The first step toward succeeding in college and in life is to “know yourself”—all of the unique characteristics that make you who you are. The college environment offers many options, choices and opportunities for you to gain a better understanding of who you are and of where you want to be in the future. This is your chance to try out different fields of study, volunteer, join a club or organization, practice leadership skills, or get a summer job in an area of interest. All of these experiences will help you gain a stronger sense of self and guide you in a positive direction.
By understanding who you are and who you are not, you can more clearly see your strengths and challenges. The “Know Yourself” Section will help you look at your strengths and challenges and get an overview of what your life looks like today.
Know Your Strengths
What are you good at? Everyone has their unique set of strengths and skills. To be successful in any endeavor it is important to use your personal gifts to the fullest degree possible. It is easy to focus on personal weaknesses and problems but it is equally important to fully understand what strengths you bring to the table.
This chapter includes the following topics:
Take a quick snapshot of your strengths:
What are your favorite hobbies?
What do you like to do for fun?
What do your friends like best about you?
What are your special talents?
List five words that describe you.
What were your most successful classes in high school?
In what ways have your challenges given you extra strength?
In what ways are you proud of yourself?
To fully maximize your strengths it is important to identify your personality traits, learning style, values, interests and skills. Knowledge of these attributes will help you choose a major, and make goals for the future that relate to your strengths. By choosing activities that utilize and match your strengths, you will greatly increase your opportunities for success.
There are many assessments available that can help you gain information about your personality traits, learning style, values, interests and skills. A few activities, well-known assessments and online options have been highlighted below as a place to start.
Theories about personality traits suggest that we are all born with certain qualities that make up our personality. For example, some people are more introverted and some people are more extroverted. All personalities have strong points and weak points. By understanding your “personality type” you can learn to use your natural strengths and compensate for your weaknesses.
Myers-Briggs Type Indicator
A well known personality trait assessment often used on college campuses and in the workplace is the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. This assessment defines four personality continuums:
Results explain the strengths and challenges of your personality type and give you suggestions on how to interact with other personality types.
To find out how you can take this assessment at your campus check with your residence life staff, career center, or counseling center. This test can also be taken online through various websites for a fee.
Free, Online Personality Assessments
In college it is very helpful to understand your preferred learning style. Learning style usually refers to what senses you prefer to use when learning...
Do you prefer to see pictures and information?
Do you prefer to hear information?
Do you prefer experiential, hands-on learning?
...and whether you favor a concrete or abstract thinking processes:
Do you learn by relating new information to your own experiences and feelings?
Do you prefer learning through theories, logic, and systematic processes?
Most people are a combination of several learning styles, but often have a dominant style. Understanding your learning style will help you figure out which study strategies are most effective for you, as well as the types of teaching styles and accommodations that work best.
Free, Online Learning Style Assessment
The Index of Learning Styles (ILS) is an online instrument, developed at the University of North Carolina, used to assess preferences on four dimensions (active/reflective, sensing/intuitive, visual/verbal, and sequential/global). Strengths and challenges of each dimension are described. The test is brief (44 items) and is automatically scored on the web with results returned immediately.
The more aware you are of your values, the more effective you will be in all aspects of your life. Knowing your values will help you with decision making, problem solving, and setting goals for your future.
If your house was about to burn down, and you could only take five items with you, what would they be and why?
What person do you look up to? Describe why you admire this person. What values guide this person?(This person could be a historical figure, mentor, family member, etc.)
Circle your top five values:
Free, Online Values Assessments
Values, Decisions, and Inner Peace or Who Am I and Where am I Going? This assessment has three nice activities plus a three step “Developing your Personal Values" section.
Values: Knowing What's Most Important to You Circle the 10 top values most important in your work life for the next few years, then define them for yourself.
Work Values Quiz Contains 33 questions.
Interests and Skills
As a college student, knowing your interests and skills will help you choose a major and a career path that is meaningful to you. The most effective path for you in the future will be the one where interests, skills and the job market intersect.
Interest and Skill Assessments
- Strong Interest Inventory (SII)The SII looks at General Occupational Themes and matches your interests and personal style with the interests of successful people in different occupations. There are 291 items.
