We encourage all our families to visit at least one college (preferably more) during their decision-making journey. But for students who have learning disabilities we recommend visiting at least three schools.
College can feel like an abstract concept for many LD students. And while guidebooks can be useful, they still only give a two-dimensional feel. For example, your student might wonder, What is a “seminar?” or What does “liberal leaning” mean? What does “laid-back” look like on a college campus. What does “small university with advantages of a larger school” look like? These are all aspects of a college that you can only understand fully by spending a day on a campus and talking with students and campus professionals. Make sure to take notes and photos for your student during the visit so they can pay attention to soaking up the school’s culture.
Visiting colleges of varying sizes will help your student decide what feels best. Do they want small classes where they are graded on participation or large lecture classes where they don’t have to speak up? Seeing these classes in action will help them see how these different formats feel to them. Talking to students after a college visit provides us with a wealth of information to use when creating their college list and helps them feel more confident about their choices.
To help your student get the best feel for any college, add these destinations to your campus tour. If you can make an appointment ahead of time when applicable, it’s always better.
A Class. Sitting in on a class can lead to valuable information about the school’s teaching philosophy and student engagement. If you can attend one that is in your student’s interest area, even better.
The Disability Services Office. If your will be using accommodations or support services in college, you should definitely visit this office to make sure it’s a place where she’d feel comfortable. Is it in an accessible location that seems friendly and inviting? Is the person at the front desk personable and welcoming? How many staff members are there and what are their backgrounds? Do they offer all the services she will need to be successful academically?
The Dining Hall. Make sure to eat a meal at the dining hall to try out the food options and potentially talk to students in line or at a table. Observing what students do while they eat is informative. Do small groups sit together and talk? So sports teams eat together? Is it mostly students eating alone while working on their laptops or phones?
The Counseling Office. Most colleges offer free counseling services that any student can make use of during the school year. Drop by and see what the office is like, how many counselors there are, and what their background is. You may want to ask how closely they work with the disability services team.
The Career Center. See if it looks robust and professional. Ask about what unique programs they offer and pick up any brochures or materials so you can refer to it later.
The Coach’s Office. If your student is an athlete considering playing their sport at the school, reach out to the coach ahead of time and make an appointment.
The International Programs Office. If your student is thinking about going abroad during college, it’s a great idea to talk to someone in this office and ask about any programs or countries you know she’s interested in visiting. Finding out how easy it is to get credit for non-approved programs could be a good question to ask. It’s also a good idea to ask about programs that LD students have successfully completed.
The Professor’s Office. Setting up a meeting with a professor in a subject your student is particularly interested in is a great way to get a sense of the academic culture of the school. Have them type out a few questions on their phone to ask the professor in case they get tongue-tied.
The Bookstore. Browse through the books for classes, see what staples the bookstore offers, and of course, use your coupon from Admission (if you got one) to make a purchase so you can gauge how friendly the cashiers are.
The Surrounding Community. Spend some time walking around the town or city where the school is located. Eat in a local restaurant. Have your student imagine herself there for four years. Is it a place where she’d feel comfortable and find plenty to do?
By making all the stops that apply to your student you’ll give her a much more concrete and complete picture of a college and, if she decides to apply, she’ll be able to provide great details as she rocks the supplemental essays that ask “Why X college?”