Choosing the Right College

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    When a student starts receiving college acceptance letters, the clock starts ticking. Students will be required to commit to their top choice college by a certain deadline. This is the time where students and families should take a final look at their choices and compare and contrast the colleges that the student has been accepted to. Alongside the typical comparisons, like cost, distance from home, academic major, etc., students with hydrocephalus should consider proximity to a medical center with neurosurgical care as well as compare the services and supports that the school offers. Colleges provide varying levels of support for students with medical conditions and disabilities. The expectation is that for those students who will need support, they will be able to know their needs, request accommodations, and know how and when to ask for help by the time they matriculate to college. These are skills that are built over time, so starting early to engage the student in the transition process and management of their own health is essential. Read our article on the Differences Between High School and College Accommodations.


    Once you are accepted, you typically have to commit to a college within a certain time frame. Most colleges require students to commit by May 1st. Students who are trying to decide between colleges can make a list of things you may need in order to maintain your level of care. Here are some considerations:

    • Hospital on/near campus
    • Pharmacy on/near campus
    • Transportation on campus and in the surrounding area
    • Mental health therapy and physical/occupational therapy on/near campus

    Students can create a spreadsheet with the data about the colleges. This spreadsheet can include the disability-specific criteria mentioned above, alongside the typical college information such as tuition, number of students, distance from home, etc.

    If you have not been in contact with the Disability Support Office (DSO) prior to receiving your acceptance letter, you absolutely should start your research and make that connection. This is a great way to practice self-advocacy skills.

    The student can:

    • Call or email the DSO
      • Ask for a phone or in-person meeting. Note: some DSO’s will not meet with students unless they have committed to the school. When you reach out, you can describe the unique needs and concerns of students with hydrocephalus and how essential the conversation is with the DSO to you choosing a college. Prepare a list of questions. For example:
        • How many students with disabilities are there per staff member in the DSO
        • What supports/accommodations are provided currently for the same or similar medical/cognitive conditions?
        • What types of documentation are needed to request accommodations?
      • You should also prepare a list of accommodation requests that will give the DSO staff member an idea of your needs.
      • You can ask the DSO if they would connect you with other students with the same/similar health conditions and academic needs. You can give permission to have your contact information shared and a current student can choose to contact you. This can be a great way to learn about the school from a student’s perspective. Note: the DSO will not be able to guarantee any accommodations and they likely won’t review the students’ documentation until they have committed to the school.

    Review the DSO website. Look at:

    • The mission statement: Most DSO websites have a mission statement that describes how the office approaches its work, the scope of work on campus, and the services that they provide. This can help you better understand how the DSO works with students, and better understand the level of support that students may or may not receive on campus. Here are some examples of DSO websites and mission statements:
    • The accommodations process and accommodations: Colleges usually outline the process to receive accommodations on their website. They may also provide a list of typical accommodations that they provide. There may also be information on housing, dining, and transportation-related accommodations on their website. While students can request accommodations at any point once they have committed, there may be deadlines to apply for specific accommodations, such as housing accommodations.
    • Information for prospective students: Many DSO’s have a section on their website for prospective students that outlines information that may be important for students who are in the college search process or considering committing to the school.
    • Documentation guidelines: Most DSO websites have links to documentation guidelines. These guidelines provide information for students on the type(s) of documentation that are accepted for their conditions/disabilities. The student may need updated documentation to request accommodations.

    Information you can trust! This article was produced by the Hydrocephalus Association, copyright 2021, in collaboration with Annie Tulkin, MS, of Accessible College.

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