- Campbell Interest and Skill Survey (CISS)The CISS looks at approximately 60 occupations and matches your interests and skills with professionals in the field. There are 320 questions on this survey.
To take either of these assessments, check with your career center on campus.
Free, Online Interest Assessment
- Choice Explorer- This is a free website where you can create a career portfolio and access many different career exploration assessments including interests and work values.
- URL: www.access.bridges.com
- User name: 1004467
- Password: mycareer
- click on “create a portfolio"
Remember, college is an opportunity to open new doors to your future. Understanding your strengths as they pertain to your personality, learning style, values, interests and skills will help you select opportunities that maximize your strengths. For instance, think about what you are interested in and what you do well when choosing a major, consider your learning style when selecting classes, and discuss learning needs with your professor. Think about what you value when choosing friends and relationships, and choose activities that help you build even more skills.
As you gain greater insight into your strengths you will also learn about the areas in which you are not as strong. To be truly effective in life, it is important to understand both your strengths and your challenges. In the next chapter you will learn the importance of understanding your challenges so that you can develop strategies that help you be effective.
Know Your Challenges
Many of the same assessments that help identify strengths also identify possible challenge areas as seen in the previous chapter. Understanding your challenges will help you figure out compensatory strategies that will lead to greater success. For example, if you have a strong visual learning style and you find yourself in a class with a professor that only lectures, you might try to make your notes come alive with descriptive pictures and ask for handouts or other visual references. Or, if your personality type tends to be introverted, you may have to push yourself to ask questions in class or get a friend to go with you to talk to the professor after class. Additionally, if you have strong skills in one area, but are in a major that does not utilize these skills, you may want to change your major. Likewise, if you are a college student with a disability, or think you may have a disability, it is important to fully understand how challenges associated with your disability affect your life. By understanding your disability, you can then come up with strategies for success.
The first step toward understanding disability related challenges is to make sure you are well informed.
Become well informed!
- Go to your disability service office on campus and set up a meeting. Explain your situation and ask what types of services and supports might be helpful to you. Even if you don't think you need help at the time, it is always smart to know about resources for the future.
- Research your disability and stay current on the latest information. There are many valuable books, journals, websites and organizations dedicated to different disabilities. (See Description of Disabilities.)
- Network with people. Find a way to connect with other people who have a similar disability. Share success strategies.
Legal Definition of Disability
If your disability fits within the legal definition for disability, you are guaranteed certain legal rights in the higher education setting.
It is important to realize that the ADA and IDEA legislation have different definitions of disability. As a result, a student who received special education services in high school under IDEA may not qualify for accommodations in college. However, a student who received services in high school under a 504 plan who did not meet the qualifications for special education may be covered and receive services under the ADA. The ADA protects those who meet one part of the following definition of disability:
- A physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities
Examples are: walking, seeing, speaking, hearing, breathing, learning, performing manual tasks, caring for oneself, and working. These are examples only. Other activities such as sitting, standing, lifting, or reading are also major life activities (EEOC, 1992)
- A record of such an impairment
- Being regarded as having such an impairment
For more information go to:
- Know Your Rights and Responsibilities
- Description of Disabilities
Description of Disabilities
Overview of Disability Types
The following list is meant as a quick reference guide and therefore, is only comprised of common disability types among college students. For more extensive information go to the websites listed after each disability type:
- Learning Disabilities
- Attention Deficit Disorder
- Autism Spectrum Disorder
- Mobility Impairments
- Medical/Chronic Health-Related Impairments
- Psychological Disabilities
- Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI)
- Deafness/Hearing Impairments
- Blindness/Visual Impairments
"Learning disability" is a broad term that refers to a number of disorders that may impact listening, speaking, reading, writing, reasoning, or mathematical skills. These disorders are intrinsic to the individual, presumed to be caused by central nervous system dysfunction, and may occur across a lifetime. Intellectual capacity is average or above average, but academic functioning is usually impaired. Learning disabilities may be inconsistent, presenting problems on Mondays, but not on Tuesdays. Likewise, a learning disability may affect a person in elementary school, seem to disappear in high school, then return in college. Some individuals are also challenged with organizational skills, time management and social skills. (ASD Project, Utah State)
See Resources for Learning Disabilities for more information.
Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (AD/HD)
Many college campuses include Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (AD/HD) under the learning disability category. It is not unusual for individuals with a learning disability to also have ADD or ADHD. However, for clarity of understanding, this definition is listed separately. ADD and ADHD are neurological disorders that interfere with a person’s ability to sustain attention or focus on a task or delay impulsive behavior. Core symptoms include inattention, and/or over-activity.
See Resources for AD/HD for more information.
Autism Spectrum Disorder
Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) are a range of complex neurodevelopment disorders, characterized by social impairments, communication difficulties, and restricted, repetitive, and stereotyped patterns of behavior. Autistic disorder, sometimes called autism or classical ASD, is the most significant form of ASD, while other conditions along the spectrum include a milder form known as Asperger’s syndrome, the rare condition called Rett syndrome, and childhood disintegrative disorder and pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified (usually referred to as PDD-NOS).
See Resources for Autism Spectrum Disorder for more information.
A wide range of conditions may limit mobility and/or hand function. Common impairments include quadriplegia, amputation, arthritis, cerebral palsy, spina-bifida, muscular dystrophy, cardiac conditions, multiple sclerosis, post-polio syndrome, stroke and respiratory diseases. (ASD Project, Utah State)
See Resources for Mobility Impairments for more information.
Medical/Chronic Health-Related Impairments
A wide range of conditions may interfere with stamina and affect academic functioning. Conditions may include asthma, diabetes, cancer, chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, HIV/AIDS, multiple chemical sensitivities, etc. Occasional tardiness or absence may be unavoidable. (ASD Project, Utah State)
See Resources for Medical/Chronic Health-Related Impairments for more information.
There are a wide range of psychological disabilities, but Mood Disorders and Anxiety Disorders are some of the most common. Depression and Bipolar Disorder are two types of Mood Disorders and General Anxiety Disorder, Posttraumatic Stress Disorder and Acute Stress Disorder are common Anxiety Disorders. In general, psychological impairments may cause poor concentration, irritability, insomnia, fatigue, anxiety, apathy, low mood, perception problems, physical symptoms and learning disabilities. Many psychiatric disabilities can be controlled with medication and/or counseling.
See Resources for Psychological Disabilities for more information.
Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI)
Traumatic brain injury may refer to closed or open head trauma. Every brain injury is unique and may cause physical, cognitive and/or emotional and behavioral changes. Physical symptoms may include fatigue, vision problems, decreased coordination, difficulties with speech, etc. Cognitive changes may affect attention, memory, initiation, reasoning, etc. Emotional/Behavioral changes may impact impulsiveness, social skills, anxiety, irritability, etc. (Brain Injury Association of Colorado)
See Resources for Traumatic Brain Injury for more information.
More individuals in the U.S. have a hearing impairment than any other type of physical disability. A hearing impairment refers to any type or degree of auditory impairment; deafness is an inability to use hearing as a means of communication. Hearing loss may be mild, moderate or profound.
A person who is born with a hearing loss may have language deficiencies and exhibit poor vocabulary and syntax. People with acquired deafness may have excellent speech. Individuals may use hearing aids and rely on lip reading. Many people learn to communicate through American Sign Language (ASL). (ASD Project, Utah State)
See Resources for Deafness/Hearing Impairments for more information.
Visual impairments vary greatly. Most persons who are legally blind have some vision. Those with low vision may rely on residual vision and adaptive equipment. (ASD Project, Utah State)
See Resources for Blindness/Low Vision for more information.
Understanding Diagnostic Testing and Assessment
If you have had diagnostic testing and assessment prior to college, it is a good idea to make sure you understand your testing outcomes. These results will help you understand your disability and help you pursue additional information if needed.
When you were younger your parents probably managed much of your disability-related information and planning. As a college student, you are now the person in charge. It is important that you take the steps necessary to truly understand your disability and your related strengths and challenges. Feel free to contact whoever administered your testing. Getting to this point is a process that takes time.
Not sure if you have a disability?
If you are not sure if you have a disability, testing and assessment may help you figure out if your challenges are disability related. Visit a counselor in your disability service office and talk to them about your concerns. If your campus offers any type of evaluation service, the counselor can direct you. Otherwise, your counselor can also tell you where to go in the community for these services. Either way, it is important to be an informed consumer and understand the types of tests/assessments you will be taking so that you can have a good sense of how the results apply to you and your life.
