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College Search Considerations for Students who are Deaf or Hard of Hearing

5 min read

By Rick Postl, interim director of admissions at Rochester Institute of Technology’s National Technical Institute for the Deaf

It has become almost a rite of passage for many students pursuing higher education: the college search process. Each year, parents, caregivers and education professionals have the same concern—which college is the right fit for my student? That question can be particularly significant for families with students who are deaf or hard of hearing.

After helping thousands of families navigate the process throughout my 14 years working in college admissions, I have found that there are certain questions parents and students who are deaf or hard of hearing should ask before choosing a college. Getting the answers can help your student select the college that’s the best fit.

RIT/NTID audiologist Catherine Clark provides on-campus cochlear implant support for a student.

If you have a high school junior or senior at home, your mailbox probably has been filling up with postcards and brochures from colleges interested in having your child apply. All that attention can create some confusion, and it’s not unusual for students to become overwhelmed at some point or even disinterested in the process. Do not panic. When you are able to carve out even a few 20-minute intervals of time, start to sort the mountain of mail into three piles:

  1. Colleges that are not of any interest

  2. Colleges that are somewhat of interest

  3. Colleges that are of great interest

Once you have the three piles, leave them for a few days and come back with your student to confirm those decisions. Often there will be some movement between them. It’s then time to explore the colleges’ websites, learn more about the major(s) your student is considering and set up the all-important college visits.

Most often, you and your student will meet with an admissions counselor and participate in a campus tour—usually led by a very enthusiastic current student. While the programs and facilities likely will be impressive, there are questions to ask that will directly affect the quality of your student’s college experience as someone who is deaf or hard of hearing.

Campus accessibility

It’s a good idea to start by asking how many students who are deaf or hard of hearing there are on campus to give you a sense of the college’s experience serving these students’ educational needs.

Accessibility questions are critical in helping assess the academic experience your student is likely to have at a college. Two important questions are:

  1. What communication access services does the college provide?

  2. Are access service providers full-time staff members or are they hired from outside agencies?

Having access service providers on staff helps ensure that those providers have experience in educational settings and that they understand what students need to get the most from each class or lab. Having providers on staff also reduces the likelihood that your student’s learning will be negatively impacted by a college’s inability to find qualified providers or to manage situations such as unexpected provider absences.

An additional consideration is whether communication access services are available for special campus events and extra-curricular activities. Other questions include:

  • Are there assistive listening devices available to use in classrooms?

  • Are there notetakers or other support for note-taking in classes?

  • Are the classrooms set up so that everyone can see the professors clearly?

  • Is tutoring available if my student needs help?

Counseling and career services

Beyond access inside and outside the classroom, academic, career and personal counseling are important considerations for student success. These services can help identify and correct any issues that a student is having and offer suggestions on time management, conflict resolution and more. Career counseling can help students find internship and experiential learning opportunities, prepare students for job interviews and help with resume building.

Some questions to ask:

  • Do the college’s academic, career and personal counselors have experience working with students who are deaf or hard of hearing?

  • Do career counselors work with employers to help them understand the needs of employees who are deaf or hard of hearing?

  • What other services are provided on campus for students who are deaf or hard of hearing?

Audiology and speech-language services

Audiology and speech-language services likely have been instrumental to your student’s academic success. As a caregiver, you want to be sure those services will continue without interruption or difficulty when your student goes to college. Some considerations:

  • Are there licensed audiologists on campus to provide support services for students with cochlear implants and hearing aids?

  • Is there a place on campus where my student can get hearing aid batteries, repairs and new ear molds?

  • Can my student have their hearing tested on campus if they feel they need it?

  • Is there a way my student can learn about new assistive technologies that will enhance their college experience?

  • Are there speech-language pathologists on campus who can work with students on spoken communication skills, if they desire to do so?

  • What are my student’s responsibilities in ensuring they get the services they need?

Around the campus

It’s also important to learn how accessible the campus facilities are. Questions to consider asking include:

  • What services does this college provide for students who are deaf or hard of hearing and how are those services provided?

  • Do residence halls and other buildings on campus have visual warning systems in the event of emergencies? 

  • How easy is it to get in touch with campus safety authorities if there is a problem or an emergency?

In the community

The college experience often extends into the community in which the campus is located. Sending off students who are deaf or hard of hearing to live and learn on a college campus is one thing, but there is also the question of how the surrounding community interacts with students. Consider asking questions such as:

  • What services are provided in the community for people who are deaf or hard of hearing? Are listening equipment and other communication access services readily available at events in the community?

  • Are local merchants welcoming to college students?

The importance of fit

When students are asked about their top reasons for choosing a college, they generally talk about the college having their desired program of study, and they also usually emphasize the importance of feeling as though they fit in. For students who are deaf or hard of hearing, many of whom were one of only a few in their high school, the idea of fitting in and being part of an inclusive community can make all the difference in their ability to have a successful and fulfilling college experience. When students find other students like themselves, they find an immediate sense of belonging. It’s an often overlooked aspect, but it certainly is important!

Additional support and resources

I wish you and your student the best on your college selection journey. We have prepared a printable tip sheet for you to use during college visits. You also can download our College Search Checklist mobile app that many families have reported has helped them organize their search process. If my colleagues or I can be of any assistance to you along the way, feel free to contact us at 585.475.6700, by videophone at 585.743.1366, or toll-free in the U.S. and Canada at 866.644.6843 or

This article was contributed by Rochester Institute of Technology’s National Technical Institute for the Deaf, a generous sponsor of Clarke’s Mainstream News, offering insights and guidance for older students, caregivers and professionals.

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