Applying to college is a daunting process for any high school student. If you’re a student with a visual impairment or other disabilities, you’ll face additional challenges, like making sure you’re getting the right standardized testing accommodations or connecting with a college’s disability support services office.
Perkins School for the Blind helps students through the college application process with programs like College Success @ Perkins, a new gap year program designed to help high school students with visual impairment succeed in higher ed. In a recent workshop entitled, “College Admissions Made Easy: Tips, Tricks and Best Practices,” Perkins Director of Admissions and Evaluations Carol Kinlan offered five pieces of advice to parents and families:
1. On standardized testing and accommodations: Take the ACT. It gives you more flexibility because it’s offered more often than the SAT in the fall of your senior year. But for your first couple years of high school, don’t worry about these standardized tests – focus on getting good grades and building up your GPA. Once you sign up for a test, make sure you get the accommodations you need, whether that’s extended time, enlarged print, a separate room or assistive technology. Standardized tests are about “‘Do you know the material?’” said Kinlan. “Not ‘how fast you can get the material out.’”
2. On essays and recommendations: “This can be one of the most difficult parts of the college application,” said Kinlan. “Write about yourself. Write about a personal experience and write in detail.” But unless your visual impairment was a sudden, recent loss, she doesn’t recommend writing about your disability in your essay. Instead, make an appointment to talk to your teacher about what you’d like them to highlight in their recommendation, such as your ability to overcome obstacles and stay motivated despite the challenges of your disability.
3. On self-advocacy: In college, you’ll no longer have a team of people supporting you, as is required by law for K-12 students. A college cannot legally discriminate against you, but it doesn’t have to go out of its way to make things easy for you, either. You’ll have to take the initiative to work with the disability support services (DSS) office and communicate directly with your professors and teaching assistants about accommodations you need for assignments or exams.
4. On college visits: Make plans to visits several college campuses, and take a tour and visit classes while you’re there. “What does it feel like? What’s the vibe? What’s going on?” Those are all questions that can only be answered on site, said Kinlan. In addition to your parents, bring a friend to gain a peer’s perspective. Write down your impressions while they’re still fresh in your mind so you’ll be able to better compare colleges later.
5. On asking questions: “The big picture is as important as the details of how support is offered,” said Kinlan. “Don’t ignore red flags.” Can the admissions office quickly put you in touch with the DSS office? Is DSS in a central location that’s easily accessible? Can they tell you how many students they have with visual impairment, what accommodations they provide and how to get in touch with a current student that uses its services? If you can’t get clear answers to these types of questions, it could be a sign that your needs won’t be met at that school.
To learn more about applying to college as a student with a visual impairment or other disability, watch Kinlan’s full presentation.
If you’re a high school student looking to improve your self-advocacy and time management skills while taking college classes, visiting campuses and living in a dorm setting, read more about the new College Success @ Perkins program.