Finding the Right College for a Student Who Is Deaf or Hard of Hearing: Contemporary Considerations for an Exciting Next Step

By Claire Troiano, originally published in the June, 2021 issue of Equity & Access

Applying to colleges can be a stressful, busy time for students—and a pandemic hasn’t made it any simpler. This year, the process has changed considerably to accommodate health precautions. Campus tours, in-person interviews, college fairs and visits from college representatives are on permanent hiatus. But with a little extra planning, students heading to college can still get all the information they need to make an informed decision.

We spoke with Max, a Clarke Philadelphia alum and current high school senior about what he learned during his recent college search experience. He also shared his advice for other students who are deaf or hard of hearing planning their own transitions to higher education.

Different Formats, Similar Results

Max’s junior year was marked by a challenging academic load and the cancellation of most of his spring track season. As a student athlete, running track and cross country, he’d gotten an early start on his college selection process in order to target schools with programs that would match his goals.

Max was able to visit two colleges before most schools closed to in-person visits. For the other schools, his visits consisted of a mix of virtual tours and Zoom-based question and answer sessions.

Despite the change in format, both Max and his dad, Danny, feel they gained a good sense of all the colleges. “The virtual visits were actually a good way to learn more about the schools,” says Max. He felt that colleges with virtual tours were better able to individualize the information they shared in a way that wasn’t possible during in-person group tours.

Max wasn’t able to attend some of the traditional in-person events schools have for student athletes, but he was able to reach out directly to coaches who put him in touch with other athletes in his sport. Talking with them gave him a feel for potential future teammates and their routines.

Danny agrees. “Being there in person does give you a good sense of what the campus and atmosphere are like, but with the pandemic-related changes, we still had a chance to speak one-on-one with people and get to learn more about the nuts and bolts of things,” he says.

Assessing Priorities, Making Requests

As a student with hearing loss evaluating potential colleges, Max had to weigh all the usual factors in addition to assessing how well each school could accommodate his listening needs—not an easy task virtually.

Max first narrowed down his list of schools by those that felt like a good fit for his academic and athletic goals as well as being able to accommodate his hearing loss. “I had to ask myself: Do I want to go to a big school with a lecture hall of 300 students, or one with smaller classes of 10-15 students?” Max shares. “And I made sure they had a good office of accessibility, that I could get proper accommodations, and the website had a good explanation of what they offer [and] how they do it.”

The good news: Max says he hasn’t had any significant issues securing the accommodations he’ll need in future classes. He also notes that his in-person and virtual visits didn’t present any hearing-related challenges.

“The best advice I can give is to find each school’s office of accessibility, know where it is, exactly what services they offer and what you have to do to get those services,” says Danny. “It’s extremely beneficial to have that information.”

Danny also notes that while 504s and Individualized Educational Programs (IEPs) don’t apply in college, some schools will use them as an accommodations guide, and some won’t.

“You have to have your ducks lined up and be willing to advocate for what the student needs,” he says. “Max’s ability to do that, and why he started this process so early, all goes back to Clarke and the way they instilled those self-advocacy skills in him.”

Things to Consider When Planning the College Search

If Possible, Schedule a Distanced Walkthrough

Danny suggests checking out the physical layout of specific lecture halls and classrooms at a given school to get a sense of the acoustics, if possible. “You’d want to identify what the rooms look like and what accommodations [the student] might need. Then contact the office of accessibility and say we did a walk-through, and we’d need X. How can we get those accommodations set up?” he says. “You want to have a plan in place before your child steps into the classroom. Meet with the professor before the first class, meet with the dean or other administrators if your child is focused on a specific school within the college.”

Recognize the Pros and Cons of School Size

Danny emphasizes that they never ran into difficulty securing accommodations, but some schools have a more complicated process to put them in place. “If you do get a negative vibe to your request, that’s a school I’d reconsider or at least move down the priority list,” he adds.

Start Early

Danny also says that even after COVID-19 closures and restrictions have lifted, starting the college search as early as possible is always a benefit. “It protects you from being blindsided by anything that may happen,” he said. “Max put a lot of effort into this that we didn’t have to prod him to do. If you’re a student who waits longer to narrow things down, you give yourself
a short timeline and that can be stressful for the student and the parent. You may end up making a choice that isn’t great for you.”

Keep in mind that in these extraordinary times, we are all learning as we go—even college admissions departments! As a parent or educator, encourage students to be nimble, proactive and willing to ask for help. This is a profound step in a student’s educational journey; approach it with pride and excitement.

Types of Accommodations

For students with hearing loss entering college, there are a variety of accommodations that can improve their access. What works best will depend on the individual student’s needs, their preferences and each specific listening environment. Those accommodations can take many forms, but some of the most common are:

• Hearing Assistive Technology (HAT): includes remote microphone technology (RMT) systems like DM, FM, infrared and sound elds. HAT systems provide improved access to sound to help students with hearing loss minimize listening fatigue.

• CART (Communication Access Realtime Translation) Reporting: a stenographer, in-person or remotely, captions spoken words in the classroom in real time.

• Note-takers: A designated classmate or notetaking professional provides a written record of notes on class material.

• Captioning: All videos and online educational media should have captions.

• Preferential seating: For in-person learning, this provides students with better visual access to the speaker to aid in speechreading.

• Tutoring: Many schools have an academic learning center, which provides free tutoring for students with disabilities.

• Extended time for testing: Students with hearing loss often require additional time to process spoken or written instructions and can benefit from extra time during tests.

• Interpreters: helpful for students who use ASL, cued speech or speechreading to access information.

Don’t forget life outside the classroom: A student with hearing loss who will be living in a dorm should ask about safety devices for emergency events such as fire alarms. Devices like bed shakers can be connected to the dorm’s alarm system. Similar devices are available to alert students to someone knocking on the door.

For specific information about available options, check with each college’s office of accessibility and/or assistive technology department.

For more information, visit

The American Consortium for Equity in Education, publisher of the "Equity & Access" journal, celebrates and connects the educators, associations, community partners and industry leaders who are working to solve problems and create a more equitable environment for historically underserved pre K-12 students throughout the United States.

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