Things to Consider when looking at Colleges/Universities

Going to college web resource

IN college, you are expected to be independent. No one contacts you to see how you are doing, to see if you need any extra help, or to ask if you have remembered to . . . . In fact if you don't register with the Office in charge of assisting student with disabilities, no one will know that you may need an academic accommodation.

The following is a list of things you may want to consider and to take steps to have available and/or updated before you go off to college.

Things to remember:

First and foremost:
Find and register with the appropriate support office at your college that assists students with disabilities. Make sure you have the documentation you need to support the academic accommodations that you are requesting. Please remember that what might have been an appropriate academic accommodation in High School may not be appropriate and/or reasonable at a 2 or 4 year College or University. If you do not identify yourself and provide documentation, you can not receive services. You are giving up your rights guaranteed under Federal law. Luckily services begin from the date you complete registering with the appropriate office (Documentation is discussed later in this paper)

Academic Accommodations:
Support services for individuals with disabilities start with what is available for every one. If a service is not available, then a discussion begins with the college office in charge of disability services to determine with is reasonable. What is reasonable in high school may not be reasonable in college. The college office in charge of disability services and you will come to an agreement about each academic accommodation and how those accommodations will be provided. Services available to everyone may include:

Learning Center/Academic Support Services
All Colleges and Universities have an office dedicated to helping student succeed. Find out what that office is called at your school and discover the range of services offered to every one, whether as part of your student fees, or as an additional charge. This may be the office that helps you find a tutor, provides you with an individual appointment for help in study skills, or provides workshops on being an effective student. It may have drop in help sessions at tables supported by various departments on campus.

Tutors - -

  • Tutors may be paid for by the school and work in a learning center, an a “drop in” support basis
  • Tutors may be available by appointment only at the learning support center
  • Tutors may be paid for by the individual student and work anywhere by appointment.
  • Some schools provide a set number of “free” tutoring hours and any time after that is paid for by the student

Note takers - -

  • Some schools have a note taking service that any student may participate in and pay for notes taken by a note taker. This may be an independent student run service, and not formally associated with the college or university, but has permission to be in the classes.
  • Some professors post their notes on an intranet site accessible to the students in the class.
  • Some schools request the student ask a student friend in the class to share notes, and free copies are provided through either carbon-less paper for instant notes or use of a copying machine to copy the volunteer's notes.
  • The student may be responsible for asking the professor to make an announcement requesting a note taker for a student, if there are no friends in the class to share notes.
  • If notes are not available for all students, this is an extra service and the student can be expected to pay for the notes and/or for the copies of the notes
  • Having the student take responsibility for at least asking the professor to announce and request a volunteer to share notes is not a case of the office for disability services not doing its job. Consider that 1 person may be responsible for helping to coordinate service for 500 individuals. Having to go to 200 to 2500 classes to request note takers for all the students that qualify is not a reasonable service and detracts from other services and student may need. The student is responsible for notifying the office for disability services if a note taker is not found/does not volunteer or if professor's notes are not available.
  • Some schools allow students to use a personal tape recorder to assist with note taking. Do the best you can in taking notes, and then review the tape as soon after lecture as possible to add to your notes information you may have missed. CAUTION: Don't get caught in the trap of planning to listen to the lectures “later” or you will never listen to the hours and hours of tape sitting on your desk.

Study Groups
Some schools sponsor formal study groups for various classes. These may have several different names, such as Supplemental Instruction, Study Groups, Review sessions, etc.

These study groups will meet at a different time from the classes and are not the same as discussion sections or recitation sections that are part of a student's schedule. Discussion sections or recitation sections are scheduled along with a large lecture class to have a small group discussion or to review homework or to use for quizzes. These are scheduled with classes such as large lectures for psychology, physics, economics, calculus, sociology, etc.

Often formal Study Groups or Supplemental Instruction are organized and supported by the academic support service/learning center on campus and not by the department that teaches the course. These groups may be lead by students that have successfully completed the course the last semester, or the year before. Often attending such a group lead by a peer, rather than a teaching assistant or professor allows for more freedom in asking questions and learning the “real” story about the exams and types of things you need to do in order to succeed.

