Advocate for Yourself

How to Advocate for Yourself at CSU

College can be incredibly daunting. With so many unwritten rules and cultural norms that seem to be left unspoken, navigating support in your educational journey can be overwhelming!  However, we’ve collected some tips from current students and faculty on how to best advocate for yourself on campus and in the classroom.

Self-Advocacy is, ‘[…]one form of advocacy, occurring any time people speak or act on their own behalf to improve their quality of life, effect personal change, or correct inequalities’” (Concunan-Lahr and Brotherson as cited in Brown, 1999).

Adulting @ CSU

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It starts with confidence.

Confidence is the self-assurance you gain in appreciating your own qualities and abilities. You are coming into school having experienced life, which means you possess unique strengths that you have cultivated prior to attending CSU. Own that. 

Confidence is recognizing that you belong here, and that you do NOT have to navigate your educational journey alone. Let people in. Ask for help early. Don’t let pride get in the way of you being successful. Don’t know who to turn to when you need help? The ALVS is always here to support you and point you in the right direction!

Confidence is knowing that you are capable. You are capable of interacting with traditional-aged students who will one day be your colleagues, coworkers, and potential supervisors. You are capable of balancing school, work, and family. You are capable of expressing your needs, don’t sit on them until small issues turn into disasters.

We always say the sooner you ask for support, the more potential solutions we have for you!

Connecting with Faculty

Building relationships with your professors is one of the most beneficial things you can do in college for many reasons! We encourage students to make their professors their partners at CSU.

  1. Professors can help you better understand course materials and suggest new study strategies for when the information just isn’t clicking.
  2. Professors can enhance your learning by providing you with additional information and opportunities (conferences, research, jobs, etc.) where you can apply your learning.
  3. Professors can support you when life happens and you are navigating deadlines and personal life issues.

Emailing your Professor(s) 

When you write to a professor, you should view it as a professional exchange. As with any professional interaction, it is in your best interest to be respectful, polite, and courteous when communicating with professors.  

Avoid coming off as rude, clueless, or irresponsible. This will have consequences for how the professor interacts with you. 

Pro Tips:  

Be concise and only ask questions you can’t answer yourself.  

Professors receive a lot of emails each day, and many questions are already answered in the syllabus. Make sure you’ve checked your syllabus before sending that email off to your professor, it may just save you both some time!  

Always Cc your Teaching Assistant (TA).

It’s always better to have two eyes on an email. Do this, unless told otherwise. It’s smart to check out your syllabus to see how your professors and instructors prefer to streamline their communication.

Addressing your Professor/Instructor/Teaching Assistant (TA)  

A proper salutation and use of your professor’s title will go a long way.  If you aren’t sure how you should address one of your instructors, ask.  

Professor/Instructor: Refer to your professor by their title. If they have a Ph.D., you should address them as Professor [Last Name], or Dr. [Last Name]. If they do not have a Ph. D. or if you are unsure, address them as Professor [Last Name].  

You can usually tell by how they address themselves in your course’s syllabus.  You should only address your college instructors as “Ms.”, “Mrs.”, or “Mr.” or by their first names if they have introduced themselves as such. It is best practice to avoid using “Miss” and “Sir” because these terms ignore the fact that the person you are addressing has an advanced degree. 

Teaching Assistant: Generally, you can address teaching assistants using their first names. However, if you are unsure, just ask them what they prefer!   

What are office hours? Office hours are times when you can meet with your professors and teaching assistants to discuss the material being presented in class or other related interests you have. Course-related discussions include asking for extra help, seeking clarification of material presented in class and following up on aspects of the class you find compelling. In addition, students also discuss majors and programs of study, graduation requirements, letters of recommendation, as well as summer internships, research, graduate schools, campus events, and much more.

Introduce yourself to your professors in person!!

“[In my large lectures,] I haven’t the foggiest idea who any of you are. I’m the one who gives you a grade, and I’d like to know who are as I do that.” – Dr. Korostyshevsky, CSU History Professor

What are my responsibilities as a student going to office hours?

To make the very most of your time with your instructor during office hours, you should:

  • Study your textbook and lecture notes thoroughly and attempt the assigned problems before you go to office hours.
  • Try to identify specific questions or concepts you need to address during the office hours.
  • Expect instructors to ask you questions about the material. They do this to find out what you understand, and to provide you with information and strategies tailored to your individual needs.
  • Be patient! Several students come for office hours at the same time. If the instructor is especially busy, you may have to wait a little longer for individual assistance. Use this time to study the material.
  • Expect the instructor to suggest general study strategies to help you improve your overall academic performance. These strategies will help in all of your courses.
  • Avoid waiting until the day before the test or the day before an assignment is due to seek assistance. Study a few hours each day, and keep up with your assignments. It is EASIER to keep up than to catch up!

