Conventional thinking suggests that the transition from high school to university or college is daunting and intimidating for the students making it, but a recent study in the U.S suggests that the students themselves are relatively comfortable with it, perhaps inappropriately so. The data suggests that many students are entering university or college without realistic expectations and without necessary non-academic skills (self-control, independence, goal-setting, and discipline). According to the report, nearly half of students in grades 7 through 12 expressed that they do not believe that university will be difficult. The report identifies lack of awareness by students of the personal and academic challenges awaiting them as an important reason for academic failure.
The fact is that students pursuing higher education will be faced with a variety of new experiences and challenges that most are unprepared for. Greater levels of freedom and independence, vastly different teaching approaches and academic expectations, and much larger class sizes with greater anonymity are the just a few of the differences students will find. And if they are leaving home to do it in a new community, they will quickly realize that they also left behind a vital support structure (parents, teachers, friends) which contributed in significant ways to their high school success.
My experience with students who have learning disabilities suggests that in some ways many of them may be better prepared for this transition than their counterparts. In general, they have needed to work harder than their peers to arrive at the same place. They have probably needed to develop a unique set of skills in time management, planning/organization, and study strategies, just to stay afloat. They have needed to work longer, and harder, and smarter, so that by the time they arrive at university they are harbouring no illusions about it being easy. If anything, they appear to have more realistic expectations about what it will take to graduate, and fully expect to be appropriately challenged by it.
Having said that, it is also true that students don’t always know what they don’t know. At the University of Windsor we offer a transition program for students with learning disabilities who are coming to us from high school. The BUILD Program (Bridge to University for Individuals with Learning Disabilities), is a week long program designed to provide students with the information and skills they will need to have a smooth transition to their post-secondary careers. In order to assess the effectiveness of the program, we have students complete pre and post-program surveys. At the beginning of the program, students generally feel that they already have all the tools they will need to have success. By the end of the program though, after a week of exploring tools and technologies and supports and services that they hardly knew existed, students are expressing a recognition that there is still much they can learn, and indicate a desire and willingness to explore additional ways to make themselves more effective students.
The Ontario Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities (MTCU), has long recognized that students with disabilities face a unique set of challenges when considering post-secondary education. That is why they specifically fund offices for students with disabilities at every college and university in Ontario, and why they provide funding for The BUILD Program and programs like it across the province. It is also why they funded the creation of a website loaded with information for students with disabilities who want to go to college or university. The Transition Resource Guide for Students with Disabilities is a great place to start if you are a high school student considering post-secondary options. Arming yourself with as much information as you can will allow you to make the best possible choices for yourself, ensuring that you arrive at university/college appropriately excited and perhaps a little bit nervous, but confident that you are fully prepared to succeed into the future you have planned.