Strategies for a Successful Transition from High School to College

A young blind woman uses a white cane while walking on a sidewalk.

Before you choose a college 

Start looking early 

  • Begin researching colleges you might want to attend during your junior year of high school. 

  • Talk to your high school guidance counselor about colleges that interest you. 

  • Make a list of questions or concerns specific to your needs as a student with a visual impairment. Check the Resource section for help with this. 

  • Attend information sessions at your high school and set up a meeting with the college representative to discuss your interests and concerns. 

  • Visit your top three to four college choices in person. Many colleges offer guided tours and presentations for high school students and their families. 

  • While visiting potential colleges, meet with a counselor from the college’s Office of Disability Services or Office of Student Services. Talk in detail about your concerns as a student with a visual impairment. 

Think about how you’ll get around campus 

As a student with a visual impairment, it’s crucial to walk around the college campus you’re considering. Think about the campus environment. Is it a rural college with everything on one campus like at the University of Rhode Island? Consider how you'll navigate large open spaces to get to your classes, especially if you’re going to college or university where you don’t know many people at first. Or are you thinking about an urban campus spread across several city blocks, like Brown University or Boston College? If so, consider whether you’re comfortable crossing busy downtown streets safely. Do you know how to use public transportation, such as buses and subways? 

After you decide 

If possible, visit the college and address specific issues you'll face as a freshman: 

Choosing first semester courses 

For your first semester, you might want to take a lighter course load. Transitioning from high school to college can be smooth, or it might have some unexpected challenges. Taking the minimum required credits to be a full-time student or even considering part-time status will give you the chance to adjust without overwhelming yourself academically. In college, professors expect you to do most of your coursework independently outside of class. Make sure you understand the workload for each class and that you can meet those requirements. 

Getting academic accommodations 

Most colleges have a disability services center or office with staff who help students with disabilities get reasonable accommodations for their courses. Before your first semester, make an appointment to learn more about the support available to you and how to request it. This office can also help you with accommodations for housing if you choose to live on campus. 

Arranging living accommodations 

If you plan to live on campus: 

  • Do you need Orientation and Mobility training to get around the campus? If so, make sure to arrange this training as soon as possible. If you’re going to a college in your state, talk to your Services for the Blind and Visually Impaired counselor to set up this training. If you’re going out of state, you may need to organize it through the college or university. In either case, make sure you know how to get to all your classes and how long it will take before school starts. 

  • Meet with the campus housing authority to discuss your needs as a student with a visual impairment. Consider how close the residential hall is to your classes and accessibility to dining halls. Ask if single dorm rooms are available or, if you’d prefer a roommate, if that’s an option. Living in a single room means your things won’t get moved around when you're not there. Having a roommate might have social benefits but could also lead to conflicts. 

  • Visit the dining halls and introduce yourself as a visually impaired incoming student to the manager and staff. Talk about your needs based on how food is served and the layout of the space. Find out who can help you if needed. 

If you plan to commute: 

  • Determine whether you can use public transportation to get to and from campus or if you’ll need a door-to-door service such as RIDE. If you know other people going to the same school, consider carpooling. In reality, you might need to use a mix of these options during your college years. 

Your first few weeks as a college student 

  • Meet all your instructors before classes start or during the first week. Building relationships with your instructors is crucial for your success in college. They need to understand your specific visual impairment and how it affects your academics. Most professors will support your needs, but you’ll also need to advocate for yourself. Make sure your professors understand the accommodations you need to succeed and politely address any questions or concerns they have. 

  • Get involved in extracurricular activities. Colleges often hold fairs early in each semester to introduce students to clubs and interest groups on campus. Find something you enjoy and become part of a group with similar interests. The more involved you are, the better your chances of enjoying the social aspects of college. Get to know students who are in the same major as you because you’ll likely have many classes together. Building friendships early can help if you need a study partner, have to miss a class or need notes. 

  • Stay on top of your academic requirements. In college, you'll be expected to complete most of your work independently outside of class. Follow the syllabus and come to class prepared with all your readings and assignments done. Falling behind is tough to catch up on. 

If you start having difficulties: 

  • Talk to your instructor and discuss the issue right away. Professors want their students to succeed. If your professors know you’re having trouble, they may meet with you regularly for extra support. They might also pair you with a graduate student or upperclassman who can be a tutor. 

  • If you think you need more accommodations or that your current ones aren’t enough, contact the disability services staff as soon as possible. Waiting too long could make you fall behind. College staff members see you as an adult, so you need to be a strong self-advocate and do it promptly. Remember to treat instructors and staff politely and respectfully. 

  • Most colleges have student services offering tutoring, academic advising and confidential personal counseling. You don't have to struggle alone; seek help when you need it. 

Resources for students transitioning to college

View all Transition Resources
  • Online Resource

    American Foundation for the Blind (AFB)

    AFB advocates for better policies that promote accessibility and ensure equality and opportunity for people who are blind or visually impaired, creating a culture of inclusion at work, at school and in communities. It also expands and shares knowledge through a variety of initiatives, including original research and its peer-reviewed Journal of Visual Impairment & Blindness.

  • Online Resource

    American Printing House for the Blind (APH)

    APH is a not-for-profit corporation in Kentucky that promotes independent living for people who are blind and visually impaired. For over 150 years, APH has created unique products and services to support all aspects of daily life without sight.

  • Online Resource

    Career Advantage for V.I.P.s

    Career Advantage for V.I.P.s is an Employment Preparation Primer for Individuals who are blind or visually impaired. Career Advantage offers eight instructional modules to explore at your own pace.

  • Online Resource

    CareerConnect, FamilyConnect and VisionAware

    These resources provide free curated information and resources to assist children, parents, job seekers and adults who are blind or low vision.