College…Now what?

College…Now what?
By Carolyn (Sears) Arnold ('83), Senior Coordinator, Disability Services at the University of Georgia

One of the most-asked questions by prospective students (and parents) is, “Now what?”  I wish I could provide an in-depth answer to that question, but I can’t. To quote one of my favorite college professors ….Here is my 25 cents worth .

You are your only avocate in college.

Your rights as a student change when you enter college. It is now your responsibility to advocate for disability support services and for appropriate academic accommodations.  Colleges are not responsible for identifying your disability, and they are not required to communicate with the faculty and staff or your family on your behalf.  Instead, you have to be your own advocate. This includes notifying the college about your disability and advocating for your accommodations. 

This is a big change from high school when schools were responsible for recognizing whether or not students were having academic difficulties that may be related to a disability. It was then up to your school to provide the needed accommodations (change to the environment, i.e., a private room for testing, a notetaker) and/or modifications (a change to the content of the curriculum or to what the student is supposed to learn).  

Accommodations in college are difficult.

In high school, academic accommodations and modifications are implemented to help students overcome the difficulties associated with their disability. Colleges do not modify instruction, but they are required to provide reasonable accommodations in accordance with the law for students who disclose their disabilities. A reasonable accommodation can be defined as an accommodation that does not compromise the essential requirements of the course nor weaken the academic standards/integrity of a course, but rather provides a level playing field. Some examples of reasonable accommodations are providing notetakers, extended time for testing, and testing in a low distraction or private environment.

The registration process can vary from college to college, so it is a good idea to research the disability services office before you apply to the school. You can do this by looking at their website, calling and asking questions, and/or scheduling an in-person appointment when you visit the campus. It is important that you register with the disability services office before you start your first semester. At some colleges, you take placement tests during your orientation, and you are able to utilize your approved accommodations.

Additional testing may be needed.

Colleges have different documentation guidelines. Therefore, you will need to provide documentation that meets the guidelines of that college. The documentation should provide enough information for the college to decide what is an appropriate academic accommodation.  If your documentation does not meet the school’s requirements, and a new evaluation is needed, it is your responsibility to pay for the evaluation. An IEP or 504 plan is generally not sufficient documentation because of the differences between high school and college. However, it may help to identify services that have been effective for you. 

Upon submitting the necessary paperwork to the disability services office, you will meet with someone (usually referred to as a specialist or coordinator) to discuss how your disability impacts your academics (also referred to as functional limitations). Academic accommodations are individualized and may vary from course to course.  Examples of academic accommodation are notetakers, use of a smart pen, extended time for testing, testing in a low distraction environment, and priority registration. The purpose of the academic accommodations is to level the playing field and to provide equal educational access in accordance with the law. The accommodations should not alter the essential requirements of the course. 

You got it - You’re a Schenck School Alumnus.

The transition from high school to college is a stressful time for students, but your experience at The Schenck School and the support you have received thus far will help make the transition easier. To this day, I tell stories about my time at Schenck — my first grade teacher, Gail Swift taking the extra time to comfort me when separating from my parents was difficult, Mr. Schenck, coming into the classrooms to interact with the students (who knew then how great that was!), and how Schenck's teachers helped students develop confidence in their abilities to be successful students. 

With college on the horizon, think back on your experiences at The Schenck School. Take what you learned, and apply it to college. It will serve you well. If attending UGA is a plan for you (or your child), I invite you to contact me if I can be of assistance. 


Carolyn Arnold joined the Disability Resource Center staff at University of Georgia as a Coordinator in 2000 and was promoted to a Senior Coordinator in 2013. Carolyn specializes in working with students diagnosed with ADHD, LD, psychological disabilities, and Autism Spectrum Disorder. Before joining the DRC, Carolyn earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in social work from UGA. She is also a licensed Master Social Worker.