Mark is a recent graduate on the autism spectrum from the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. Mark earned his Bachelor of Arts in Psychology on December of 2016. Currently an intern at the Madison House Autism Foundation, he is slowly climbing his way up the proverbial corporate ladder for greater prospects.
Being in college was a harrowing experience for me to say the least. I remembered being fresh out of high school and terrified of the prospect of switching over to the college environment, fearing that the work in college would be far tougher than anything at high school.
Thankfully, it did not turn out to be the case. I found the workload to be on par with the work I had done in high school. In some aspects, I found it to be easier than high school, since I had the freedom to select what classes I wanted to take, when I would like to take them, and how I could fit my classes into my weekly schedule. In contrast, in high school, everything was predetermined with minimal input on my end. What I realized was that surviving college took more than just a passing grade in academic work.
I started out in a local community college for the first two years of my college career, transferred the first two years’ worth of credits to a four-year university and I now have a Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology. I have learned from my college experiences and would like to share my knowledge to help other up-and-coming students who may like to know a bit more about what to expect when going into college:
- Local community colleges are generally more affordable than a full four-year university. If you are on a budget, I would recommend researching a 4-year college that may transfer credits. You may save some money.
- Be aware of your professors’ office hours. If you have any questions on anything in the class, do not be afraid to approach your professors for help. They are there to help you succeed, and they have much greater control over their class environment than teachers in high school.
- Professors have individual expectations for their respective classes. Thus, your experience in one class can be different than in another class. For example, say that you have two professors that teach Biology I. Both professors go over the required content from both of their respective Biology I curriculum. However, one professor teaches their class through reading and notetaking while the other one relies more on open classroom discussions and visual aids to teach their class. Keep your professor’s expectations in mind and check out sites such as “Rate My Professor” when you are signing up for classes to see which professor may be a good fit for you.
- Learn about the resources your college offers. Extra support can be found on most campuses for tutoring, connecting with student activities (aka free food!), mental health counseling, and an office of disability services. MY Career Center pointed me to specific resources I needed. These campus programs can be especially important if you are away from home and if you have to manage living by yourself.
- Do not be afraid to speak up and ask questions in general. If you are unsure of something, feel free to ask around. People on campus are generally helpful. Even if someone may not completely know what you need, they will at the very least try to help point you to the right direction. Any question is a good question!
- Almost every class has a syllabus, which has the entire semester’s curriculum printed on it. Be aware of the date due for assignments, test, exams, or projects listed on each of your syllabi and plan accordingly. You can use Google Calendar, and several other resources, to mark down the due dates of your assignments and keep track of them.
- I highly recommend getting whatever assignments you have for the week done as soon as you are possibly able to complete them. This is a personal thing for me, as I never subscribed to the notion of working at the last minute. Cramming is stressful and doesn’t promote effective information retention., and Cramming can overwhelm you and cause a meltdown.
- Be aware that the workload for your classes may increase tenfold as final exams come closer during the end of a given semester, and plan accordingly. From my experience, professors like to get as much of their material in their respective classes out of the woodwork and as soon as they possibly can when the semester comes to a close. This may vary with other professors.
- If you are living on campus, research all the forms of housing they have nearby. From what I gathered, external housing such as local apartments may save more money than if you choose to live on-campus, which is very pricey and accommodates a myriad of charges, such as enforced meal plans and maintenance checks.
- If you do decide to live in “on-campus” housing, consider the multiple housing options you may have! Several campuses may put Freshman in Freshman dorms by default, though upper-class dorms may have more single rooms or suites with one other roommate if vacancy is available.
- Dorm rooms are very small, either comprised of a tightly shared space between roommates or individual bedrooms no larger than an office cubicle with a desk and a bed. They may be all connected by one larger, central room or even a communal bathroom. Keep in mind the size of your dorm room and plan to reduce extra clutter.
- Explore areas outside of your campus. See if there are any public venues or businesses, such as a movie theater or a local restaurant, to find a hobby away from campus and to take a break from the busy bustlings of campus life.
Keep in mind that these suggestions are all from the perspective of a former university student on the spectrum. I always liked to subscribe to the belief that everyone is different, in and out of the autism spectrum. Whatever worked for me may not necessarily work for anyone else. I hope, at the very least, that my tips and insight will help ease any worries that new students may come across. That college life does not have to be as heavy as one may lead on to be. Most responsibilities will fall into your hands, and it is up to you to manage your own time and your own resources. On the other hand, you have much more freedom to deal with these responsibilities at your own leisure, so take full advantage of your freedom to move forward!