Referring At-Risk Students at UCF

Identifying students in academic distress

A student’s poor grades may not always be due to lack of understanding or effort. There is always the chance that there is an underlying cause of stress that may be influencing their academic performance. Students who exhibit these symptoms or behaviors are raising red flags and you should be more attune to their habitual behaviors to look for more serious signs. Sometimes these students may just be stressed and want to be heard.
  • Marked changes in academic performance, including significant deterioration in quality of work, consistently missed assignments, excessive procrastination, or avoidance of participation
  • Excessive, unexcused absences or tardiness
  • Listlessness, lack of energy, or falling asleep during sessions
  • disorderly or disruptive conduct during sessions
  • Nervousness, agitation, excessive worry; irritability, aggressiveness, non-stop talking
  • Extreme dependency on staff, including spending much of his or her time visiting during scheduled times
  • Uncharacteristic comments in a student's behavior that arouse concern

Identifying concerns with emotional well-being

A student’s well-being may become a concern when it interferes with their education. SARC staff have the opportunity to observe students in sessions and can look for certain behaviors or symptoms indicating that a student is experiencing psychological or emotional distress.
  • Unusual or bizarre behavior, including unexplained crying, laughing to self, very rapid speech, disorganized thinking, suspiciousness, or hearing voices
  • High levels of irritability, unruly behavior
  • Dramatic weight loss or weight gain
  • Marked changes in personal hygiene or dress
  • Disturbances in personal relationships
  • Visible symptoms of anxiety or depressed mood

Identifying distressed students (these may need more immediate help)

There may be students who are of more immediate concern because their unusual behavior. You are not expected to deal directly with these issues by yourself. There are many factors to consider and you may not get to understand them all within your tutor-tutee relationship. Seek help from your supervisor and/or other campus resources suitable for the student’s unique situation.
  • Talk of suicide, either directly or indirectly, such as, "I won't be around to take that exam anyway," or "I'm not worried about getting a job; I won't need one."
  • Visible symptoms of anxiety or depressed mood
  • Violent outbursts or aggressive behavior

If you notice signs of distress...

As SARC tutors, you are in a unique position to notice students in distress, and then possibly engaging them in conversations about their situations, and referring them to appropriate resources for assistance. The following chronological guidelines may be useful in helping you communicate effectively with students who are experiencing psychological distress and refer them if needed.
  • Note the types of symptoms and behavior that you observe and their frequency.
  • Speak with the student in private to see if there is something bothering them.
  • Listen carefully and show genuine concern and interest.
  • Avoid questions that sound critical or judgmental.
  • Offer specific, non-judgmental descriptions of the behaviors that are concerning you (e.g., I'm concerned that you haven't improved your test grades since you started coming to tutoring).
  • Try to determine if the student has a support system (friends, family members) and is reaching out to that support system for help.
  • Speak to the SARC Tutor Coordinator about your concerns for the student and any actions you took with them
  • Follow up with the student if possible
  • Give the student a sense of hope that things can improve with a new plan of action.
  • If a student has a problem that seems outside your area of knowledge, or if a student is unwilling to discuss a problem with you, consider a referral to the Counseling Center. It is important to keep in mind some of the negative reactions a student may have to the idea and be ready to discuss them.
  • Introduce the topic of a counseling referral to a student by summarizing to him or her what you understand to be the problem. (e.g. “You sound very depressed about your relationship problems. I have found that other students who felt that way have been helped by talking to a professional, someone at the counseling center. How would you feel about that?")
  • Suggest that the student make an appointment at the Counseling Center.
  • Reassure the student that it is normal to experience some problems during the college years and tell them that a large percentage of UCF students seek help at the Counseling Center during their time here.
  • If the situation is an emergency (e.g., if the student has expressed an intention to harm him/herself or another person) call the Counseling Center immediately to explain what is happening and then walk that student over to the Center.
  • Follow-up with the student to show that you continue to be interested in his or her welfare and to see if the student is doing better.
  • Your willingness to listen may be very important to those students. You may also choose to work with the student on improving his or her academic work without focusing on the psychological issues that underlie the behavior.

Please review the document below. It includes various departments available to all UCF students. This is a great point of reference when directing students to a resource that may fit their needs.

Resources & References:

Adapted from Wheaton College Counseling Center: with input from the UCF Counseling Center website.