Questions to ask about Testing and Assessment
Whether you have already been through diagnostic testing and assessment or you are going through the process for the first time, here are some questions you can ask to help you understand testing and assessment.
- What is the purpose of each test?
There are a wide range of tests and assessments available. Make sure that testing and assessment will look at your challenge areas. Tests often look at achievement and ability. Achievement testing looks at how many items are accurately answered in a set amount of time. Ability testing will look at your knowledge and understanding in a variety of formats that are often not timed.
- Will I be taking the full test or a shorter version?
Sometimes only part of a test is given to save time and expense. This may be adequate for your purposes, but the results may not be as strong or potentially as accurate as they would be if the entire test was administered.
- How will it be administered?
Tests may be administered through paper and pencil, hands-on, verbally, timed and untimed formats to name a few.
- Does the test have a high level of reliability and validity?
Tests with high levels of reliability and validity can be considered more likely to produce accurate results. Reliability refers to whether the test measurement is consistent. Validity refers to whether the test is measuring what it is supposed to measure. Some tests and assessments have not been rated for validity and reliability. This doesn’t necessarily mean that they are not of value. They may be very helpful. However, it is up to you to reflect upon if the test/assessment is meaningful to your situation.
- Who will be administering and interpreting the tests/assessments?
For formal diagnostic testing and assessment a licensed, credentialed professional should be administering or overseeing the tests and assessments and interpreting the results. If graduate students or other professionals are administering and interpreting testing and assessment their expertise may be limited but the cost should be less.
- What are the test administrator’s/interpreter’s qualifications?
Some tests require special training for the administrator. Also, an advanced degree in a related field would be expected.
- After testing and assessment...
A follow-up appointment should be made to go over the results of your testing and assessment. At this appointment it is important to ask questions to make sure you understand the testing and assessment outcomes. If any part of the results doesn’t seem to fit with your view of your strengths challenges, ask what other types of testing and assessment you might take to get more information. Also ask for ideas about accommodation strategies if challenges are identified. (See pg. ______for more information on accommodations.)
Overview of Three Common Tests and Assessments
Following is an overview of three common assessments:
- WAIS-III Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale 3rd edition
- Woodcock Johnson III Tests of Achievement and Cognitive Abilities
- IVA + Plus CPT
WAIS-III Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale 3rd edition
The WAIS-III has a high level of reliability and validity and is thought by many to be one of the best adult intelligence tests on the market. The full test takes 80 minutes and must be administered individually by a trained professional. It is comprised of 9 subtests and looks at verbal, perceptual processing speed, working memory, auditory memory, and visual memory.
- Ryan, J., Kreiner, D., & Burton, D. (2002).Does High Scatter Affect the Predictive Validity of WAIS-III IQs? AppliedNeuropsychology,Vol. 9, Issue 3, p173, 6p
- Joy, S., Kaplan, E. & Fein, D. Digit Symbol - Incidental Learning in the WAIS-III: Construct Validity and Clinical Significance. Clinical Neuropsychologist, May 2003, Vol. 17, Issue 2, p182, 13p
- Charter, Richard A.A Cautionary Note on Deviation Scores for the WISC-III and WAIS-III. Journal of Clinical Psychology,Jul2003, Vol. 59, Issue 7, p787, 4p
- Taub, G., Witta, E. L., & McGrew, K. A Confirmatory Analysis of the Factor Structure and Cross-Age Invariance of the Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale--Third Edition. Psychological Assessment,Mar2004, Vol. 16, Issue 1, p85, 5p, 1 chart, 1 diagram.
Woodcock Johnson III Tests of Achievement and Cognitive Abilities
The Woodcock Johnson III Tests of Achievement (WJ III ACH) is designed to identify and describe an individual's current strengths and weaknesses. Three oral tests, a diagnostic spelling test and a measure of phonological awareness have been added to evaluate fluency in reading and in math.
The Woodcock Johnson III Test of Cognitive Abilities (WJ III COG) is designed to measure general and specific cognitive functions.
When these two tests are administered together, they allow the tester to look at achievement versus cognitive ability. Both tests have a high level of reliability and validity.
