How to Refer a Student to the BSC


Faculty, teaching fellows and academic advisers are often the first to recognize that a student is having learning difficulties. You might be alerted by the student's poor academic performance, by comments the student makes in class or in a paper, or by how the student seems to you in terms of their manner or behavior. 

Consider referring a student to the BSC when you feel the student has learning difficulties that are beyond what you can address in your role as an instructor/adviser. You may feel that the student needs more help or a different kind of help than you can offer, or that you are running out of ideas or time. Connecting the student with resources at the BSC, while continuing to work with the student in your capacity as instructor or adviser, will create a network of collaborative support for the student. 

Some signs of academic distress

  • poor study skills (reading, writing, note-making, etc.)
  • failure to turn in assignments 
  • lack of participation in class discussions
  • inability to keep up with the reading
  • poor or falling grades
  • missed classes; falling asleep in class
  • inconsistent performance in discussions vs papers vs exams
  • emotional upset (tears, anger, expressions of frustration, etc.)
  • complaints from other students (e.g., in a group project)

Examples of student concerns

  • “I'm having trouble completing my problem sets”
  • “I can't seem to concentrate on my work”
  • “Everyone here seems better prepared than I am.”
  • "I have so many commitments I don’t know how I can get it all done.”
  • “I have writer’s block”
  • “I thought I was good at school, but I’m not doing as well as I used to.”
  • “I thought I knew what I was doing here, but now I have no idea.”

Tips for helping a student connect with the BSC

It is often difficult for a student to request or accept help, particularly when the student is feeling vulnerable or ashamed. Many Harvard students have never had to ask for help before. Below are a few tips when assisting a student in getting help.

  • Destigmatize the idea of asking for help. When you see a student struggling but they seem reluctant to get help, you can express to the student that these feelings are understandable, that you trust in the student’s ability to address and improve their situation, and that you believe the resources of the BSC will be helpful to the student. You can invite them to look at the BSC website to learn about all the resources available to them and assure them that these services are widely used by students precisely because students find them helpful.
  • Make your referral a personal one. If you know a particular BSC academic counselor, you could refer your student to that academic counselor by name or to a workshop or discussion group led by that academic counselor. Alternatively, you can invite the student to look over the list of staff biographies on our website to find an academic counselor who seems like a good match for their interests and concern. If the student seems reluctant to call for an appointment, you might offer to call the BSC yourself, in the student's presence, to make an appointment; this sort of personal accompaniment often helps students take that first difficult step towards getting assistance.
  • Make an email introduction. When referring a student to the BSC, it can be helpful to make an email-introduction in which you email the student and a BSC academic counselor. Doing so with a student’s knowledge and willingness is best so as to honor a student’s sense of agency, authority, and privacy. For instance, you might write

    Dear [Student] and [BSC Academic Counselor],

    I’m introducing the two of you by email. [Student], as I had mentioned to you, I think you might find it really helpful to have a conversation with [BSC Academic Counselor].

    [BSC Academic Counselor], [Student] is a [freshman/sophomore/junior/senior] in [Dorm/House], concentrating in [Department], and as we’ve been talking, he has let me know that he is finding himself without his usual motivation and gusto for his courses and other involvements these days. Some difficulties in his family’s circumstances are also weighing on him. We both think it might be helpful for him to talk things over with an academic counselor at the BSC, so I hope you two can find a time to meet and take stock of things together.

    Or you might write

    Dear [Student] and [BSC Academic Counselor],

    I’m introducing the two of you by email. [Student], as I had mentioned to you, I think you might find it really helpful to have a conversation with [BSC Academic Counselor].

    [BSC Academic Counselor], [Student] is a [freshman/sophomore/junior/senior] in [Dorm/House], concentrating in [Department], and as we’ve been talking, she has let me know that despite her spending an enormous amount of time on her coursework, she still feels out of her depth and not satisfied with her performance. We both think it might be helpful for her to talk things over with an academic counselor at the BSC, so I hope you two can find a time to meet.

    If the student doesn't then email the BSC counselor to schedule an appointment, this email introduction allows the BSC professional to reach out to the student and invite that person to find a time to meet. While it's of course possible that a student could find an e-introduction intrusive or micromanaging, our experience is that many students welcome a dean or instructor or advisor taking that first step on their behalf.

  • Get to know the BSC. One of the best ways to help students connect with the BSC is to be knowledgeable yourself about our resources. Browse our website, attend a BSC event, or make an appointment to come in and visit with an academic counselor on staff to get to know more about our services. And please note that all teaching and advising staff are invited to register for the Harvard Course in Reading and Study Strategies at no charge.

  • Follow up with your student. After the student makes contact with the BSC, most students appreciate it if you follow up with them by asking how things went and whether the student’s concerns were heard and addressed. Following up expresses your continued involvement and regard for the student's welfare. You can explain to the student that you are not asking for private details of a counseling session but that you just want to be sure the student made a good connection.

If a student comes away from the BSC feeling disappointed or unheard, please encourage the student to talk with their BSC academic counselor about their experience and what sort of support might be more helpful to them. If the student is unwilling to return to that academic counselor, they are welcome to make an appointment with a different academic counselor or with the Director. And at any time during the process, you are invited to call the BSC yourself to discuss the situation or to consult about a referral for your particular student.

Supporting the individual student

The Harvard student body is very diverse and students arrive with wide range of academic preparation, cultural values, and life experience. Once here, each new level of study and each new life phase presents them with new challenges. When students encounter difficulties, they may not even know what the trouble is. It is often in the course of a conversation with a BSC academic counselor or a discussion in a group of students with similar experiences, that students can begin to define and address their particular concerns. The BSC staff welcomes conversations about the wide range of interests, challenges, and dilemmas that students encounter in their work and lives. BSC services are designed to support students in their learning by helping them develop practical skills, providing them with individual attention, and offering opportunities for community discussion, so that they can make the most of their time at the University. BSC services are private; consult the BSC Privacy Policy or call to speak with a BSC academic counselor about any questions you might have regarding privacy.


If you have concerns about a student’s mental health or physical safety, contact: 

  • HUHS CAMHS Counseling and Mental Health Services: 617-495-2042
  • HUHS After-Hours Urgent Care Clinic: 617-495-5711 
  • Harvard University Police: 617-495-1212