Congratulations on deciding to attend college. It’s going to be a great experience. However, it’s not all roses and unicorns. There are times when it will get stressful. If you are not prepared to navigate those challenges, the challenges can become much worse, affecting your grades, social life, and even the ability to stay in college. Yet, you have a disability that any stressor can make worse and even more difficult to navigate school and do well. At times, it can seem like survival mode. I don’t mean to sound bleak, but drop-out rates are real and getting worse. The good news is you do not have to be part of that statistic. Being a successful college student depends on many factors. One of those factors is making sure the school has what you need to be successful. The college tour for students with hidden disabilities is unique and complex. When you tour a college campus, have your disability in mind and focus on what services you may need, even if you don’t anticipate using them.
Five Services to Look for on a Campus Tour
Office of Disability Services (ODS).
Since you have a disability, I’m going to assume you are going to request accommodations. This is the office where that happens. It can be called different things such as the disability services office. You need to know what it is called on your campus and where on campus that is located if you need to drop off any paperwork or forms or speak directly to a staff person. Since COVID began, most of the meetings are going to be held online. However, most campuses are looking at opening up to in-person classes, which may also mean in-person meetings. Look for any handouts or pamphlets that give a general overview of the ODS contact information and processes. Pro Tip: Write down the office’s contact information, including email and phone number, and even where it was located on campus.
Ok, I’m a bit biased here; I admit that. Yet, mental health issues are equal opportunity offenders. Depression and anxiety are the most prevalent issues with college students and often occur with disabilities such as ADD/ADHD and dyslexia. If you already have a mental health diagnosis, it’s even more important for you to know the office location, the scope of services offered, and to what extent students can use it, i.e., session limits. Your mental health is just as important as studying or socializing, if not more because the consequences can be devastating personally and academically. Help is available, and it works. Pro Tip: If you think you need help, get it right away. Don’t wait until things get worse. The most common statement from students is, ‘I should’ve done this sooner.’
Almost all colleges have services for their students to get academic help with most subjects. Math and writing are the most prevalent. Tutoring and academic coaching are also offered, with coaching being less prevalent. As with most services, each student is responsible for asking for these services and making appointments. Keep in mind there may be limits on how many times you can meet and even limit the amount of time you can use weekly. Pro Tip: As with most things in college and even life, being proactive is better. For example, if math is not your strongest subject, you may want to start tutoring early in the semester and not just when you need it. Also, make sure you can have the same tutor at the same time every week and make this part of your regular schedule.
All work and no fun is a boring life. It’s also a life out of balance and disconnected from others. Student Activities offers a lot of things to do and clubs to meet other students with similar interests. Yes, studying is your job as a student and is important. However, research shows that students who feel connected to the campus do better in school. That leads to better grades and staying in school. It can also mean the difference between getting into your major of choice or needing to choose something else. The bottom line, connecting to campus, having fun, and being active on campus is important to your success. Pro Tip: Ask about a list of campus clubs and other benefits the Student Activities office offers. Most of the time, there are student discounts for stores, food, and tickets to events.
At some point, you’ll get sick or need support for your own health. Depending on how large your school is will depend on how many health services are offered. Larger schools have more comprehensive health services, and those schools with medical schools may have even more. If this is not part of your campus tour, ask your student tour guide about it and what their experience has been using it. The basic services are often like an urgent care clinic. They can do the assessment and even provide some basic medicines and prescriptions if needed. The cost is low, and some offer them free. If you need to be out of school for a time period, they may even provide a note to show your teachers. Pro Tip: First, get all your regular physicals and other annual check-ups when you are home and not in school.
The college tour for students with hidden disabilities is unique and complex. As a student with a disability, make the best use of your college tour by concentrating on these services. See yourself using them and under what circumstances. Talk with your parents about their impressions of them and how they view what you may need. If you have more questions or need further information about any college services, ask your college admissions counselor.
To help you make the best choice of what college fits your student’s needs, I have a college Services Planner that can help you and your student gather and organize the information on each service your student may need. AND Since it’s printable, you can use it for each school your student is accepted to so you can compare the services and make the best choice.