University of Hawaii Manoa

UH Mānoa Office of the Ombuds

Survival Tips for Undergraduate Students

Save Everything

Keep copies of all official documents you send and receive [fee receipts, identification cards, advising worksheets, course syllabi, petitions, financial aid information, etc.].  Document everything that might come back to haunt you. If you're in doubt about whether you need to document your actions or conversations, err on the side of too much.  It just might help you solve a big problem down the road.

Read Everything/Be Informed

Carefully read Ka Leo, your course syllabus, receipts, and all other information you receive from the university regarding housing, registration, financial aid, loans, etc.  You are responsible for knowing university policies and deadlines.

Be informed about your debt.  Keep track of what you owe and why.  This may seem self-evident, but it is easy to forget.  Losing track of the debt you owe, the deadlines, and the reasons for your debt are a good recipe for increasing the debt itself in avoidable ways.

Ask Questions

Why was my request denied?
What rule or policy applies?
Are there exceptions to the rule?
Is there any appeal process?
Ask for the names and titles of employees you talk with.
Ask why the person or office acted as they did.
Ask for copies of policies or records that are relevant to your situation.
Ask questions until you understand what happened and why.
When checking your status with a University office, ask to have your particular file checked. This can help to catch problems that might otherwise go undetected.

Clarify the Problem/Be Prepared

  • Before you contact a university office, take some time to simplify your complaint, decide what the main issue is and what action you are seeking.
  • Write down your questions before contacting a university office.
  • Have the information and documentation available that you may need in your discussion.
  • Collect relevant information from a variety of sources [counselors, instructors, etc.]
  • Be sure you communicate your needs to instructors, staff, and administrators; they will not know unless you tell them, so be specific.
  • Save steps by calling ahead for walk-in hours or to make an appointment.
  • If you do not know who to ask or how to find what you are looking for, ask the Ombuds Office.

Know the Channels

The first employee you meet may not make or be able to change policy.  If you cannot resolve the matter, ask to talk with a supervisor.  It is important to understand university policies and the channels you must go through to resolve your problems.

For example, if you have a grade dispute with an instructor, discuss the matter with the instructor first. If your situation is not resolved at this stage, the next step is to talk with the department chair.  At this point, if nothing has been accomplished, you may think about filing an Academic Grievance.  (Link here to academic grievance info on our site.)

Don't Procrastinate

"Oh I'll handle it at the end of the quarter" is a common thought that many students have when a conflict arises with the university.  In most cases, the longer you wait, the more difficult it will be to resolve your problem.  Many university decisions may be appealed, but there are deadlines.  Be sure to follow appeal guidelines and meet deadlines.

If you wish to withdraw from a course, make sure you go through the withdrawal procedure.

Be Courteous and Persistent

Try to remain civil and avoid blame and personal attacks.  Everyone appreciates being treated courteously.  Getting angry or rude will not resolve your problem.  It may only confuse the real issues.  Don't give up if you do not immediately get the response you are seeking.  Ask to speak to a supervisor, if necessary.


(Adapted from “PSU Survival Tips”.  Portland State University.
Used with permission.)