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Getting the Support You Need to Make it Through School

Jaylin is the Clinical Director at Shift Collab, and is a big part of the Real Campus team

The truth is simple. Post-secondary life can be wonderful but it can also be challenging. And you can’t do it alone.

Whether you’ve moved out on your own, you’re living in residence, or commuting from home, adjusting to university or college can be difficult. You’re also expected to balance school work, a personal life, possibly a job or volunteering. Throw in a club or sports team and it’s amazing you have time to brush your teeth. (You are still brushing your teeth, right?).

Often we’re told to take care of ourselves, but it’s equally important to remember that we can’t do it all on our own. Humans by nature are a social species and as such we require the support of others.

To help you navigate all of the ups and downs, here is a helpful guide on social supports. To begin, we’ll review the 5 types of support that are essential to make it through college or university.

From there, we’ll review who in your life offers each type of support, how to best determine what type of support you need, and finally how to ask for more support when needed.

And for added fun, we’ve thrown in a quiz you and your friends can take to figure out the type of support you most often offer others.

All of which can be covered in less than your one hour lecture on organic chemistry. Let’s get started!

The Big Five Kinds of Poeple

There are five major types of social support needed in university or college; emotional, motivational, practical, problem solving, and recreational. Depending on what’s going on in your life you may need more of one than another but all are going to be needed at some point or another.

Person 1: Your Emotional Support

Who they are: This is the person who’s able to listen to how you are feeling without immediately trying to change or stop you from feeling that way. They’re good listeners and you know you can talk openly without being silenced, rushed, made to feel guilty, or that your feelings don’t matter.

Traits: Understanding, accepting, non-judgemental, and patient.

Things you won’t hear: “Ugh, don’t be angry/sad/etc” “Just cheer up” “Get over it”

Things you want to hear: “That sucks” “I’m really sorry that happened to you” “You didn’t deserve that” “I’m not sure what to say right now, I’m just really glad you told me”

Why you need this person: Whenever you are experiencing intense emotions it is helpful to have them validated by someone else. This helps you to feel connected and understood.

Useful tip: most of the time we don’t want someone to solve our problems but rather just offer understanding.

Person 2: Your Motivational Support

Who they are: This is the person who’s able to motivate you whenever you’re feeling discouraged or uninspired. They can remind you of the reasons behind your goals when you’re feeling down. This person truly believes in you and your abilities to accomplish what you’re working towards.

Traits: Encouraging, inspiring, positive, optimistic

Things you won’t hear: “You can’t do that” “Oh come on, be realistic” “What did you expect?” “You always quit on things” “Just give up, it’s not worth it”

Things you want to hear: “That’s awesome, you’re going to do great!” “That’s exciting, please let me know how I can help” “I know you can do it” “Just keep trying, you’ll figure it out”

Why you need this person: Internal motivation isn’t constant, it comes and goes. As a result, we all have those times when we feel discouraged and want to give up. Having someone that believes in us and can remind us of our motivation can help us to accomplish great things.

Useful tip: Often the way in which the inspiring messages are communicated is just as important as what is said. Think about what truly motivates you as an individual. Do you prefer the boot camp drill sergeant or the positive cheerleader? Not all people respond to the same style of motivational support, it’s important to figure out what works for you.

Person 3: Your Practical Support

Who they are: This is the person who can help in those practical everyday ways. This person can help you unpack from your dorm room, has the spare charger in class when your laptop is dying, or brings over soup when you’re sick in the middle of a snow storm.

Traits: Reliable, Skillful, Dependable, Resourceful

Things you won’t hear: “Oh man I totally forgot” “Sorry I have to bail last minute” “You’re on your own”

Things you want to hear: “I can help with that” “I’ll be there”  “You can count on me” “I’m ready, what do you need?”

Why you need this person: Even the most independent of people need help from others at times. Having someone you can count on to be there makes certain experiences go a lot easier.

Useful tip: There can be many different types of practical support often linked to resources and skills. E.g. Someone who’s able to take notes for you in your econ class may not be able to drive you to the airport for reading week.

Person 4: Your Problem Solving Support

Who they are: This is the person who can help when you’re stuck and not sure what to do. They offer useful advice and feedback on how to make improvements in your life. They often help you to discover solutions you may otherwise not have been able to think of on your own. Often coming from their own experience, they take the time to understand what’s going on and offer ideas that are useful to your specific situation.

Traits: Creative, Knowledgeable, Experienced, Wise

Things you won’t hear: “Oh wow, I have no clue what you can do” “How would I know? Looks like you’re stuck”

Things you want to hear: “I went through something similar, here’s what worked for me” “I wonder if you could try doing this…”

Why you need this person: When experiencing a stressful situation, our own ability to be creative and resourceful can decrease. What’s more, when we’re in university of college we often face situations we’ve never experienced before, and therefore may not automatically know how to fix them.

Useful tip: The most useful advice is offered after the person has a full understanding of your situation, which includes hearing what you’ve already tried or considered and why previous attempts haven’t worked out. Only then, will they be able to offer suggestions that you haven’t tried yet, leading to a less frustrating experience for you both.

Person 5: Recreational Support

Who they are: This is someone you’re able to have fun with. You have shared interests and enjoy each other’s company.

Traits: Fun, Entertaining, Enjoyable, Relaxing

Things you won’t hear: “No that’s boring, let’s not do that”, “I just really don’t like any of the things you want to do”

Things you want to hear: “Hey let’s go out this weekend!” “Want me to come over? We can hang out and watch a movie”

Why you need this person: Post secondary can be a stressful time, it’s important to take time to relax and have fun with others. Finding the people who have shared interests will allow you to make the most of your time at school and enjoy yourself.

Useful tip: There are many opportunities to meet new people at college or university for recreational support. Think of an activity you enjoy doing and find out if there is a club, team, or group on campus where you can meet others who also enjoy that activity. If there isn’t a group yet, consider creating one yourself!

Helpful Tips to Remember

  • Often people have the desire to be helpful but not always the ability. In order to qualify as a support, one must be both willing and able to offer that support. Recognizing and accepting this fact can prevent a lot of frustration and disappointment.
  • Getting the wrong type of support can feel rejecting and upsetting. For example your brother may be terrible at offering emotional support but don’t discount the practical support he can provide. Making a point to go to him when you need help moving out of your dorm room will therefore be far more useful than expecting him to have something helpful to say after going through a major breakup.  
  • In addition to close friends and family, don’t forget about the support from paid professionals. A therapist, a professor, your residence advisor, or even an uber driver can all offer valuable support.
  • People can learn new skills all the time. Before you assume that someone can’t offer a particular type of support just because they haven’t in the past, take the time to talk to them about it. It’s possible that they’ve been trying to be supportive but don’t yet know the right way to support you as an individual. For example, some people find it helpful to be reminded of the silver lining in a bad situation while others find it discounts their experience. Learn specifically what you need in each type of support and try to teach others how they can help you best.