Preparation for College
By the time students are thinking about and planning for college, they're pretty independent and self-reliant. This section is addressed directly to them, but we hope they will share and discuss it with their parents, relatives, and friends, as well as their teachers and counselors.
In a sense, all your educational experiences, from infancy onward, have been preparation for higher education. But here the focus is on the specifics of what has to happen in the last two to three years of high school in order to make a smooth transition to college. The basic steps are:
- Throughout your high school years, get the highest grades you can in the toughest college prep courses your feel you can manage. Meet regularly with your school counselor and other members of your support team to discuss goals, results, and next steps.
- If you're just beginning your sophomore year, take the PSAT-NMSQT, which is given once a year in October. Your score report will show you which skills you most need to improve. Getting familiar with the test is also good practice for taking it the following year. Your junior year score is the one that counts and may qualify you as a candidate for a National Merit Scholarship.
- The College Board's Services for Students with Disabilities (SSD) oversees test accommodations for students who have documentation on file at the school demonstrating a disability. Be sure your Student Eligibility Form is complete and up to date. The dates for SSD registration for the test are listed every year on the College Board website at www.collegeboard.com/disable/.
- There are several types of accommodations available to you:
• Enlarged format examination and answer sheets
• Computer only for the writing/essay section
• Braille editions
• Extra/extended breaks
• Additional testing time
- If you use regular or large-type test formats you can expect to get 50% more testing time. If you use braille format or a reader, you may receive 100% more testing time than nonhandicapped students.
- If you plan to take the SAT or ACT, the standardized tests required by some 4-year colleges as part of the application process, register to take one or both toward the end of your junior year. Then if you think you can improve your score, register to retake the test in the fall of your senior year.
Choosing a College
There are nearly 2,000 accredited 4-year colleges in this country that offer bachelor's degree programs, so one of the first things you need to do is whittle that number down to however many you have time and energy to explore.
What College Features Are Important to You?
One of your first concerns is probably a college's ability and commitment to provide services for students with a visual disability. While virtually all colleges have an office for students with physical disabilities, the level of available services varies to some degree. A college's web site is a good starting point for getting detailed information once you have a list of colleges that interest you. And, of course, there are many other college features you will want to find out about before you make any decisions. For example:
- Location—within easy commuting distance from home or another part of the country?
- Setting—big city, suburban, rural, small town?
- Size and type—small liberal arts college, big university, something in between?
- Financial aid availability?
- Any other factor that's important to you—on-campus housing, special interest clubs, vegetarian meal plan, etc.
Caution: Don't decide that there is only one college that's right for you. Take the time to explore and find a range of colleges that offer programs to meet your academic, social, and career goals. If some of your college choices are among the most competitive, be sure to add one or two so-called safety schools—ones that have what you want and admission requirements that you meet in all respects. Don't eliminate a highly competitive college if you're qualified based on your academic record but remember that those colleges have many more fully qualified applicants than they can accommodate.
If You Are a High School Junior
Here are some steps to get you started:
- Check with the guidance office or library for information about colleges.
- Go with a friend or a reader to investigate reference materials such as databased handbooks and videos.
- If your high school has a junior planning night about college selection and preparation, make sure you attend.
- If a college admissions counselor is visiting your high school and you think you might be interested in that particular school, make sure you introduce yourself and
ask any questions you have about programs and services.
- If you feel that your pre-college skills still require work, talk to your parents and advisors about attending a pre-college program specifically designed for visually impaired students either on a college campus or at a rehabilitation agency for the visually impaired.
Senior Year—The Launching Pad
You've probably been told a thousand times how important it is to get organized, be organized, stay organized. By now you may actually be pretty good at it. And be glad of that, because it's the skill that's going to get you through your senior year with the least stress and best chance for success. Here are some of the key things you'll have to keep track of in applying to college:
- Application deadlines—for admission and financial aid
- Application essays—there may be 3, 4, or 5 different ones that you'll have to write, so start early
- Recommendation letters—some colleges require them from one of your teachers as well as from your counselor. Be sure to give your teacher and counselor plenty of time to write their letters about you because lots of other students will be asking them to do the same thing.
- College interviews—if you want to have an interview with a college admissions counselor, contact the admissions office well in advance for an appointment.
Community College—A Good Alternative
If you want to stay close to home for a while longer and, at the same time, save a lot of money in tuition costs, a two-year community college may be the ideal place for you to begin your college career.
- The application process is simpler. Most community colleges do not have an application deadline or require an application essay.
- Admission requirements—open admission is the general rule, which means that the only document required is your high school transcript.
- Living at home—many students, including those without visual or other handicaps, find it less stressful to live at home with their family for the first year or two of college as they adjust to the academic challenges of going to college.
- Degree options—you can take a two-year program and graduate with an associate degree, or you can use your first one or two years to fulfill core requirements for a four-year bachelor's degree at another college.
- Transfer—many community colleges have agreements with four-year colleges that enable students who complete one or two years of studies in good standing to transfer easily to a four-year college. And even if there isn't a formal transfer arrangement at the two-year college you attend, you always have the option of applying for transfer to a college or university to earn a bachelor's degree.