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College: Is it the right option for me?

Learning what college is REALLY about.

By: Leslie Thatcher, Director of College Success @ Perkins

The hype around college can seem overwhelming at times. It starts as a low hum, sometime around middle school, and by the time you’re a freshman in high school, every step you take, every move you make, it seems that college is watching you. College is a promising option, and one that can certainly set you up for a successful career and future, but it’s not the only option. Let’s talk about the indicators of college readiness that you should consider and help you determine if college is the right option now, or maybe in the future.

‘Everyone else is doing it’ or ‘it’s what comes after high school’ should never be your reason for making college your default option after high school.

You are an individual, with unique strengths and needs, and deciding to go to college is a very personal decision. To help narrow your options and determine if college is actually the best option for you at this time, or ever, there are several key questions you should ask yourself.

Self-awareness and understanding: Do I know what I want to do? 

College is not a place you go to explore different dream careers, bounce around different majors. There’s not time to hope that after four years, you may have an answer as to what you’d like to be when you grow up. While you don’t need to know exactly what you are going to do for the rest of your life, you should not use college as a time to search. If you’re seriously considering college, you should work to develop a clear idea of what your interests and skills/preferences are, and then research what careers may be good matches for these interests.  Consider how they align with different types of post high school education.

Academic demands: Do I have the grades to get in? Is that enough? (No!)

High school performance does not directly correlate with the type of college student you will be, or the grades you will receive. Just because you were an “A” student in your high school, doesn’t mean you are automatically going to soar through college. 

Modifications and accommodations: Know the difference

Curriculum modifications do not exist in college, so now’s the time to explore how to shift to prepare for college, or to determine a slower “on-ramp” to college level expectations. 

If you’re ready for these academic demands, you may already know it; but be warned-grades are not an accurate reflection of college readiness. If you’re not sure, read this article to learn about “academic rigor”, which can help you determine where you stand on the continuum of college readiness. 

Mindset: Do you love to learn (or like it a lot?)

College takes what you’ve started to learn in high school, and kicks things up a lot.  For example, a major is a deep dive into a discipline (business, psychology, English, mathematics) that demands deeper understanding and engagement than you have encountered before, in high school.  

College takes what you’ve started to learn in high school, and kicks things up a lot.

Other programs for the college experience, or for additional skills

Many other types of programs exist to allow the “college experience” with different (and sometimes reduced) academic expectations, but possibly no degree at the end. Community, state and private colleges have certificate programs for students with intellectual disabilities to engage with college experiences. Students learning with autism may benefit from the many specific programs and settings, expectations and supports that recognize their learning profiles and needs. Think College provides guidance about these programs. However, even with all of these options, you still have to be willing to put in the considerable work to get the reward…is it right for you? 

The bottom line

College is about learning – a lot of learning – about ideas and facts that you have never encountered before.  You’ll need to be able to work through areas you may not be as interested in, to meet your goals of getting a degree.  

Self-determination: Do I have the grit to build the skills I’ll need? 

There are buzzwords — independence, self-advocacy skills, self-awareness — that we throw around constantly, but it’s only because they simply cannot be overlooked or pushed aside. They are absolutely essential to embrace, and to know about yourself. 

To succeed in college as a student with visual impairments, you’ll need a healthy dose of academic skills, determination and grit.

To succeed in college as a student with visual impairments, you will need to possess a healthy set of these skills, plus the grit to strengthen them before you’re down to the wire on an assignment or coming up on a final exam. You will not have time, amidst your busy schedule, completing assignments, and learning about your environment, to learn these skills after you arrive on campus. They need to be established, strong, and ideally, mastered before you get there. 

Would you say you have what it takes?

Or, if you don’t have it yet, do you have the grit to go after these skills?  There are many ways to approach figuring this out.

It’s important for students to take the time to assess their readiness for college. Reflect on this with trusted adults. College is not the only option. By taking the time for self-reflection and assessment using the College Readiness Checklist, students, their families, and their educational team can determine what their next steps will be after high school graduation. To better understand what other options are out there, check out the next article on this topic: “If not college…then what?”

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