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5 FAQs About Requesting Health-Related Accommodations on Campus



Heading to a college campus is daunting for anyone, but particularly for students who require accommodations and aren’t sure where to start. In many cases, those with physical disabilities and health conditions must spend a significant amount of time advocating for themselves throughout their college years.

To get a handle on how students can best navigate this process, College Confidential sat down with Annie Tulkin, founder and director of Accessible College in Washington, D.C., and former associate director of the Academic Resource Center at Georgetown University, Georgetown’s disability support office (DSO). Check out Tulkin’s advice to students with health conditions and physical disabilities.

College Confidential: How important is it for students to tell colleges about any disabilities or health needs during the application process?

Annie Tulkin: Students don’t have to disclose a disability during the application process, but they may choose to talk about it, particularly if they have educational gaps due to medical treatments or illnesses. Additionally, discussion of a disability might also be a part of the student’s personal narrative. They may have overcome something that they want to talk about in their college essays, but they don’t have to disclose a disability. It’s important to note that college admissions committees don’t know if a student got extra time on the ACT or SAT unless the student discloses it. The admissions process is totally distinct from the disability support office and the college accommodations process.

CC: What can students do during the college search process to ensure that they select a school that will best accommodate their needs?

AT: Research! Students can check out the websites of the DSOs to get a sense of the services and supports that the college offers for students with disabilities. If you have a physical disability, try to visit the schools you’re considering. It’s difficult to get a real sense of what it’s like to get around campus from a virtual tour. Even in-person tours may not be accessible to a wheelchair, due to things like oddly placed staircases or cobblestones. All universities are technically required to be ADA compliant, but technical compliance does not always equal usability for every individual. Students with physical disabilities and/or health conditions will need to first identify their needs, then they can use that to inform their college search processes. For example, someone who uses a wheelchair may want to consider looking at places with more temperate climates and less snow, or places that are flat if they use a manual wheelchair. Someone with a health condition that requires specific treatment may opt to stay close to their treating physicians, or choose a college with a medical center.

Typically, the students I work with are looking at academic fit like every other student, they just have additional considerations to factor in. A big part of the equation is connecting with DSOs up front. I usually recommend that when a student narrows their college search down to approximately five schools, that they have conversations with DSOs to find out what services and supports that college offers. It’s important to the student to get a sense of the people in the DSO, who the student will be interacting with at least once a semester in order to get their accommodations in place. This conversation with the DSO can help students determine what accommodations they may be able to receive, and where they feel the most comfortable. Additionally, prospective students can ask to be connected with current students with similar disabilities to learn about their experiences on campus. Depending on the college and campus, things can look very different from school to school .

For example, some schools have accessible buses that can transport students with physical disabilities to classes, and at other schools the expectation is that all students will walk/roll to class. Colleges may also have disability resource centers, support groups, or identity groups. In connecting with the DSO prior to applying, students can get a sense of what is available on campus, and how supportive the school will be for them. It’s important to understand that the college accommodations process is very different from what students may have been used to in high school. In college you have to self-disclose your disability to the DSO and request accommodations. Additionally, each semester you will connect with your professors to provide them with an accommodation letter, which outlines accommodations that you have been approved to receive. Students have to be comfortable discussing their disability and their needs. For many students, this is uncharted territory.

CC: What should students do to ensure they can get the resources they need at college?

AT: Colleges and universities are required to provide accommodations for students with documented health conditions or disabilities, but students must first disclose those disabilities. At a small college that doesn’t have a lot of students, there might be an “ADA or 504 Coordinator,” however, most schools have a DSO (note: the DSO may have a difference name. Some examples are Access Services, Disability Support Services or Academic Services). It’s the student’s responsibility to request accommodations in college. This typically involves providing documentation and participating in the interactive process, where the student discusses their functional limitations and the types of accommodations they are requesting with a counselor in the DSO. For example, if a student has a gastrointestinal issue (i.e.: Crohn’s disease or IBS) and they are seeking accommodations, the student would set up a time to meet with a counselor in the DSO, provide documentation, have a conversation about their needs, and request accommodations. They may have frequent flare-ups of their condition and they may request academic accommodations such as breaks during class, breaks during exams and extensions on assignments. They may also need housing accommodations such as a private bathroom and dining accommodations to accommodate a specific diet. It’s important that students are able to effectively articulate what they need. Depending on the college, the counselor in the DSO may recommend accommodations or they might solely rely on the student to request specific accommodations.

CC: If a student had an IEP or a 504 plan in high school, does that carry over to college?

