School vs College
The transition between school and college can be difficult to navigate, this may cause increased stress and or anxiety. Here are a few differences between secondary school and further education.
Differences in the classroom
You no longer have to call your teachers ‘sir’ or ‘miss’. Lecturers, and tutors usually go on a first name basis.
You will probably be allowed to bring a laptop into your class to take notes.
There will most likely be boys and girls in your class.
You don’t have to wear a uniform anymore. Unless specific for your course (Nursing, Culinary Arts etc).
You may be allowed bring your tea or coffee into class with you.
There are no set seats in college, unless assigned by your lecturer or tutor.
Differences in time and study:
Your timetable may not be completely full, you may have 2 or 3 hour gaps in your day which you will need to fill.
You will be expected to do a lot of independent learning outside of your classroom hours.
You will have different modules during your time in college. Some courses change these with each semester (before Christmas and after Christmas), others will be changed every year so you have the same modules for the full college year.
You don’t have to ask to go to the bathroom. In college you are in charge of your own bodily functions.
There will be multiple places to get food and drinks on the campus, there will be a canteen and a coffee shop or café etc.
You can bring your own lunch to college and eat it in the canteen. This is a great way of saving money and not having to worry about long queues in the college canteen.
Smoking is permitted in designated areas on the college grounds.
There may be a bar or pub on the campus.
There are clubs and societies that you can join, from extreme frisbee, to rugby, computers and dance. Each college has their own unique set of ‘clubs and socs’.
You can drive to college and park on the college grounds.
Difference in supports
You will have access to the disability support service in your college for supports.
You may have had an SNA in school, you will not have an SNA in college.
Finding your way around college campus and buildings can be very daunting and can take some time to get used to. Getting familiar with the campus can ease your stress levels and make you less anxious. Some of this can even be done ahead of time, before starting college.
Find out where the closest bathrooms are for each of your classes and lectures.
Find where the ATM is on campus. This is important if you need to have cash for use in the library, canteen or shop.
See what food is available in the different dining options on campus, how much it costs and times that food is served. It is also good to find out how you manage with any sensory difficulties in different cafes and canteens.
Lecture halls and class rooms
Find the different class rooms and lecture halls that you will be in.
See how long it takes you to get from class to class. Sometimes classes are in different buildings in different parts of the campus. This planning ahead will reduce your stress as you will know how long it takes to travel between classes.
Find the route you take from the bus to your building and note how long it takes. A different route could be used each day depending on your timetable.
Find the disability support service on campus and make an appointment to find out the supports they can provide to you.
Check where the doctor, nurse and counselling services are.
Find out how to use the library and the areas where books you need for specific subjects are located.
The night before
Pack your bag the night before so you don’t forget anything important. Look at your timetable to ensure you bring the right books and notebooks.
Organise your outfit for the next day before you go to bed. Having clean clothes set out reduces your stress in the morning and means it takes you less time to get ready.
Make your lunch the night before. This can save you a lot of money, and reduces your time waiting in queues if you are in a rush.
In the morning
Get up early to give yourself plenty of time to eat, shower, get dressed, do your hair etc.
Have breakfast in the morning. If you’re not a breakfast person, make sure you bring something for when you get hungry later on in the morning.
Check college emails for any changes in your timetable so you can plan for them.
Before you leave the house
If you bring a laptop to college, remember to take your charger with you.
Have your phone charged.
Remember your timetable. Keep a copy in your diary and another on your phone or laptop so you never go without it.
Bring sensory supports with you. These help during your commute and your time in college.
Give yourself plenty of time to get from your house to the bus stop and the bus to your classroom, especially during rush hour.
Keeping yourself organised
By keeping yourself organised while in further education you reduce the likelihood of sleeping in late, missing classes and falling behind on your work. It also helps to get into a consistent routine.
College guide for parents
Securing a place in college through the CAO and using the DARE scheme (disability access route to education) means your son/daughter will be contacted by the college before the start of term.
If they did not apply through the DARE scheme, you will need to inform the college of their diagnosis.
A non-CAO third level institution will require you to check their website on how to register with the disability service.
If possible, you should attend your son/daughters first meeting with the disability service.
If you wish to be able to communicate directly with the disability service, bring a letter of consent with you to the first meeting. Remember this is a concession on the part of the college and if you abuse it, the impact will be felt by other families.
Negotiating the campus
Disability service supports differ from college to college. However, the important thing is that you give them a good picture of your son/daughter.
Write down things they find problematic.
People with autism have difficulty with transitioning. However, difficulties negotiating the campus can case lateness, which has a greater impact on the individual. Supports can be implemented if lecturers are aware of this issue and it persists beyond the three week induction period.
Encourage your son/daughter to try all dining choices on campus. This will allow them to find the environment which suits them best.
Exposure to large, loud and overwhelming dining experiences may result in isolation at lunchtime. This will greatly restrict opportunities for social interaction.
College timetables are often fragmented resulting in gaps between lectures. If students need to stay on campus during these times, it needs to be well managed.
Making a ‘whole day timetable’ can be beneficial as lectures, studying and down time are all included.
Clubs and societies are a great way to meet new people and explore new interests. Keeping track of the social activity attendance will give you a window into their new life in addition to working as an early warning system for social pitfalls.
Extensions and accommodations need to be carefully explained and outcomes agreed in advance.
For example, if giving a three week extension on a 3,000 word essay: 1,000 words should be completed at the end of week one and it will be reviewed.
Students should introduce themselves to lecturers. Above all, it provides lecturers with information on supports needed by students.
Different services do not share information. For instance, if a student is attending counselling for anxiety, lecturers will not be informed unless the student requests it.
Communication is a two-way street. Therefore, communicating with the college if changes in your family circumstances is negatively impacting your son/daughter is very important.