Informal study groups are organized by any one who wants to study together. This may be a group of students that live together in a residence hall that happen to be taking the same section of a class, or a group of students that sit next to each other in class deciding to get together to review for an exam or project.

Whether formal or informal, studying in a group is an excellent way to learn if everyone comes prepared to work together and help each other, not just to drop in and get the answers for a home work set without doing the work.

Writing Center
Most Colleges and Universities have a Writing Center staffed by professionals and students majoring in written communication. These Centers can help you with editing a paper, brainstorming ideas, developing transition statements. The Center expects you to bring in material that you have already developed. The staff will not sit with you and help you write the paper, but will give you feedback and suggestions for you to work on and return for additional help if needed.

Software that can help with the physical process of writing are called voice dictation software programs or speech to text programs. These programs take the spoken voice and turn it into print on the page. There are many companies out there some have “share ware”, some “free ware” and others developed and marketed for a fee. Some computer systems come with built in speech recognition software. ASK when deciding on a computer system if it comes with the ability to take dictation from you or if you would need to get additional software.

Why would you use a voice recognition software program to “write” your paper?

  • You use such a program when you have difficulty getting the thoughts in your brain to translated into written marks on paper, whether you type the word or handwrite the words.
  • If spelling is still a mystery to you, a voice dictation program does not ask you to spell, but to give the word you want to have on the paper. Using prediction programs, it makes the best guess in context to get the word you probably mean and spells what should fit there. You do have to train a program to recognize your voice and accent, and that is often doe by reading short passages.
  • By dictating your paper, you may get into a conversational flow that allows you to get your thoughts out faster than you can type or write.
  • If you have a physical disability or temporary disability, for example a broken wrist, the voice dictation program allows you to “write” when you are physically unable to use a keyboard.

Specific Subject Help
Some Colleges and Universities have help tables in the various departments that are available on a “drop-in” basis. Theses are often staffed by graduate students in the departments. Here you can get a quick question answered on a math problem or science problem or other topic, depending on the department.

Teaching Assistants
Many classes have teaching assistants that hold office hours to provide additional help to students in understanding the material in classes.

All professors have office hours to provide help and feed back on information given in class. Be sure to go to Office hours prepared, so that you get the most out of the time used.

Documentation of Disability
Colleges and Universities have different requirements as to WHAT appropriate documentation includes. To receive services, your limitations have to be clearly defined, otherwise how can the College or University determine if an accommodation request is valid and reasonable?

In general, documentation should be Very recent, ideally completed during your senior year of high school using adult norms. Documentation should include

  • a statement of diagnosis,
  • clearly stating what your disability is and
  • how your disability impacts you in an educational setting.

This documentation should also address any changes from the standard curriculum in high school. For example: if you received a foreign language waiver/exemption, what specific test or evaluation was used to determined that you could not reasonably be expected to benefit for foreign language instruction? When was this done? Has it been repeated in this current evaluation so that if you need a foreign language substitution in College or University you have the documentation included in the information you provide to the University or College?

The college does not know you. You will have to have CURRENT documentation of your disability in order to receive services. For a Learning Disability or Attention Deficit Disorder, this means a complete psychological/educational evaluation that is less than 3 years old, documenting the educational ramifications of your disability, including stating the testing that that justifies each accommodation you received in High School.

Were you “declassified”? To a college that means that your disability no longer has an educational impact and you are no longer eligible for services.

Do you have a “504 Plan” but no testing? The Federal law for “504 Plans” is for a person with a documented disability (psychological/educational evaluation or physical disability) who has need for minor services but no longer needs the more intense support of an Individual Educational Plan (IEP). You can have a disability that does not need intense services, but you can still need reasonable academic accommodations in order to succeed.

NOTE: Neither an IEP nor a 504 Plan are considered adequate documentation by them selves. Both need to have an educational/psychological evaluation included with them.

Were you diagnosed as having a “learning difficulty”? A “difficulty” is NOT a disability.

If you do not have current documentation, discuss with your school how you will have your documentation updated before you graduate. Some schools are providing this service as part of the transition plan and other schools are making the expense of the re-evaluation the responsibility of the family. IF you need academic accommodations in college, providing documentation is your responsibility and you must have the necessary testing completed and ready to give to the office that provides services for students with disabilities. Having this evaluation done privately can cost between $500 to $3000 depending on the amount of testing that must be done.

