You've decided that a college-based post-secondary transition program is the way to go for your student with a disability. Now how do you determine which one will be the right fit for their needs? Getting answers to these 10 questions can help families make the best choice.
1. Where is the college located?
It's important that students feel comfortable and engaged in their surroundings. Some students want the transportation, opportunities, and energy of a city. Others prefer the quieter pace of a rural area.
Consider how students get around the area, how it feels to walk from building to building on campus, and whether there are opportunities for learning and experiences outside of class.
- Can students walk somewhere to get pizza?
- Are there businesses nearby where they could have internships?
- Can they get around with public transportation, or does the college have its own transportation?
- Is it easy for you to get there when you need to?
- Does it feel safe and friendly?
Also, find out if students in the program attend classes in the same areas as undergraduates or somewhere else.
2. Where do students live during the program?
Some post-secondary programs have residence halls for students in the program, while others require students to live off campus in apartments. Others do not offer housing at all.
If the program does offer housing, find out where your student would live and ask to tour the building.
- Is it clean?
- Is it secure from unauthorized visitors?
- Do program staff live on campus?
- How do students get to classes and internships? Can students walk to classes easily from the residence hall?
3. What's it like for students when they start?
Transitions are hard, and moving away from home to attend college is a big deal. Find out how the program supports its new students. Get a sense of what to expect for the first few weeks. You want to feel confident that the staff will care about and check in with students during the initial adjustment period and beyond.
4. What classes do students take?
Some programs focus on access to college-level academic work, while others are geared toward skills for employment and independence. Some offer a mix of both.
Understanding what’s most important to your student, and to you as a family, will help you narrow your options. Find out what classes are required. Ask the program why they offer the curriculum they do.
5. Do students develop work experience?
Depending on the student’s interests and prior work experience, you may be looking for specific career fields or training. Find out if internships or jobs are part of the program. Ask how the program determines where students work.
6. Do students participate in undergraduate activities and sports?
Make sure students in the program are welcome—and encouraged—to attend undergraduate student activities, join clubs, and play sports. What activities are available? How frequently do students in the program participate? Are there activities that would interest your student?
7. Does the program offer federal financial aid or private scholarships?
Some programs are Comprehensive Transition Programs (CTP), which means they can offer some forms of federal grants, but not student loans. Others may not be CTP programs, but may offer their own financial aid and/or be able to grant federal student loans. Other programs offer no aid. Ask what types of aid are available to students in the program.
8. Have school districts funded previous students to attend this program?
If your student has not accepted a high school diploma, they may be eligible for funding through their local school district to attend a post-secondary program, depending on the goals stated in their Individualized Education Program (IEP).
Ask if the program has a history of students using public school district funding to attend and then talk to a representative from your district.
9. What are the graduate outcomes?
Ask how graduates are doing. For example:
- Are most graduates employed?
- Are most graduates living independently?
- Do most graduates report having satisfying social lives?
- Can graduates return to the program for support?
Most programs don’t have this kind of information on their graduates, or are too new to have much data, but some do. If program staff can't answer these questions, then there’s no way to know if that program is effective.
Programs that collect data from their alumni and, better yet, offer support after graduation are also likely to be continuously improving their offerings to ensure they have the greatest impact on independence, employment, and other measures of success.
10. Okay, the program is right for me. But is it right for my student?
These tips are targeted to parents and guardians, who often do the initial research of the available options. Now that you’ve narrowed it down to a few schools, the student needs to choose a place where they'll be happy and feel comfortable—a place where they can make friends and pursue their goals.
Ask them to imagine themselves living, learning, socializing, and working at each of the schools. Have them tell you which school feels like the right fit for them. Ultimately, the school they feel best about is probably the right one.
The Threshold Program is a college-based post-secondary transition program located in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The program helps young adults with diverse learning needs transition into the world of work and independent living.