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Paul V. Sherlock Center on Disabilities, 600 Mount Pleasant Avenue, Rhode Island College, Providence, RI 02908, 401-456-8072

Life after High School: A Guide for Students with Visual Impairments

Student Guide | Parent Guide | Resources

Strategies for a Successful Transition from High School to College

College Guide: (WORD) 98 kb | (PDF) 72 kb

Before You Decide on a School

Begin the Search Early
  • Start doing your research into which college you may want to attend as early as your junior year of high school.
  • Talk to your high school guidance counselor about schools that may interest you.
  • Develop a list of questions or concerns specific to your needs as a student with a visual impairment. See the Resource section for help developing your list.
  • Attend information sessions held at your high school and make an appointment to speak to the college representative individually about your particular interests and concerns.
  • Visit 'in-person' your top 3 - 4 college choices. Many colleges offer guided tours and presentations for high school students and their families.
  • While visiting the campuses of potential schools, meet with a counselor in the college's Office of Disability Services/Office of Student Services. Discuss with them in detail concerns specific to your needs as a student with a visual impairment.

Consider How You Will Navigate the Campus

It is really important as a student with a visual impairment to actually walk around the college you are considering and to explore the environment in which the school is located. Is it a rural university that is primarily self-contained on one campus like the University of RI? Consider your O&M skills and how you will navigate large areas of open space to get from class to class, particularly if you are planning to attend an institute where you may not know many other people initially. Or are you considering an urban campus spread out over several city blocks, like Brown University or Boston College? If so, are you comfortable in your ability to perform safe and efficient street crossing on potentially busy downtown streets? Are you competent in the use of public transportation, such as buses and subways?

After You Decide

If possible, visit the college and address specific issues you will face as an incoming freshman:

First Semester Course Selection
For your first semester as a college student you may want to consider a lighter course load. The transition from high school to college may go very smoothly or it may present some unexpected challenges for you. Taking only the minimum required credits to maintain full-time status or even considering part-time status, will give you the opportunity to make this adjustment without overwhelming yourself academically. Be mindful that in college, professors expect students to complete the majority of their course work independently outside of the classroom. Be certain you understand the workload each class will require and be certain you can meet those requirements.

Academic Accommodations
Most colleges have a disability services center or office with staff to assist students with disabilities who need reasonable accommodations to meet the requirements of their courses. Prior to your first semester you will want to make an appointment to learn more about the supports available to you and any requirements to request supports. This office will also be able to assist you with accommodations for housing if you choose to live on the campus.

Living Arrangements
If you plan to live on-campus:
  • Will you need Orientation and Mobility training to navigate the campus? If so, be certain to secure this training as soon as possible. If you are attending an in-state school, talk to your Services for the Blind and Visually Impaired counselor to arrange this instruction. If you are attending an out-of-state school, you may need to arrange for this service through the college or university. Either way, make certain you know how to get to each of your classes, and how long it will take you to get there, prior to the start of school.
  • Meet with the campus housing authority to discuss your needs as a student with a visual impairment. Consider the proximity of the residential hall to the buildings where your courses will be held, as well as accessibility to dining halls. Discuss if a single dorm room is available, or if you would prefer to have a roommate, if that option available. Living in a single will ensure that things don't get moved around when you are not in the room. Having a roommate may have social benefits, but could result in conflicts as well.
  • Visit the dining halls and introduce yourself to the manager and appropriate staff as an incoming student with a visual impairment. Discuss what some of your needs may be depending upon how the food is served and the layout of the space. Find out whom to ask should you require assistance.
If you plan to commute:
  • Determine if you will you be able to use public transportation to get to and from campus or if will you need to use a door-to-door service such as RIDE. If you know other people attending the same school perhaps carpooling would be a viable option as well. In reality, you may need to use a combination of all of these options at some point in your college career.

Your First Few Weeks as a College Student

  • Meet with all of your instructors prior to the start of classes or during your first week
    Relationships with your instructors will be critical to your success in college. It will be important that they understand your specific visual impairment and how it impacts you academically. The majority of professors will be supportive of you and your specific needs, but you will need to be your own best advocate. Be certain your professors understand the accommodations you require to be successful and politely address any questions or concerns they may have as well.
  • Get Involved
    Typically, early in each semester, colleges will hold extra-curricular activity fairs to introduce students to the variety of clubs and interest groups on campus. Find an area that you will enjoy and become part of a group of students with the same interest. The more involved you are, the better your chances of enjoying the social aspects of the college experience. Get to know students who are planning the same major as you. These are the people you will most likely see throughout your college career as they will be taking many of the same courses. Building friendships early on will be helpful should you need a study partner or group, or have to miss a class and need to get notes and find out what you missed.
  • Keep Up with Academic Requirements
    Don't fall behind on reading assignments and class work. In college, you will be expected to complete most of your work independently outside of class time. Follow the syllabus and go to class prepared, having completed all assigned readings and assignments. It is very difficult to get 'caught up' once you 'fall behind'.
  • If You Start to Have Difficulty
    • See your instructor and discuss the issue immediately! Instructors want their students to succeed. If your professor knows you are having difficulty he may decide to meet with you on a regular basis to provide you with additional support. Alternatively, he may pair you with a graduate student or upper classman who can act as a tutor.
    • If you feel you may need additional accommodations or that your accommodations are not being met, get in touch with the disability service staff right away. The longer you wait, the more you may fall behind. College staff considers you an adult, so you need to be a strong self-advocate and do so in a timely fashion. That being said, remember to treat instructors and staff politely and with respect at all times.
    • Most colleges also have student services which provide tutoring, academic advisement, and personal counseling on a confidential basis. You do not need to struggle alone, seek help as needed.

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