For a full listing of what should be in your Current Documentation, please go to the Educational Testing service web site. These are the guide lines that many colleges are now using. Contact your specific college to any exceptions to these guidelines.

Other concerns:

Reading. How will you get it all done? You will need to use your time wisely to complete all your reading, as it may take you much longer to read the material than your new friends.

Does the college have an optical character recognition program on a computer available for you to use so that the computer can read your text to you in a mechanical voice? This could be located in the library, or in a room that is available for disabled students. You may have to stay in one place to hear the material, and you will have to practice understanding the mechanical voice.

You can also purchase software programs to have on your own computer that turn print into speech. Add a scanner (under $50 in 2004) to scan in reading, turn the text into an audio MP3 file and listen to your reading any time and any place. This can be an instant accommodation and can speak text on the computer screen on any web site as well as material scanned into the computer. These programs often include voice dictation software, so you can dictate your papers rather than typing them.

Many books and textbooks are now available electronically. Some professors even prefer that students purchase electronic versions of textbooks that come with enhancements such as online quizzes, etc. Occasionally, the publisher has "locked" these books so that they cannot be read by text-to-speech software. If this is the case, contact your Disability Resource Center (or equivalent) on campus to ask them to help you contact the publisher to "unlock" the book.

Many e-books are available from the places you already purchase your books: your college bookstore, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and websites that rent hard copy textbooks.

Digital Libraries (public domain texts)


The choice between a desktop and laptop computer is no longer clear. In the past, the laptop did not have the memory or power of a desktop computer. That is no longer the case. The batteries are fairly long lasting, the cases are more rugged, and the memory and power are equal. It is more how you want to use the machine that is important. Most college campuses are now “wired” so that you can access the Internet and e-mail from all the major buildings on campus, as well as from your residence hall rooms.

The questions to be answered are:

  • “How responsible are you?”
  • Will you be doing your work in your room
  • Will you do your work in the library, or
  • Will you do your work in the class room or
  • Will you do your work in a study group with friends in the campus gathering place?

Laptop computers: You can take to class to type in notes or take it to the library to type in reference material/notes for papers. You may be able to get permission from the professor to do written assignments, or type your essay exams in class and connect to a campus printer to give to your paper to your professor as soon as class is over.

A laptop can be an expensive item, and you have to treat it with care. Laptops are very easy to steal. Laptops can weigh several pounds. If you place the laptop on the floor and someone steps on it, the screen can crack and you have a major repair or dead computer. Some campuses have wireless environments, on other campuses you need a cable to attach to an outlet in the wall to connect to the Internet. To save batteries, you may want an AC adapter so you can use any near by wall outlet. A special backpack, with extra padding and pockets is useful.

Desktop Computers are always in the same place. You never have to remember where you last placed it. It is easy to attach printers or scanners or other hardware to it to do big projects. You never have to remember to recharge the battery. They can take up most of your workspace on your desk, but if you type all your papers, you only need a place to put your book while reading.

Voice recognition software programs for computers. You can purchase and train a voice recognition program on your personal computer or laptop so that you can dictate your papers into the computer rather than typing. This takes time and effort on your part, and is not “perfect”. You still need to proof what is written so you can catch the funny “translations”. Over time the computer recognizes more and more how you speak and makes fewer mistakes, but it can be frustrating at first.

Brainstorm with your parents and teachers what you will need to be successful and independent in college. Ask at your local technology store about new programming or devices that could help you. Get whatever you feel will help you develop independence, early, to learn everything you can about the technology, before coming to college. You don't want to be frustrated trying to learn the technology while learning your way around campus.

Other help for individuals with disabilities in New York State:

Adult Career and Continuing Education Services-Vocational Rehabilitation (ACCES-VR) may be able to help you in several ways. The ACCES-VR counselor may be able to help you find funding for computers or other devices. The counselor may be able to help you pay for extra tutoring or books or tuition, depending on financial need and/or severity of your disability. ACCES-VR has an office in every county in New York State. Contact your local office to discuss your disability and what assistance your local office might be able to provide you. To find your local office, click here.