Community College: A Great Place to Start After High School

Okay, high school graduate. You’ve decided that you want to dip your toe into college.

You might have spent a semester or more just exploring the campus (see previous post), and you’ve decided that you would like to try a class. What now? Here are some general guidelines which can vary from one community to the next.

  1. Before you sign up for a class, you need to contact the Admissions Office. They will have some procedures for you to follow. To make it less stressful, give yourself a semester to go through all of the steps involved. You will probably have to go through several steps:
  2. Fill out an online application.
  3. Request your high school transcripts by contacting the Registrar at your high school.
  4. Make an appointment with an admissions counselor and/or disability services.
  5. Take a placement test.
  6. Meet with disability services if you wish, with your high school IEP in hand.

Once you’ve been admitted, now it’s time to enroll and pay for the class or classes.

  • Think about the class or classes that you want to take.
  • You might want to start with a noncredit class.  Most community colleges offer a variety of classes that may be one session or more. There also may be a self-paced fitness class.
  • After you take the placement test, the college may recommend or require that you take a basic reading, writing, or math class to improve your skills. Be ready for this. You might decide that this is enough challenge in the beginning.
  • Sign up for the class that you want and pay for it. Have a credit card ready.

Now that you know what classes you want to take, think about the supports that you might need.

  • You do not have to tell anyone that you have a disability. This is completely up to you. If you want accommodations such as a quiet testing room or a notetaker, you will need to disclose that you have a disability. Bring a copy of your IEP from high school. If you don’t have a copy, contact your school district and ask for a copy. You can ask for it at the same time that you request your transcript, but they might send you to another office to get it.
  • To get an accommodation such as a separate testing location, you will need to meet with someone in disability services. Take your IEP to them. Colleges are not required to give you any accommodation that is written on the IEP, so ask what they can do. This advisor might also have some good ideas for student groups or tutoring that is available on campus.
  • You will probably need to communicate with each of your instructors about the accommodation that you need. It may be as easy as handing them a form from the disability office. If you don’t tell the instructor, he or she won’t know that you need it.
  • Ask about tutoring that is available, and go ahead and get it set up. If you think you won’t need the help, you can wait, but as soon as you start to feel confusion, ask the instructor or disability services about the labs or tutors available.

There are a few other items to handle before the semester starts:

  • Buy your textbooks at the bookstore before the first day of class. Have a notebook and a planner in your backpack so that you can save handouts and keep track of assigned readings, tests, and due dates.
  • Find out how to set up your student email account. You might not use it a lot but you might need it in order to receive important information such as grades or enrollment dates, so be sure to set it up. Ask in the Admissions Office if you are not sure how to do this.
  • Find out how to log in to your student account so that you can use computers on campus. You might also need this information if you take an online class or to view grades.
  • Get your student ID. You will probably need to show a photo ID to get this. You might need it to use computers on campus or to get into student events, so keep it with you.
  • Visit campus before the first day of class to find the room. Figure out how much time it takes to get there so that you arrive on time. Set a timer on your phone or watch.

First day of class:

  • You will receive an outline (also called a syllabus) of the class with all of the assignments, tests, and important dates. Keep this in a safe place because you will need it all semester.
  • If you have a paper from the disability services office that explains what accommodations you need, hand this to your instructor on the first day. You can do this before or after class if you prefer.

After the first class:

  •  Go through the course outline and record all test dates and due dates for readings and assignments in your planner. Read all of it carefully. Sometimes the instructor will make a change so you might want to write dates in pencil.
  • Schedule your study time. Will you go to the library or study at home? In college, you are expected to study a lot outside of class. If a class is two hours long, plan on spending four or more hours outside of class. Write it in your planner.
  • Make a note of your instructor’s email address so that you can ask questions between classes. If you are going to be absent, you should email the instructor ahead of time.
  • Plan to ask another student for their phone number in case you have a question between classes. Try to meet at least one student in the class and share phone numbers. If you have a question, you can text or call them or the instructor. If you are going to miss a class, ask the student to get an extra handout for you or take good notes for you to copy. If they miss a class, you would also take an extra copy of any handout for that person and give them information about what they missed.
  • Plan to ask the instructor about tutoring, math labs, or writing labs that you might need.

Checking in during the semester:

  • Since you are over 18, the instructor will only communicate with you about your grades. If you want someone else to know how you are doing in your classes, you will need to share that information with them. You are in charge of communicating.
  • Check in with the college staff and let them know in person or by email how you are doing. If you are stressed about anything at all, they are there to help you. They might introduce you to a student club, a peer mentor, or a counselor on campus who can help you with what you need.

If you’ve done all of this, you are well on your way to having a good semester! Be sure to ask for help when you need it. College is different than high school and it takes time for everyone to get used to it. College personnel know this and they know what help is available, so let them know if you are stressed.

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