What I've Learned About College as a Person With Autism

This past summer, I started visiting colleges, which to some may not seem very important. To me however, it is a huge milestone, but not for the reason one might think. The reason why my looking at colleges is a milestone is that the schools I am looking at are different than the ones I always imagined I would attend.

Let me explain. Two years ago, if someone asked me what university I would go to after high school, I would answer with absolute certainty that I would attend Princeton. Two years before that, I would answer Harvard as my choice school. I wanted to attend these extremely prestigious Ivy League schools because I was smart and I thought those were the schools smart people went to. Over the past year, however, I learned there is more to me than just my intelligence, and more to a school then just a name. I have not only learned this, I have accepted that these other things are just as important as my smarts. Most of all, I have accepted my autism as a part of who I am.

This was not always the case. I used to deny anything that made me different from the rest of my peers. In elementary school, I had the accommodation of being able to use a computer to write essays because of my dysgraphia, a condition that makes writing painful — both to me and those who try to read it. I would knowingly do the excruciatingly painful writing assignments rather than use the computer, because I did not want to stand out. As the years passed, I realized the computer improved my work as I could type much quicker and for longer periods of time than I could ever possibly have written. Why torture myself just to be a member of the crowd when there was something, a tool, that would allow me to be more successful? This was the question I asked myself. The answer proved to be my epiphany.

Getting back to my point, I knew smart people went to Harvard and so that was where I thought I had to go. Just like with my example, I saw my peers do something and I thought I had to do the same. And again, like the example with the computer, I realized that the university I will eventually attend will most likely not have a fancy name or be the highest rank.

What I have learned thus far in my search is no one college is right for every person. Some individuals may feel comfortable in a fast-paced and competitive Ivy League school. But for me, I have decided I am not going to go to Harvard, and that’s OK. I don’t care if the school I will attend has the best football team, the most famous alumni, or the biggest fraternity/secret society (Yale). I want to go to a university with an accessibility program that is actually accessible to their students. A school where I feel welcomed and can make lasting connections with my fellow classmates. I want to go to a smaller school where my professors will know me by my name and where I will be given the tools as well as the opportunities to be successful.

I know I am different. I have learned that everyone is different. Everyone has their own preferences, their own skills, and their own timeline to do things. As Abraham Lincoln once said, “Whatever you are, be a good one.” It does not matter what university I attend. What matters is what I do when I am there and the difference I can make by just being me, Jacob Fuentes.

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Thinkstock photo by HsinJuHSU.

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