Understanding Yourself: You’re not alone…it’s OK to ask for help

Top tips on how to approach asking for help during your studies with this self-coaching session from the Open University's PLA (Personal Learning Service).

Each month we publish an article which represents a new opportunity to focus on your personal and professional development to support your studies, work and life. In this article we’re looking into asking for help during your studies and top tips on the best way to approach this.

Being an OU student can be both a fantastic and a challenging experience at times. During the ups and downs of your OU studies it’s likely that you’ll need to ask for help. 

Being able to ask for help when needed is an essential study skill for success. It’s not just about problem solving but is part of developing your knowledge and self-awareness. Asking for help is often the first step in taking action.

Letters that spell out ask for help

Students often say that they feel asking for help is difficult, makes them feel like they've failed, makes them feel vulnerable or weak and takes them outside their comfort zone. Some students don’t want to make a fuss or cause a bother. 

At the OU we believe asking for help is a strength not weakness, and we know it takes courage to reach out. During your OU study journey it’s useful to remember that there’s no shame or disgrace in seeking help.

‘'Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it. I do that every day. Asking for help isn’t a sign of weakness, it’s a sign of strength because it shows you have the courage to admit when you don’t know something, and that then allows you to learn something new.’' - Barack Obama

Can you take a few moments now to pause and think about your current studies?  Ask yourself, are there areas where you’re going it alone? Might there be something or someone available that could help you develop and grow?

Just talking about your situation can make a difference and release the pressure. You might just find someone who understands where you’re coming from and takes time to listen. It also opens you up to the possibility of receiving support.  

The following Top 5 Tips for Asking for Help, adapted from Paul McGee’s How to Succeed with People are useful to consider when it comes to effectively asking for help. 

Tip #1 Reflect on your beliefs about asking for help

Sometimes we have deeply held beliefs around asking for help and it’s useful to take some time to uncover what those are and how useful they are in your current situation. 

For example, you could be thinking that “asking for help is a sign of weakness” or “I should know this and I can’t ask for help” and this could result in you struggling alone in your studies for a while. Take some time and ask yourself:

  • What are my beliefs around asking for help?
  • What is getting in the way of me asking for help? 
  • What is it about asking for help that feels uncomfortable to me? What are my fears?
  • How does this current belief serve me?                                                                                   

Tip #2: Identify the expertise

If you have questions about your studies it’s very likely that other students have had similar questions before. Identifying who can help, finding the right person or OU team to help you is vital, and we have plenty of expert individuals and teams within the OU.  

So, where can you go for support at the OU? 

A good place to start for an overview of support services is the online OU Help Centre which you can find on your Student Home page or view here.

For help with your course/module relating to the module content, TMAs or EMA contact your tutor for academic support. 

For help and support with your course/module not academic based – e.g. If you’re thinking ‘Is this the right course for me? contact your Student Support Team (SST). The contact details for your SST  are available on Student Home in Your Profile, under the About You section. 

Other support and resources include:

Tip #3: Timing matters

Everyone – students, tutors, other OU support staff are busy people. Recognising or thinking about the reality for the person you’re asking for help from is important so you can ask for help at the right time. 

In addition, not leaving things until the last minute and asking for help as soon as you feel you need further clarification, you feel overwhelmed or you feel you are struggling with your studies can really benefit you. 

Effective timing may mean you stand a better chance of getting the right help at the right time. 

Contacting your tutor to ask a question or gain further support in good time before your assignment is due will likely receive a better response than a request for help the day before the deadline. However, don’t forget it’s better to ask for help at any time than not to ask at all - even if it feels too late!

Tip #4: Clarity is key

Sometimes a block to asking for help is you’re not really sure what you need help with and you don’t know if anything is available.  So when you’re thinking about asking for help it’s important that you reflect on what you really need help with, and then you identify the outcome(s) you’re looking for. 

Being clear and specific in your need and your request is vital. Take some time and ask yourself:

  • What specifically are you looking for help with?
  • What is your ideal outcome or goal from asking for this help?
  • Why is this help important to you, right now?
  • How will this help enable you to move forward, become ‘unstuck’ or take action?

It can also be a challenge recognising that a situation is getting a bit too much and is impacting your ability to study.  

Maybe there’s an unexpected family situation, a health concern of your own or of someone you care for?  Sharing what you’re managing might be a starting point for accessing support that’s there for situations just like yours. 

Tip #5: Take action - Draft your e-mail or decide what you want to say

Just sharing your situation and asking for the help or support you need can, in itself make a difference. You might want to follow the process below to help you draft your conversation, phone call or email and take the next steps:

  1. Open the communication: Hello X, I hope you are well.
  2. Identify your need: Write out clearly what support you are looking for, or what you think you might need . e.g. I am e-mailing because I would like to ask for your support with ……..
  3. Identify why: State why this support is important to you e.g. This is important to me because……
  4. Share previous actions: State what you have already done to ‘help yourself’ e.g. So far to solve this myself I have ……
  5. Close the communication: I look forward to hearing from you. Many thanks. Here it’s also helpful if you write your full name and Personal Student Identification Number, if you can.

When you’ve received the help you’ve asked for remember to thank whoever helped you and say how useful it was. Everyone likes to get feedback! 


Reaching out is part and parcel of a study journey – asking a question is a sign you’re committed, you’re invested, you care, you want to succeed. The more you ask for help, the easier it becomes and the better you get at it. Good luck! 

Thanks for reading!

We hope you have enjoyed this article. We welcome comments, questions and chat about the article and activities.  

If there’s anything you’d particularly like to see in these self-coaching features, please let us know.

Look out for more articles from the PLA Service in the coming months –  we look forward to seeing you again soon

The Open University (OU) has set an ambitious Access and Participation Strategy with progressive targets over the next 5 years to tackle inequalities. The OU has many areas in which we need to improve and do better, and one focus is on the degree outcomes between students from underrepresented groups and the wider student body. 

To help address this, we have set up a dedicated team providing personalised coaching and mentoring to our students. This service is known as the Personal Learning Advice Service. 

Students who are eligible for coaching are contacted directly by us and cannot currently self-refer. We are a new service, and we are currently delivering and evaluating pilot projects with small groups of students at the OU. We worked with the OU Students Association in designing and setting up this support for students.  

If you would like to know more, please email PLA-Services@open.ac.uk

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