Transition to College Advice from the Comfort Ability Peer Advisory Board


If you are reading this, then you probably are a person with chronic pain. As a group of teens and young adults who have been down this road, we took a look back at our own personal experiences. Reflecting back at the end of high school and transition to college, we reflected on some things we wish had known in advance. While not all our tips will work for everyone, we hope you find some of these tips will help to make your own journey a little easier. 

~The Comfort Ability Peer Advisory Board

Considerations in Applying to Colleges: 

  • The most important thing in the pain recovery process is that you continue moving towards your goals.  For some, that requires a flexible schedule or hybrid approach to attending college. Just as there is no single coping skill that works for every person with pain, there is no single best way to transition to college.  If you are concerned about managing your first year at college, you may want to consider:
    • Taking fewer classes or attending as a part-time student can help to protect time for rehabilitation therapies that will help your recovery.  
    • Choosing a college closer to home for the first year may make it easier to stay connected to supportive family or local providers.  Once you have confidence in your recovery, you can branch out further.
    • Taking a mix of in-person and online or virtual classes can help to reduce physical demands in the short term, giving you time to continue building strength and stamina.  
  • Location -> proximity to home and to healthcare if continuing care needed
  • Disability/Accessibility office -> research if the college offers academic accommodations
  • Consider colleges that allow you to live at home, even if it is only for the first year
  • Most college applications and the Common Application have a space to add anything or address things like discrepancies in your grades; you can use this space to give a little background on your chronic pain and how it impacted you and your high school career grades, sports, clubs wise -> this is a chance to explain anything that you might not have addressed somewhere else in the application

College visits: 

  • Visit Disability/Accessibility office -> make appointment ahead of time
  • Call ahead for handicap accessible campus tour
  • See if college has chronic pain/illness organization or support group -> look at orgs online and at the college healthcare center
  • If you are doing an overnight visit, let the college admissions office know of any accommodations you need as far ahead of time as possible
  • Ask the college Disability/Accessibility office (or Admissions office) about meeting with a current student who uses accommodation services -> not all colleges do this but it is worth asking because current students can offer insight into how the college handles accommodations

Moving in: 

  • Try to pick a residence hall that is close to campus and the buildings your classes will be in (if you are not living in a residence hall, think about getting an apartment that is close to campus, grocery store, and bus stop)
  • See if the college has an option for early move-in for students with disabilities
  • If you are not going to be living in a single room, be honest about your habits and needs. Don’t play down what you need to stay on top of your pain -> you will be much better matched with a roommate whose schedule and living habits work with yours (this is a key part of adjusting to college!)
  • Buy textbooks early if you can’t get them in electronic format and need to transfer/scan them -> this is a service some colleges offer through the Disability/Accessibility office but can take some time to do
  • Make a plan for the move in day: how you will get everything inside and set up, when you can rest, who can help you etc.
  • First-year orientation is usually very busy and chaotic, but you don’t have to attend every event. Ask if there is a note taker for orientation events
  • Find the buildings and rooms all of your classes are in before the first day of classes -> this helps find the easiest way to get to each class and approximately how long it will take you to get to class

Academics: 

  • Be in contact with the college Disability/Accessibility office as early as possible about academic and/or physical accommodation needs -> this process usually involves documentation from your doctor and can take some time to get set up so start the process at the beginning of the summer
  • Try to get a note taker accommodation -> even if you take notes yourself in class it is helpful to have a backup set of notes
  • If you don’t have academic accommodations through your college, make a meeting with your professors at the very beginning of the semester to explain your situation (if you are comfortable with sharing that information, of course)
  • Ask professors if you can record their lectures -> some professors do it themselves, if not ask if you can on your phone
  • Ask professors for access to lecture slides prior to class -> this way you can print them out/have them on your computer to write notes on directly
  • Research the resources that your college has to support students -> how to get peer tutors, academic support centers, library resources, academic deans, class advisors etc.

Healthcare: 

  • Research doctors and healthcare providers in the area of your college and research bus routes/shuttles to them if you don’t have a car
  • Make a plan with your doctor or parents or just yourself about how you are going to take care of yourself during flair-ups -> have a plan in place of how you will let professors/bosses know if you have rest
  • Visit the college’s health center and counseling services so you are familiar with what they offer, even if they won’t be your main care providers
  • Research if the college offers physical therapy on campus -> it is usually offered through the health center and athletics department for athletes and is available to non-athletes but isn’t advertised so you may have to ask specifically
    © The Comfort Ability, 2020 All rights reserved. Publication Date 8/25/2020 For more information about the Peer Advisory Board, click here.

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