1. Pick one thing you love and find an extracurricular activity that allows you to do it.
Get involved in at least one thing from the very start. This will not only keep you busy outside of classes, but will also be a great social opportunity, where you can meet people who share your interests. Sometimes, there may even be a routine to share a meal together (i.e. a choir might go to dinner together after rehearsal), which gives you people to eat dinner with and who can help you get your meal
2. Get help in the dining hall.
There are many places you should not be afraid to ask for help, but this is a really big one. Eating is important. Don’t skip meals just because you feel shy or scared. It is better to eat and maybe face some embarrassment than to not eat and feel sad and hungry. You need food. If you call ahead, the staff are usually thrilled to help you. They would rather be doing that than cleaning up after sloppy kids.
3. Even if you are super brave most days, there may still be some days when you don’t feel so brave, and you don’t go to the dining hall.
That’s okay. For those days, keep some food in your room so that you don’t go without food. You also may need it when it’s too snowy to get there and no one seems to be around to walk with you to the dining hall, or when you are writing a paper at midnight and are itching for a late-night snack. Keep some snack foods, but also some hearty, filling meals that you can make in a microwave. (A little chocolate is always good to keep around, too)!
4. Learn early what the campus snow clearance is like.
Do they clear every morning? Only on weekdays? What if it starts snowing midday? Do they clean throughout the storm or wait till it’s over? This will help you make travel plans and figure out when you can do things like get your mail or head to the library. It will also let you know when you will need to ask for help.
5. Take as much time as you can before going to school to learn the campus with an O&M instructor.
Give yourself more time than you think you will need. Practice walking to your classes if you can. It may also help to learn the surrounding town a bit, so you aren’t stuck if you ever run out of chocolate or want to go out to eat or need to buy a goofy hat for a crazy hat party (hey, it happens).
6. If you have a cane, use it.
Seriously. There are a lot of things on campus sidewalks that you may not be expecting: broken glass, construction cones, people sprawled out on the grass with their feet in your path. Trust me, you will need it.
7. Know who you can go to for help if you need it.
Find someone on campus you feel comfortable talking to. It is easy to become overwhelmed by the amount of work, or especially by the amount of reading assigned, since it may take you longer to do the work than your sighted classmates. If you need to drop a class and take it later, that’s okay. If you need a tutor because your Math class is too visual and you don’t understand the graphs, that’s okay. If there is someone in the disabilities office you feel comfortable talking to, that’s a great route to take. You could also talk with your academic advisor, a good professor, or someone from your campus learning center. It doesn’t matter who it is, so long as that person can help you figure out your next steps when you’re feeling overwhelmed.
8. If you want to go to parties, start with smaller gatherings, or go with a sighted friend you feel safe with.
Parties can be loud and overwhelming to your senses, and not everyone at the party will be being conscious of your safety. You have to be conscious of your own safety, or have someone with you who can help.
9. Think about how often you are going to want to come home, and how you want to get there.
Will your parents pick you up? Will you take public transportation? Can you carpool with another student? Come up with the solution that makes the most sense for you. Transportation is one of the hardest things to sort through for people with vision impairments, and it continues to be hard in college. The good thing is that when it’s time to go home for Thanksgiving or winter break, there are a couple thousand other kids right next door to you doing the same thing. One of them is bound to be heading your way, so use that network!
10. Be yourself.
Yes, I know it is easier said than done. But here’s the thing: college is the time when you can be whoever you want. Nobody knows you. Everyone is trying to figure out who they are and this is the time of life when you start to figure it out. There will always be people who treat you strangely because you are visually impaired. But in college, there will be less of them than there were in high school. College students are typically quite diverse in ability, nationality, expression, character, etc. A vision impairment will not be that unusual. You don’t have to pretend. It may take a little while to make the right friends, but once you do, those friendships will be some of the best you’ve ever had.