The summer before my freshman year of high school, my dad and I toured a large Virginia public university, and thought we came up with smart questions to ask before choosing a college. When we came back to visit nearly four years later, we realized that the school was the absolute worst fit for me. To top it all off, the disability services coordinator told me not to even bother applying because they didn’t know how to handle a student with low vision.
This came as a shock to us, since it was such a large school that was very well respected, but overall I’m thankful for the experience because it taught me how important it is to ask questions before choosing a college. Here are ten important questions to ask before choosing a college, and questions to ask colleges before applying.
Is on-campus housing guaranteed?
Surprisingly, it isn’t always guaranteed for all four years, or even the first year. Since I have low vision, I do not drive and while there is public transportation, it can be difficult to rely on. If possible, check if the school has their own public transportation services. My school has a partnership with city buses and also their own transportation service that takes students to places like malls, the Metro station, and to other campuses.
- How To Pick Housing
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- Seven Things I Tell My College Suitemates About My Disability
- How Do People with Visual Impairments Use the Bus System?
How many students do you serve with low vision?
At one school I visited, the answer was zero, and they had no idea how to handle a student with a sensory impairment in general. I actually scheduled an appointment with the low vision/blindness coordinator at my college long before I even applied there, and she went over all of the different accommodations available to me.
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- Common Classroom Accommodations For Low Vision
What assistive technology is available?
One school asked me what assistive technology was and if I would need it as a student with vision impairment. That was a huge warning sign for me that the school wouldn’t be a good fit.
My school has a nicely sized assistive technology department. The department helps students find appropriate tools for the classroom. There’s also a disability services testing center equipped with CCTVs, ZoomText, JAWS, and more. If you need any particular tools, make sure to ask if they are available.
- What To Know About College Assistive Technology Specialists
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Are the campus buildings easy to get to?
I remember on one tour, the guide told us that in order to get to classes, you had to walk in a tunnel underneath the road. However, it was perfectly safe and you could walk there at any time. My dad, and every other dad on the tour, turned to their daughters to say “no, don’t go through that tunnel alone.” Another school had several winding staircases and no elevator in sight, or was on very rocky terrain. Make sure to walk to the buildings and/or get a tour to make sure it won’t be difficult. If the school offers it, stairs optional tours are the best!
- Blindness Canes and Classrooms: Navigating College Campuses
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For housing, can I get disability accommodations?
This one was rather tough for me. If you require it, make sure you can get a dorm with handicapped access, a single dorm, special lighting, or a climate controlled room. At first, I was denied housing services, but after a few phone calls, everything was alright.
- All About The Disability Law Center of Virginia
- Collecting Documentation
- Blindness Canes and Accessibility Issues: Navigating College Campuses
Can I bring my assistive technology to class?
This is one of the most valuable questions to help choose a college for students with disabilities. At one school I visited, they touted having a “pencil and paper approach to learning.” This turned out to be code for “our wifi is awful and we didn’t invest in our technology.” My teachers embrace technology at my school and allow me to bring whatever devices I need.
- What’s in my Bag- Class Edition
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How many people have gone through my major with low vision?
If professors have dealt with low vision before, you won’t have to deal with as many bizarre or insulting questions about your vision. Also check for general education requirements which professors are the best at following accommodations- I recommend checking RateMyProfessor.
- Ten Questions To Ask When Changing Your Major
- How To Choose General Education Courses In College
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What services for people with low vision are available off campus?
Make a note of important places that offer services for people with low vision. I travel to libraries for people with disabilities often, and make a note of where places are like the Department of the Blind and Visually Impaired. I also go to places like Target and the mall to make sure I can navigate them easily and that there’s help available if needed.
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How can I make my application stand out?
I did a video essay where I filmed a video about myself and why I was a good fit for the college. My slogan was “I hope you allow me to be a part of the class of 2019, even if I don’t see 20/20.” Throughout the video, I talked about my accomplishments in high school while poking fun at my vision impairment- for example, I mistake my mom for a tree. At the end of the video, I mention my vision is not that bad, but I still want to be part of the college community. It was a great way to show that I’m more than my vision impairment and that I don’t take everything seriously.
- Disclosing disability in college applications
- Creating a college video essay
- How to nail a college interview
Is this college a good fit for me?
It may seem like a weird question to ask, but it’s very important. Two colleges told me that they would have no idea how to accommodate me and one said not to bother applying. Make sure everything is not doomed to fail from the start.
- Ten Questions To Ask When Changing Your Major
- Seeing The Future: A Proposed Resource For Students With Vision Impairments
Summary of ten questions to ask when choosing a college
- Is on-campus housing guaranteed?
- How many students do you serve with low vision?
- What assistive technology is available?
- Are campus buildings easy to get to?
- For housing, can I get disability accommodations?
- Can I bring my assistive technology to class?
- How many people have gone through my major with low vision?
- What services for people with low vision are available off-campus?
- How can I make my application stand out?
- Is this college a good fit for me?