Standing up for yourself: The importance of self-advocacy

Filed Under: Blog

By Summer Pease

Student standing on a college campus.

One thing I wish I learned earlier in life was advocating for myself. To give some context, I just moved across the country from Washington state to go to college at NC State (Go Pack!). I also graduated high school with my AA degree. In high school I was super involved. I spent more time on my extracurriculars than my class work most weeks. Everything I did in high school was in service to others and building community. I was in ASB, and Unified sports, and don’t get me wrong, I loved it. But when I got to college, I realized I need to spend time focusing on my well-being and my academics.  

Before I even moved, there were problems with transferring my AA degree. I found out I had twelve days to get my transcript sent to NC State. The problem was I only had two days before I left for a trip out of the country. And one of those days was a national holiday. Anxiety ridden, I went to the Running Start office at my local community college. I was told that I needed to talk to the registrar’s office. So that is where I went. I was told that my degree was in line to be approved, but because my last name, Pease, was towards the end of the alphabet, it was going to take a minimum of three weeks before they got to it. Completely defeated, I left in tears thinking that everything I had worked for had come crashing down, and there was nothing I could do to fix it. 

This is where I was wrong. This is where I learned I needed to stand up for myself like I had stood up for others. I started to think about who I could reach out to. After a conversation with my parents I realized that one of the school board members in my district worked for the dean at my community college. I had low hopes that I would hear back in time because of summer break. I debated not even sending the email, but then my dad told me something that really stuck with me: “The worst thing she can say is ‘No’ but at least she knows your name.” So I sent her an email explaining my situation. Less than an hour later I got a call (that I almost didn’t pick up) from that school board member telling me that she talked to the register’s office and my degree had been approved and sent over to NC State. 

This entire experience was just one of the many times I have had to stand up for myself even though I didn’t feel comfortable doing so. Being able to advocate for yourself is crucial to your success as a student. Whether it is getting credits transferred, or getting some extra help, you need to know how to advocate for yourself. 

With that being said, there is a difference between advocating for yourself and bullying someone to get your way. So here are a few tips: 

  1. Always be respectful and kind. I have found that people are more likely to help if you are polite from the beginning.
  2. Don’t be scared to ask someone you have never met for help. Especially in education, most educators want students to succeed. When you reach out to someone you have never met, introduce yourself, explain the situation, and make a clear ask for help. 
  3. Try to help solve the problem. Don’t just dump the problem on someone and expect not to help solve it. 

Lastly, I swear by it — whether or not a person helps you send them a thank you note. This can be an email but I highly suggest handwriting a thank you. People never forget a person who took the time to mail them a card. And even if they couldn’t help you in the moment, they are now a contact in your network. 

I truly wish I started advocating for myself earlier. My journey started during college application season when thinking about who I was going to ask for a letter of recommendation. I was super nervous to ask my principal. I took a couple deep breaths, then simply went up and asked during lunch. He was happy to write one. I do not think I would have gotten into my dream school without it. 

I also got my internship for this upcoming summer by making a call to someone I didn’t really know and simply asking if their company offers internships (I am even getting paid — all because it didn’t hurt to ask). 

You begin to learn what you need to know to help you succeed, and it helps you make your goals more achievable.”

Learning how to advocate for yourself can be a scary thing at first. It also can be a hard thing to necessarily practice. My best advice is to start voicing your opinion on smaller things. That could be deciding on where to go to dinner with friends, or sharing your opinion during a class discussion. The first time is normally the hardest, but I promise it gets easier with time. Advocating for yourself can change everything. Not only does it help you achieve your goals but it also builds your self-awareness. You begin to learn what you need to know to help you succeed, and it helps you make your goals more achievable. 

As scary as it is, it is so worth it. Remember there are only two options after you ask; they say no, and you stay where you currently are, or they say yes and it could help catapult you toward your goals. 

Summer Pease is a first-year student at North Carolina State and a graduate of Wenatchee High School. During the 2022-23 school year, she was a Ready WA Student Storyteller.