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Don't Let a Disability Hold You Back - Tips for Visiting a College Campus

Categories: Blind or Visually Impaired, Disability Type

By Megan Dausch, Learning Ally College Success Program Mentor One of the most helpful things I did when determining which colleges to apply to, and ultimately to attend, was to plan visits to all of my top contenders. Photo of MeganBefore going to the campus, I called the admissions office to set up a tour. I also asked to meet with the Disability Student Services Office because I am blind, and I wanted to discuss the accommodations I would need. Additionally, I reviewed the websites of the colleges prior to visiting, as they often helped answer basic questions I had, figure out my more in-depth questions, or discover buildings I wanted to visit. I wrote down my questions ahead of time so that I would be sure to remember them and to write down the answers in my notes. Visiting many campuses can be overwhelming, so here are a few tips to keep in mind when planning your trip. I am writing these tips from the perspective of a student who is blind, but these are great tips for anyone with a visual or learning disability.

Take notes

If you're visiting quite a few campuses, as I did, bring your preferred note-taking device. Whether you use a braille note, iPhone with Bluetooth keyboard or braille display, or digital voice recorder, make sure you have a way of storing information and retrieving that information later. You're bound to have a lot of questions, and you can't possibly remember all of the answers and the information you receive.

Take a tour

Taking a guided tour is a great way to get a feel for the layout of the campus. Usually, guides are students, and they can often provide insight into campus life. Tour Group on CampusBefore the tour begins, introduce yourself to the tour guide and request a position at the front of the tour. This will make it easier for you to ask questions and stay with the group. You'll usually visit the main attractions of the campus, such as a freshman dorm, classroom building and dining hall. A tour will give you a general idea of how far apart buildings are. You'll want to know whether there are major streets that run through the campus, and if the campus is very large, you might even want to ask how students usually get around. Is there a campus transportation system? A tour is a great time to ask these questions and others you might have about student life, such as clubs and other weekend activities. You might feel a bit baffled by your tour; likely you’ll be walking speedily through the campus with a group of sighted students who are able to take in their surroundings at a glance. If you’re feeling confused, speak up and ask your tour guide any questions you might have about the visual environment.

Have a meal in the cafeteria

Having a quick bite to eat in a campus dining hall will not only give you a chance to taste some of the food you may be eating for the next four years, but it also will give you a moment to sit down and decompress. Take some time to mull over what you’ve learned about the campus so far. Do you have any further questions? In addition to giving you a moment to rest, eating a meal among students will provide you with an opportunity to interact with current students outside of a tour or admissions seminar. While you’re waiting in line, consider introducing yourself to a student nearby. Current students can offer more insight and perspective on the school. Finally, relaxing in the dining hall can give you a sense of whether you could picture yourself in this environment.
Sometimes, just by experiencing a place, you will know whether you can see yourself spending the next four years of your life there.

Plan some unstructured time

While campus tours and admissions meetings are extremely useful and filled with valuable information, try to plan some time when you can amble about the campus. This is also a great time to ask a family member or friend, if you have one along, to give you any visual information about the campus you might want. You never know who you might walk into while roaming around campus. When I visited the college I ultimately attended, my family and I ran into the president of the university! He invited us into his office, and we had a 45 minute conversation about the school.

Meet with the Disability Services Office

You will likely be working a great deal with your college’s DSO (Disability Services Office) to arrange exams, acquire textbooks and work out any other accommodations you need during your college career. Take some time during your campus tour to find out where the DSO is. See if you can sit down with a counselor from the office and discuss the accommodations you will require.
This will also give you an opportunity to discover whether you will need to educate the office about your disability, or whether the office staff is already familiar with the accommodations you might need.
You might want to find out what resources are already available on campus. Are the computers on campus already equipped with screen-reading software, braille displays or magnification software? Many students do not base their college decisions on the DSO, but unless you are extremely independent, the quality of a DSO can make or break your college experience.

Plan an overnight visit

If, at the end of the day, you think you might like to come back to this campus, consider planning an overnight visit. Spending a night with a student host can give you a good sense of how students spend their time outside of classes. Sometimes, you’ll even be able to attend a lecture or two. When I spent a night at my alma mater, I attended a Spanish class. I enjoyed the class so much that I remembered it when signing up for classes, and I made sure to take a class with that professor my first semester.

Review your notes

Either before you leave or as soon as possible afterwards, review and reflect upon your notes. Do you have any additional questions? Students Talking with TabletsIf so, reach out to the relevant people and see if you can get your questions answered. Think about how you felt about the school overall. Do you think you would like to come back and arrange an extended visit? Visiting many colleges sometimes feels overwhelming, but visiting campuses can play an important role in helping you make the decision that’s right for you. With some planning, the visit will enhance your picture of what it might be like to attend. When your visit is over, you’ll be able to read over your notes and reflect upon the overall experience. You’ll be more equipped to contemplate whether you’ve just visited the school of your dreams. Learning Ally LogoMegan is a mentor in Learning Ally's College Success Program, a free (donor supported) program for students who are blind or visually impaired. Find out more by visiting LearningAlly.org/CollegeSuccess.  Find out other ways you can get involved by visiting LearningAlly.org/Get-Involved