Moving on: Higher education

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Learn what to expect when attending college or university, and what accommodations and supports are available to you when pursuing higher education.

Key points

  • Higher education includes attending trade school, a training institute, college or university. The school you choose depends on what you want to do in the future.
  • Do your research, attend information sessions and tours, and speak to your school guidance counsellor to find the school that is right for you.
  • Register with the office for students with disabilities as soon as possible, even if you are feeling well. They will be able to help if you need accommodations and supports because of illness.

The choice to pursue higher education

At the end of high school, some students know exactly what they want to do with their lives, while others don’t. There are also those who know what they want to do, but just don’t know where to begin. There are many choices for you to consider. Start early! High school is a good time for you to be thinking ahead. The sooner you start looking into your options, the more time you have to decide what you are interested in.

What types of higher education are available?

Higher education includes attending trade school, a training institute, college or university. The school you choose depends on what you want to do in the future. For example, if you wish to become a teacher, you will need to go to university. If you want a job in radio and broadcasting, you may choose a college. To become a chef, you may attend a specialized training institute; and to become a welder, you can go to a trade school.

How do I decide which type of education is right for me?

Consider your interests

Higher education takes quite a bit of time and effort. Having a real interest in what you are learning will go a long way towards helping you succeed.

Understand your strengths and weaknesses

What are you good at? What do you struggle with? Understanding your strengths and weaknesses will help you set realistic educational goals and figure out how to achieve them.

Talk to your health-care team if you have, or suspect you have, a learning deficit. They may recommend you have a neuropsychological assessment. A neuropsychological assessment is done by a specially trained psychologist who will look at how you think and learn. They can help you identify your strengths and weaknesses so that you can set realistic educational goals. The assessment can also give you information to communicate to the school you will attend, so you can get the right supports to help you succeed. Schools are expected to accommodate learning deficits, and having a neuropsychological assessment can be a source of documentation.

Set realistic goals

Having realistic goals for your education will help keep you focused and motivated. Goals should be SMART. This means:

  • Specific. You have a greater chance of achieving a specific goal than a general one.
  • Measurable. You’ll only know if you’re on track to achieving your goal if you can measure your progress. To know if your goal is measurable, ask questions like "How many?", "How much?", or "How often?"
  • Achievable. Start with a small goal and then build on it. This will help increase your chances of sticking with the goal. You can achieve almost any goal you set when you plan your steps wisely and give yourself enough time to carry out those steps.
  • Realistic for your lifestyle. Goals should be possible or realistic, but also should push you. For example, going wilderness camping might be unrealistic, depending on your condition. However, going on a picnic with your friends might be more realistic.
  • Time frame. This sets a deadline for when you hope to achieve your goal. By having a date to work towards, you will be more likely to put effort into achieving your goals.

Your high school guidance counsellor, or a social worker or psychologist on your health-care team, may be able to help you generate SMART goals and a plan to achieve them. They can also help you figure out what kinds of supports (if any) you will need.

Do your research

University, college, training institute and trade school websites have lots of information on programs and courses available. You will have a wide range of courses to choose from. You may have to meet certain requirements to take them, so speak with your school guidance counsellor to find out any requirements and how to apply. Some universities and colleges also hold information sessions at local high schools and can answer your questions at that time. Many schools also offer tours. To explore your options, search online to see whether there will be a learning or career fair in your community.

If you have specific physical or learning needs, be sure to call the schools you are considering and inquire about how they can support you. Try saying something like, "I have some questions about how you support students with special needs. Who can I speak to about that?"

What are the expectations of higher education?

Higher education is geared toward adult learning. Students or trainees are expected to independently schedule their time, manage their workload, and plan projects and meetings. Class sizes may also either be larger or smaller than what you were used to in high school, and you may be expected to complete group work outside of scheduled classroom time. You will have less teacher contact and spend less time in classes than you did in high school. If you have an issue, you are expected to contact your teacher rather than wait for your teacher to contact you. This can be pretty great (no one checking your homework!), but it can also be challenging. Be sure to get an agenda or an app to help you stay organized.

Health care away from home

If you are moving away from your hometown, be sure to locate appropriate health services in your new city. This means that you should (at minimum) find a family doctor. You may still need follow-up care and/or regular check-ups when you are away. Your health-care provider from home may be able to refer you somewhere or, if your school has a health clinic, ask about a health-care provider who can meet your specific needs.

Registering with the office for students with disabilities

Students with health conditions are entitled by federal law to have reasonable changes made to classroom settings, test/exam formats, as well as having access to other learning aids that will make learning easier. These are called accommodations. They are set up through the office for students with disabilities on your campus.

Register with the office for students with disabilities on your campus as early as possible. Setting up accommodations can take time.

Register even if your condition is not bothering you right now. They will be able to help if you need a note taker in the future, or if you have to miss classes or exams because of illness. It is a good idea to notify your school about your health condition as soon as possible. If the school is aware of your condition ahead of time, you may find that they are more supportive if you need to make up an exam or assignment.

You will require documentation from your doctor to register. Check with your school to find out what information you will need.

Remember that all of your medical and accommodation information will be kept strictly confidential.

Options for accommodations and support

Accommodations will be set up according to your individual needs. Your contact person at the office for students with disabilities may speak with you about:

  • Course load: what is manageable based on your energy level
  • Classroom accommodations: note taking, text books
  • Test/exam accommodations such as identifying a need for extra time, breaks, special furniture to make it easier for you to sit for prolonged periods, special voice-activated computers and writing aids
  • Planning ahead to deal with flare-ups: This may include flexibility in assignment or exam schedules during disease flares
  • Funding options for disability-related educational costs.

Note: Accommodations in higher education are different from the ones you may have experienced in high school. In high school, the supports usually focus on changing the program or the expectations of students. In higher education, the program expectations usually stay the same, and the focus is put on helping you achieve those expectations.

Financial support

Higher education can be expensive. Some scholarships are available in Canada to help young people with health conditions achieve their educational goals. You may find information about scholarships at your health-care centre or by doing a search online.

Check out these resources to learn about services, supports, and funding that might be available to you as a student:

There are a number of supports and options available to help you succeed in higher education. Make sure you explore all of your options—don’t just give up at the first hurdle. You never know what you can achieve with a bit of support and creativity.

Last updated: March 3rd 2021