IVA + Plus CPT
The Integrated Visual and Auditory Continuous Performance Test (IVA+Plus) is a combined auditory and visual continuous performance test designed to help the clinician make an accurate diagnosis of ADHD. Results from the IVA+Plus help to differentiate between the four sub-types of Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder and has the lowest rate of false negatives. IVA+Plus also has strong validity and reliability ratings.
- Sandford, J.A., Fine, A.H. & Goldman, L. (1995). Validity Study of IVA: A Visual and Auditory CPT. Presented at the Annual Convention of the American Psychological Association, New York, NY.
- Seckler, P., Burns, W., Montgomery, D. & Sandford, J.A. (1995). A Reliability Study of IVA: Integrated Visual and Auditory Continuous Performance Test. Presented at the Annual Convention of CH.A.D.D., Washington, DC.
You Are Not Alone
On today’s college campuses 9.3% of students identify themselves as having a disability (National Council on Disability, 2003). In addition, there are a considerable number of college students with disabilities who have not identified themselves. Whichever path you choose to take, you are not alone. If your disability is affecting your success in college, connect with your disability service office (DSO) on campus. They will assist you with accommodations and strategies that will help you succeed, and tell you about other student services that may be useful to you. If you are interested, your DSO may also be able to connect you with students who are in your same shoes. Most importantly, make sure you have a strong support system in place (See Section IV, Develop a Support Network), and always know that you are not alone.
Challenges Create Strength
Challenges may bog you down at times and create roadblocks that get in the way. However, the silver lining to every challenge is that challenges may also help to build character, resilience and strength of spirit that would not have developed without the challenge present.
Complete the following sentences:
Because of my challenges I have greater awareness of...
Because of my challenges I have learned how to...
Because of my challenges I appreciate...
My challenges have made me a stronger person in the following ways...
Disability Does Not Define You
The more you learn about yourself, the more prepared you will be to succeed in the world. We are each a unique blend of strengths and challenges. The sooner we embrace all of who we are and are not, the sooner we can get on with the business of living a fulfilling life.
Question About Disclosure
I feel uncomfortable telling professors or college administrators that I have a disability. Do I have to disclose that I have a disability?
No. The choice is yours. However, if you need an accommodation (such as extra time on a test, a separate testing location, a note taker, etc.) you will have to provide documentation of your disability to the disability services office on campus and you will have to communicate your needs to your professors. Don’t worry. Chances are many other students with disabilities have already communicated with your professor in the past. Make the decision that will maximize your success. Don’t let a disability define or limit you. The bottom line is - be proud of who you are!
Know Your Life Right Now
Now that you have a sense of your strengths and challenges, it is helpful to take a look at how these strengths and challenges apply to your overall life. This will help you establish a baseline for where you are at right now and where you want to go in the future. Start by thinking about all of the different areas of your life. For example, if you made a pie chart of your life as a college student you might include the following life dimensions…Daily Living, School/Work, Health, Relationships, Recreation/Leisure, Spirituality/Purpose.
Balancing Your Life
It is important to remember that your life is not one dimensional. It includes all of the areas listed above and maybe more. To achieve success in life it is important to strive for some type of balance between all of your life areas. This doesn’t mean that the same amount of time is spent in each life area, but it does mean that each area receive some of your time. If you have a lot of stress in one area of your life and therefore, are spending most of your time in this area, it will impact all of the other parts of your life.
For example, if you take too many classes and become stressed, you might spend most of your time on school work and neglect exercise, sleep, eating right, and friendships. As a result, your health and relationships might suffer which ultimately could affect your academic performance. Similarly, if you spend a lot of time on social activities your grades might become compromised.
Chart Your Stengths and Challenges: Worksheet
What Your Life Looks Like Right Now: Worksheet
Now you are ready to take the results from the above chart and map out a pie chart of what your life looks like right now. Complete the following pie chart: My Life Right Now
Take a look at what your life looks like right now. Is your life balanced? If not, what do you need to do to make your life more balanced? Where is your greatest area of need and challenge? In what ways do you hope your life changes in the future? When you understand your strengths and challenges you are well on your way to becoming a strong self-advocate. The next step is to get a clear picture of what you need and want. From there you can take the steps necessary to realize your.