduate, your school likely has a counsellor who can help talk you through your problems.

For the most part, these academic, career, and personal counselling services are free, although some career aptitude tests do come with a fee attached. While some of these services are only for current students, prospective students can often get free academic counselling to help them chose their program or courses, and some schools even offer certain counselling services to alumni as well.

Job centres

Finding a job - both during and after your time in school - can be a daunting experience. But rather than tackling the task on your own, check out your school's job centre.

Job centres often have postings of casual, part-time, full-time, and summer jobs for students, as well as information on international work programs. These centres also provide access to job search sites, employer listings, and a wealth of books and trade magazines designed to help you find the perfect career. Many job centres also offer workshops on résumé and cover letter writing, job interviews, and other job search skills.

Religious sanctuaries

While your classes tend to your mental growth, many schools also have places you can go to get some help with your spiritual well-being.

Some schools have interfaith chapels or rooms shared by students of various faiths and designated as a place to go for religious discussion and advice. Other schools have more religiously-specific areas for students (a Christian chapel room, a Muslim prayer room, etc.). Either way, if your faith is an important part of your life, you might want to track down your school's designated religious areas.

Academic resource centres

Your school's academic resource centre is the place to go for help with any problem you might be experiencing in relation to your schoolwork. These centres often offer free or low-cost tutoring programs, as well as workshops and one-on-one help on study skills, research, time management, and academic writing.

Specialized student spaces

For almost every type of student there is at your school - international, Aboriginal, mature, lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgendered (LGBT), etc.- there is a special place to go to get together with like-minded people and find specialized support and information.

Some of these special groups also hold regular activities to let the school population at large find out more about them - for example, the LGBT Centre might hold a march against homophobia or a gender information week, while the international students centre might host a multicultural potluck.

At the very least, if you can find a student centre that fits your situation, you'll have access to a comfy couch or quiet room to hang out in between classes.

These are only a handful of the many services universities and colleges have to offer - some schools also provide daycare centres for student parents, community gardens for students living on campus, car pool programs for commuters, cheap or free recreational complexes, art galleries, print and copy centres, women-only lounges, and more. For more information on the resources at your specific school, check out your student agenda, visit the school's Web site, or contact your student union or student services centre.

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