Read more on Office Hours from Cornell University’s Learning Strategies Center article, “How to Use Office Hours”

Introducing yourself to your professor email template: 

Hello [Professor Last Name],

I wanted to reach out and take this opportunity to introduce myself. My name is _________ and I am in your (class name) (lecture/lab/recitation) at (time). I am a (adult learner/student parent/student veteran).

  • As a “non-traditional” learner I aim to excel in my studies however, I do have some responsibilities that may not be shared by younger students.
  • Although I plan to academically thrive, I do have some responsibilities and concerns that may be different from students on a more “traditional” educational journey.
  • I am very excited to be in your class, but I would like to make you aware of some of the unique responsibilities/concerns that I have as an (adult learner/student parent/student veteran).

I would love to meet with you after class one day/during your office hours to discuss how to best navigate your course.

I look forward to the rest of the semester,




Students with Disabilities

The Student Disability Center provides support for students with both permanent and temporary disabilities. This can encompass physical disabilities, chronic illness/health conditions, mental health conditions, learning disabilities, temporary disabilities.

Support services fall into three categories: accommodations, awareness, and advocacy. These three services areas relate to and complement one another to help lessen the negative effects that limitations or disabilities may have on students in an academic environment.
Accommodations are designed to give students access to the programs offered by Colorado State University. Awareness activities are related to improving the climate on campus for students with disabilities. Advocacy efforts are to ensure the needs of students with disabilities or chronic health conditions are addressed both in individual situations as well as in policies and procedures of the university.
  • Alternative Testing Accommodations
  • Accessible Text Accommodation
  • Deaf & Hard of Hearing Accommodations
    • Sign Language Interpreters
    • Captions & Audio Descriptions
  • Attendance Flexibility
  • Deadline Flexibility
  • Assistance Animals
  • Mobility
  • Note Taking Accommodations
  • Housing & Dining Accommodations

The Initial Process of Requesting Accommodations

Our office provides accommodations to students with disabilities to prove them equal access the campus and learning environment, as well as to support them in their college journey.

Requesting accommodations is an interactive process that students, faculty, and Student Disability Center staff engage in. This process only begins once the student initiates it.

If a student is wanting to set up accommodations for the first time they need to follow the following process:

  1. The student contacts the SDC and schedules an appointment with an accommodations specialist.
  2. The student meets with a specialist and provides documentation of their disability.
  3. The student and specialist will discuss the student’s specific situation and the specialist will determine appropriate accommodations and recommend them to the student. Different accommodations can be put in place for different situations.
  4. The student chooses which accommodations they want to use.
  5. The specialist will generate accommodation letter(s) verifying that the student is working with the SDC and is using accommodations.
  6. The student gives their accommodation letters to each of their instructors.
  7. Instructors should follow the accommodations and help ensure them.
  8. If issues arise the student needs to contact the SDC or their specialist immediately.

Re-establishing Accommodations

Students need to re-establish their accommodations every semester that they are wanting to utilize them. Doing so is a shortened process.

If the student does not need to change any of their accommodations:

  1. The student fills out a Returning Student Accommodation Request Form.
  2. A specialist will review the request and generate new accommodation letters.
  3. The student checks back about a week later and picks up their new accommodation letters.
  4. The student gives their letters to their instructors.
  5. Instructors should follow the accommodations and help ensure them.
  6. If issues arise the student need to contact the SDC or their specialist immediately.

If the student wants to discuss or change accommodations:

  1. The student schedules an appointment with a specialist to discuss changes.
  2. The student and specialist meet and discuss changes to accommodations.
    • Depending upon the requested changes, the specialist may request supporting documentation before implementing a change in accommodations.
  3. The specialist will generate new accommodation letters for the student.
  4. The students give their letters to their instructors.
  5. Instructors should follow the accommodations and help ensure them.
  6. If issues arise students need to contact the SDC or their specialist immediately.

If you have questions about the accommodations process, or would like to schedule an appointment with an accommodations specialist contact the SDC at 970-491-6385 or visit the main office located in the TILT Building, room 121.

When you receive your accommodations letter from the Student Disability Center, follow up with your professors and ask to discuss your accommodations in the context of their class and specific assignments.

Examples of questions:

“What will it look like to have extended time on exams?”

“I noticed there are strict deadlines for assignments, one of my accommodations is being allowed two additional days to complete my assignments. Is there a way to set my deadlines on Canvas?”

Financial Aid

The Office of Financial Aid is dedicated to ensuring that students can access the fullest extent of aid available to them. The Office of Financial Aid can review unique circumstances to determine if you are eligible for additional federal, state, or institutional aid. The appeal process may look different depending on your individual situation. Below you will find more information about the Professional Judgment Appeal, Budget Appeal, and Independent Appeal processes.

