Updated: Jul 31
For me, the most exciting and nerve-wracking part of going to college is preparing to stay on campus. This is common sense for anyone going to college, but for a person with CMD, yeah, it's a whole process. Many steps must be taken to ensure you get the "full college experience" that other kids get while staying on campus. Here, I will share what I'm doing on my own "living on campus" journey, including some tips, tricks, and recommendations.
Step 1: Find the Right College
Everyone needs to make sure they'll enjoy whichever college they attend. Consider all the factors that would entail a school being the right fit for you:
Look at the location/distance of your college and decide what you prefer.
How far from home? For me, it was far enough for independence but close enough to parents to retain that safety net. For instance, if a caregiver cancels or doesn’t show up, it is important for me that my parents are nearby to step in for any support.
Big city or small town vibes? I want the nightlife, so a big city (or close to one) is best for me!
What’s the weather like? I hate the cold, so I instantly knew I wasn’t going to a college further north.
Does the college have the degree(s) you want to get?
I’m pursuing a Major in Communications with a specialization in Media and Technology and a Minor in Journalism.
Does the campus pride itself on being accessible?
If the college does not have an easily reachable disability office, don’t go there. The disability office will be your best friend, but more on that later.
Does the college have maps marking accessible bathrooms, elevators, stairways, and paths?
Visit the Campus
Go on multiple tours to the same college if needed. Ensure you see every inch of the campus — the sports facilities, the dining halls, the housing areas, etc.
Do you actually like the campus? Though a campus may be accessible, you still want to ensure you like the size, aesthetic, proximity/access to local social life, etc.
Step 2: Get Into College…ASAP (the hardest step)
To say it concisely: apply to college as soon as possible.
The sooner you apply (especially before the early deadline), the sooner you will find out if you are accepted (good luck!).
The sooner you get accepted, the sooner you can get the ball rolling on planning disability-related housing, classroom accommodations, scheduling, etc.
After you are accepted, do everything you can ASAP (orientation, scheduling, etc.).
In summary, do everything ASAP and expect every aspect of planning to take longer than you initially thought.
Step 3: Befriend the Disability Office
The Disability Office will likely be essential to your college success. Get to know all of their policies and options inside and out. The more you know, the better you can advocate for yourself. Connect with them as soon as you are accepted to learn about services and options. Get to know the staff, and let them get to know you. The Disability Office is where you’ll request anything disability-related:
Other helpful resources like mental health support, networking opportunities, workshops, etc.)
Step 4: Choose Your Dorm
Look on the college website and identify at least three dorms that might work for you. Some things to keep in mind:
Look for the dorms built most recently:
A dorm that was renovated in 2018 but built in 1973 will not have the same accessibility as a dorm built in 2018.
Look at campus maps to see how far away the dorm is from academic and recreational buildings you will visit regularly.
See what options are available for each dorm. Will you have to share a room with someone? Is it a communal bathroom many people share, or is it one shared only with your roommate?
My Personal Dorm Experience: I was fortunate to be assigned a room on an entry-level floor, meaning I won’t need an elevator to get to/from my dorm room. I was also assigned to a two-person, two-bedroom suite, meaning we each have our own bedroom and share the bathroom.
Having your own bedroom is crucial to privacy and managing caregivers more straightforwardly.
Step 5: Apply for Housing
Follow your college’s procedures for applying and ask the disability office how to apply specifically for an ADA dorm. Share your top 3 dorms in order of preference and apply for housing as early as possible.
Step 5.5: Housing Accommodations
Be very specific with the disability office about precisely what accommodations you need. It is your job to share your needs and the college’s job to determine whether they can provide for you.
Assess everything in your current home that would be considered an accommodation (custom mattress, accessible bathroom, lack of thresholds, automated entry doors, etc.).
Ask to visit your assigned dorm early. Get a feel for the layout and come up with ideas for decorating, as well as what you will need adapted to suit your needs! Communicate your needs with the Disability Office/Housing department (you already know it…) ASAP!!!
Step 6: On-Campus Caregivers
Everyone has different preferences regarding caregivers, especially if those caregivers aren’t ones you’ve utilized for a while. Policies around on-campus caregivers vary by college: Share your needs with the disability office and work with them to accomplish what works best for you.
My Personal Caregiver Search Experience: I got approved for my state’s, North Carolina’s, Medicaid program and CAP/C (Community Alternatives Program for Children). CAP/C allows me to hire my chosen caregivers and Medicaid will pay them. See if you have a similar local program run through the state government that provides services like caregivers, in-home physical therapy, medical insurance, etc.).
Fun Idea: All of the on-campus caregivers I’ve identified are pre-nursing/pre-med students at my college. It’s a win-win! I get the care I need; they get college credits, money, and experience!
Work through all of this as quickly as you can after being accepted; it will give you peace of mind as you move closer to your move-in date.
A Parting Note…
I still have a lot of work to do before I am fully prepared to move into my dorm. I’m still working on Step 6: On-Campus Caregivers and I have less than a month to get all of my caregivers in place. But, I am so excited to live independently for the first time in my life and look forward to the academics and social aspects of college. I wish you all the luck on your journey, and I’ll be sure to share an update about mine!