AT: The short answer is “no.” Students can receive accommodations in college, but they no longer have an IEP or a 504 Plan. The term “IEP” comes from the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), a law that provides rights and protections for students with disabilities in public schools in the K-12 setting. Colleges provide accommodations under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (Section 504). Section 504 protects students from discrimination on the basis of a disability. Students who had an IEP in high school will get transition planning as part of the process of moving into post-secondary education. However, this planning may not be comprehensive, so it’s important for families to do their own research and preparation. Students with a 504 plan don’t receive transition planning, so if the student has a 504 plan for a health condition, such as migraine disorders, epilepsy or another health condition, be sure to have conversations about college transition. The transition process needs to start early. Too often, parents are the driving force in the accommodations process in high school, so there aren’t a lot of opportunities for students to learn self-advocacy, executive function and effective communication skills. Many states offer transition guides that outline skills that student should be working on from grade nine to 12 in order to be prepared for the transition to college.

I work one-on-one with students and families starting in high school to determine the accommodations they need based on their current functional limitations, and what questions to ask up-front to select a college that will be a good fit for them. I often work collaboratively with college counselors and college consultants who can support the student in finding the best academic fit. The students and I craft questions based on individual needs, and think through specific scenarios so that when they speak with a counselor in the DSO, they are prepared.

I also assist students in developing self-advocacy skills. This up-front work in the college search phase, combined with the research they are doing with a college counselor/consultant, can be immensely helpful in identifying colleges that will be a good fit for the student.

CC: When should students with conditions start the process of identifying schools and finding out what accommodations they’ll need?

AT: As early as possible. At most schools, students start working with a college counselor around sophomore year. Some families opt to hire a college consultant to support the students in the college search, selection and admissions process. At Accessible College, I work with students in the college search phase, all the way through college. One way that students can begin to work on becoming an effective self advocate is know their needs. This usually starts with understanding their condition and how it impacts them in school, at home and socially. College accommodations apply to all areas on campus: academic, housing, recreation and programmatic. Sometimes, students are exhausted by the focus on their conditions, but it’s important to engage in conversations about transition early so students can be prepared to request accommodations in college so that they can be successful. Some students may be on the fence about requesting accommodations, but I advise them to get the accommodations approved to have in place just in case they need them.


By: Torrey Kim
Title: 5 FAQs About Requesting Health-Related Accommodations on Campus
Sourced From:
Published Date: Mon, 06 Jul 2020 11:24:55 +0000

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Tackling The Common Application Essay



Rising high school seniors, we haven’t forgotten about you! The COVID-19 pandemic has overwhelmed the realm of higher education. It seems as though all we have been hearing and reading about the past five months or so is how the coronavirus has affected, is affecting, and will affect almost every aspect of our lives. Many of us have sought ways to escape the onslaught of bad news.

If you are about to begin your senior year of high school, whether in person or online, and you plan to go to college, your focus may have been more on the college process instead of the COVID process. Colleges and universities across America have been fully sidetracked, trying to make sense out of how to continue providing higher education to their student bodies, while wrestling with an increasing burden of safety precautions, virus testing plans, unexpected expenses, teacher and student protests, and virus outbreaks among staff. That’s just a short list of their pandemic-related woes.

However, the college process cycle continues, and this year’s high school seniors will be applying to colleges and universities just as they have every year, even during world wars, depressions and other major national concerns. So I won’t be writing about the novel coronavirus today, but rather, about one important aspect of your college application process: the Common Application essay.

In addition to your academic record and recommendations, the essay can push a borderline applicant into the “Admit” column if executed properly. So it’s time to start thinking about this, if you haven’t already started.

You will most likely be using the Common Application for at least some (if not all) of your target schools. Chances are, even if you don’t end up using the Common App (unlikely), you will still need to write an essay on a general topic such as those that the Common App requires.

Get to Know the Common App Prompts

Here are the 2020-2021 Common Application essay prompts. They are the same as last year’s:

1. Some students have a background, identity, interest, or talent so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, please share your story.

2. The lessons we take from obstacles we encounter can be fundamental to later success. Recount a time when you faced a challenge, setback, or failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience?

3. Reflect on a time when you questioned or challenged a belief or idea. What prompted your thinking? What was the outcome?

4. Describe a problem you’ve solved or a problem you’d like to solve. It can be an intellectual challenge, a research query, an ethical dilemma — anything of personal importance, no matter the scale. Explain its significance to you and what steps you took or could be taken to identify a solution.

5. Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others.

6. Describe a topic, idea, or concept you find so engaging it makes you lose all track of time. Why does it captivate you? What or who do you turn to when you want to learn more?

7. Share an essay on any topic of your choice. It can be one you’ve already written, one that responds to a different prompt, or one of your own design.

Check These Resources for Guidance

To help you get started thinking about how and what to write, I’ve listed a dozen of my College Confidential articles about writing application essays. You don’t have to read all of them, just find several that appeal to you, then read and learn. (Note that some of the articles reference older Common Application prompts, but my advice also applies to the current prompts.)

1. Great Common Application Essays

“There are myriad topics in your world … right under your nose. Use them!”

2. Using Humor in Your College Essay

“Titles can lend heft to an essay if they are carefully thought out …”

3. More about Essays

“Those are just three examples of great college application essays.”

4. Thoughts on Application Essays

“Keeping all this in mind, construct a list of “little known habits, hobbies and other weird stuff ” about yourself. Then, work to shape an aspect (or aspects) of that list into a winning statement.”

5. More On Essays

“You should be able to see the advantage of using not only picturesque imagery but also one of my favorite essay elements: humor.”

6. More Essay Insights

“Do you have some kind of challenge in your life that you have worked to overcome, like Cheryl? If so, give some thought to writing about it in your college applications.”

7. Adventures in Essayland

“As always, remember: Don’t write what you think they want to hear; write what you want to say!”

8. The Application Essay: Think About It

“Essay ideas are everywhere; we just don’t see them.”

9. Essays with A Smile

“Even the brightest students many times have difficulty conjuring decent topics and gathering their compositional forces to put together a winning set of sentences and paragraphs. So, what’s a frustrated essayist to do then?”

10. Application Essays

“The lesson here for essay writers is to look around your everyday lives carefully. Scenes like those immortalized here in “Banana Girl” happen all the time.”

11. Applying You to Your Application Essays

“What you can see in these entries is the contrast between writers who write what they want to say (the winners) and those who write what the contest judges want to hear (the losers).”

Make Sure Your Voice Shows

What you’ll see in the samples I posted in the above articles can show you the natural style incorporated by the writers. Their essays flow smoothly and don’t have an “academic” feel about them. When you read them, you can almost hear the writers speaking. In other words, their “voice” is natural and not at all affected by formality or overblown usage. They don’t use big words just for the sake of impressive vocabulary. Big words don’t impress admissions committees. A natural voice, convincingly presented, does.

The best essays help you to stand out in a crowd and reveal who you are and how you think. Sure, you can write a good essay about anything, but an essay often has the most impact if it highlights something that is unique or unusual about you.

Finally, try to have some fun with this. I know that “fun” probably isn’t the first word that comes to mind when you think about your college essays, but you may find that once you get into it, you’ll actually enjoy expressing yourself!


By: Dave Berry
Title: Tackling The Common Application Essay
Sourced From:
Published Date: Thu, 13 Aug 2020 12:24:38 +0000

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Fall 2020 Dorm Decisions Vary Across the Country



Some colleges have already begun moving students into dorms for the fall semester, while many others that previously planned to bring students back have reversed that decision and will be online only. Another group has decided to offer dedensified dorm populations with other students living off campus, most of whom will be taught online. The varied approaches of dealing with fall semester housing reflect the respective difficulties colleges are facing amid the pandemic.

As CNBC’s Jennifer Dickler notes in her article about the brave new world of college dorm life, “The traditional dorm experience was not made for social distancing.” That goes for other COVID-19 safety precautions, too. The days of the “traditional dorm experience” may be over for the foreseeable future.

Colleges are struggling to accommodate their students within a framework that never anticipated the effects of a pandemic. Some schools have moved students off campus, acquiring private-room housing in hotels. These extraordinary efforts to bring students back while trying to observe detailed safety guidelines have placed a heavy burden on housing officials and may be the beginning of a new era, as Dickler reports:

“Most universities are trying to get out of the housing business,” said Jeff Amengual, chief operating officer of DMG Investments. “They are land-locked and couldn’t expand if they wanted to.”

Housing Often Part of the Overall College Experience

Building new student housing facilities isn’t a viable option for many, if not most, colleges and universities today. The “land-locked” aspect comes from their location, which physically doesn’t permit site development for new dorms. On top of that is the main reason: economics.

With declining enrollment becoming a matter of increasing concern, along with the massive expenses of “rigging for coronavirus” — retrofitting classrooms for safety (plexiglass partitions, augmented sound systems, etc.), virus testing, revised communications infrastructure, etc. — colleges are in no position to make huge additional capital expenditures. Thus, as Amengual notes, the trend of alternate student housing may become a larger component of institutional operations. In years to come, it may become increasingly difficult to find a hotel room near a large university.

Pam Schreiber, University of Washington’s executive director of housing and food services, observes that “Universities are in the business of educating and developing young scholars, and a big part of that is helping them grow and develop as a community member. Housing is aimed at that component of the experience.”

Dorm life is a critical part of the traditional college experience, but the pandemic is driving harsh wedges between residential students, diminishing social interaction and friendship building. Schreiber seconds Amengual’s opinion: “Housing operations, in general, have taken a significant financial hit. The reality is there will be less [sic] resources available to build new housing or renovate housing.”

Some Dorms Expected to Be at Capacity

Certain schools, however, are forging ahead with new versions of business as usual: full-capacity dorms. Inside Higher Ed‘s Greta Anderson writes about some of those bold approaches:

Concerns are growing among students and faculty members about plans by some colleges to keep residence halls at full capacity this fall, which goes against the recommendations of public health agencies

A spokesperson for UNC Chapel Hill said in an email that its residence halls will have “normal capacity” this fall, with some rooms reserved for students who are immunocompromised and are approved to have a single-resident room. Some of the university’s residence halls include suites shared by up to eight students, according to a move-in guide for students and parents. The guide recommends students living in residence halls “pack light” in the event that they have to move rooms or are sent home during the fall semester

Colleges that have instructed their residential students to “pack light” are clearly holding their collective breaths about the possible inevitability of a COVID-19 outbreak on campus that will require a rerun of this year’s mid-March “pack up and get out” scenario. When I read about a school’s intention to fill a dorm suite with its maximum of eight students, I want to hold my breath, too.

I’m not alone in my concern. A group of UNC faculty members started a petition targeting the UNC system president and Board of Governors, urging the move to all online classes. UNC system campuses are not the only ones planning for full-capacity residence halls, according to ACUHO-I’s (Association of College and University Housing Officers – International) ongoing tracker of on-campus housing plans for the fall semester.

This is a helpful tool that includes answers to the following questions from many colleges and universities:

  • What is your campus’s typical total bed capacity?
  • At what total capacity will you be operating in the next immediate term beginning August-December?
  • What percentage of your fall total capacity will be allocated for isolation/quarantine spaces?

The tracker was developed for schools to submit their plans for reopening housing operations for Fall 2020 and subsequent terms in the midst of COVID-19. There is a searchable list of campuses that have provided information. A complete list of data (updated daily) is available here.

What does the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have to say about dorm-living risks? Its college housing guidelines information is at odds with what some schools are doing. For example, stated under Institutions of Higher Education (IHE):

  • Lowest Risk: Residence halls are closed, where feasible.
  • More Risk: Residence halls are open at lower capacity and shared spaces are closed (e.g., kitchens, common areas).
  • Highest Risk: Residence halls are open at full capacity including shared spaces (e.g., kitchens, common areas).

As if we needed to be reminded, the CDC offers a sobering assessment of how the coronavirus can infect others:

COVID-19 is mostly spread by respiratory droplets released when people talk, cough, or sneeze. It is thought that the virus may spread to hands from a contaminated surface and then to the nose or mouth, causing infection. Therefore, personal prevention practices (such as hand washing, staying home when sick) and environmental prevention practices (such as cleaning and disinfection) are important principles that are covered in this document. Fortunately, there are a number of actions IHE administrators can take to help lower the risk of COVID-19 exposure and spread

The simple, unfortunate reality is that some residential students are likely to contract COVID-19 while on campus. So how are colleges shielding themselves from liability, in light of their housing policies? One good example is the University of Iowa. It has included a clause in its massive, seven-page housing contract that requires students to acknowledge that the school “will not be liable for any public health threat to which a student or visitor may be exposed, including but not limited to the transmission of any infectious disease such as COVID-19.” As the old saying goes, it pays to read the fine print.

Living on campus this fall can be risky, and as the sources cited above confirm, some students and their parents are worried. The key to living safely revolves around individual responsibility. I ask myself, “Do I think all college students will acknowledge and live by the required guidelines?” Honestly, I have to answer, “No they won’t.” Colleges don’t think so, either. Thus the “two-suitcase and backpack” move-in limitation, a tacit hedge on the unlikely completion of a full fall semester. Dorm life, even under pandemic-imposed rules and regulations, presents too many variables to be controlled safely, in my view.


By: Dave Berry
Title: Fall 2020 Dorm Decisions Vary Across the Country
Sourced From:
Published Date: Tue, 11 Aug 2020 15:42:34 +0000

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