Key Ways to Advocate for Yourself

  • Ask for help, and ask before it comes a crisis or emergency, if possible.
  • Plan ahead, if possible.
  • Ask questions!
  • Share about your circumstances. Financial Aid doesn’t need to know the hard or personal details. However, information like you’re a parent, you used to work full time and now you don’t, your rent/mortgage is $2,000 and you can’t pay it with your refund, etc. is helpful for them to know.
  • Veterans: Complete your FAFSA and establish residency in Colorado immediately especially if you’re Pell grant eligible.

Professional Judgment Appeal: If you had a substantial change in income when returning to school and your FAFSA is not reflective of your current situation, talk to OFA about a professional judgment appeal. Can also apply if you had a change in marital status or a one time income.

Circumstances typically considered for a Professional Judgment Appeal:

  • Loss of employment
  • Significant change to income
  • Large medical expenses not covered by insurance
  • Separation or divorce
  • Death of parent or spouse
  • Loss of child support or alimony
  • Natural disaster affecting the home you live in

Budget Appeal: If you need more money for living expenses, childcare, or a computer, talk to OFA about a budget appeal. The annual cost of attendance is based on averages for students. There are situations in which students benefit from having their cost of attendance reflect their actual expenses as opposed to an estimated amount. These costs could be costs directly billed to the student from CSU, or the costs could be related to other indirect expenses such as rent, dependent care, health insurance, etc.

If you are an out-of-state student paying out-of-state tuition, begin this process to receive in-state tuition rates after your first year.

Check out CSU’s Financial Aid Page on Residency requirements information here!

  • I will take longer to graduate. How does this impact my future financial aid?
  • I’m going with “not pass”/”drop”/”withdrawal” from this class. How does this impact my current AND future financial aid?
  • My rent/mortgage/childcare expenses are more than I can pay with my financial aid. What options do I have to help?
  • I see this on my financial aid /student bill/RAMweb. What does this mean?
  • Based on what you know about my situation, is there anything I should ask that I’m not?

Student Parents/Guardians/Caregivers

Identify your support system

You support and encourage your children day in and day out. Don’t forget that you deserve support too! Support systems look differently for everyone and can include family members, friends, mentors, colleagues, peers, etc. Be sure to connect with your professors, other student parents, and other support staff on campus and add them to your support system!

Reflect on your needs and talk to your support system about ways that they can do to support you throughout your educational journey. Don’t know where to start? Let the ALVS help you!

Be Proactive

Be proactive! Look ahead at your semester schedule and check to see if there are any overlapping responsibilities among your school, work, and personal life and think about potential issues that might arise throughout the semester. What will you do when your child is ill? What will you do when your child has a school-out day? We always tell students meet with their professors and supervisors early on and bring solutions to potential problems. Is it possible to bring your child to class/work? Is it possible to complete an assignment early? Is it possible to switch presentation dates?  Use these individuals as partners in your educational journey to help you succeed. Plan ahead!

Include your children

There are many ways to include your children in your educational journey. Families are always welcome to ALVS Events! Also, consider utilizing Ram Kidz Village! They offer:

  • In-Person Drop-In Services: Structured, educational activities for children aged 12 months to 11 years old while their parent remains on library premises. We will watch children of student parents for up to two hours and forty-five minutes of supervision so student parents can study or work on group projects in Morgan Library. Enrollment documentation is required before use of service.
  • Activity Kits: With children not being able to be in the classroom, it is a lot harder to plan fun activities and have all of the supplies to showcase their creativity. This is why RKV has created weekly activity bags available for pick-up with pre-planned crafts and the supplies needed to make them!

Also look into opportunities with CSU’s Little Shop of Physics and Youth Sport Camps

While it is not required for faculty and other instructors to add a section into their syllabi about supporting student parents, guardians, and caregivers, it is a recommendation by the Institute for Teaching and Learning and our office to include the following:

CSU recognizes that student parents/guardians and caregivers face distinctive challenges in succeeding academically, and we are committed to supporting those of you who are parents to achieve course learning outcomes. If you encounter challenges in meeting course expectations – for example, fulfilling attendance and participation requirements or submitting assignments due to a child or person in your care’s illness, essential appointment, school closure, etc. – please contact your instructor as soon as possible (beforehand if feasible or as soon afterward you reasonably can if not). Work with your instructor to develop a plan for you to make up missed work. Also, please see the course syllabus for related course policies. If you need to bring your child or person you care for to class, for example because you’re nursing or planned childcare became unavailable, check with your instructor about whether you may do so if you believe it’s feasible for you to participate in class and support your child or person in your care.

Group work assignments should be designed to provide flexible approaches to participating, and all groups should develop plans that enable all members to contribute equitably. If your group encounters challenges in doing so, please reach out to your instructor to devise a solution.

Finally, know that pregnant and parenting students are guaranteed equal educational opportunities by Title IX; know your rights, the protections provided, and how to advocate for yourself.

Check out this website for additional information: