Action Steps to Approach Professors Regarding Academic Struggles and Challenges

All of us encounter times of struggle and challenge as we pursue our goals in life. When dealing with experiences of loss, the academic demands that are a primary part of university life often take a back seat as we focus our energy on coping with the loss itself and our emotional reactions. This is normal, and on a basic level, a survival skill. We need our emotional energy focused in directions that attend to our most essential needs.

There may be times when a student’s reaction to a loss necessitates a conversation and action between a student and their professors. The following list of suggestions may serve to help you successfully open the lines of communication with faculty in ways that will help you continue to achieve your academic goals. You can also contact the Office of the Dean of Students for additional academic support.

  • Start the discussion. Approach faculty as soon as you become aware that meeting existing expectations under your current circumstances will be difficult. While students frequently avoid what they fear will be a difficult discussion, faculty would much rather deal with challenges and struggles as they occur and explore possible alternatives.
  • Remember that professors may provide alternative solutions. Discussions with faculty often yield results that will surprise you. What initially seemed like a hopeless situation may be resolved in a manageable compromise.
  • If you are apprehensive about showing up for office hours, e-mail your professor first. Briefly outline your situation and indicate your desire to discuss how to proceed with meeting their expectations of you for that class. Use email as a format to introduce the issue, not avoid a personal discussion altogether.
  • Prior to meeting with your professor, consider solutions and timelines that you think may be viable options. This demonstrates your intent to be responsible and to complete the required work. “Incompletes” are often reasonable accommodations in the event of a crisis, depending on the point in the semester in which they occur.
  • Consider what you want to say, and be concise and straightforward. Wordy explanations can start to sound like excuses, even if they are not. Let your professor know what has happened, keeping in mind that you do not need to disclose every personal detail.
  • Follow through with the agreement. Keep your professors advised of your progress and immediately inform them of any need to deviate from the established plan.