Navigating Through Graduate School

Currently, I'm pursuing a Master's degree at Howard University School of Social Work. Upon receiving my acceptance letter last year, I experienced a mix of emotions – excitement, nervousness, joy, and fear. This marked not only a transition to a new university but also I would be relocating to a different state, a decision I knew was necessary and important for advancing towards my career aspirations.

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Reflecting on my first year in the master's program, I'm glad I took this opportunity. However, I won't deny that it presented challenges, especially as a wheelchair user. While graduate school differs from undergraduate, I encountered familiar hurdles such as campus accessibility issues, locating disability services, and frequently advocating for myself. Despite these obstacles, attending Howard has provided me with so many great opportunities, particularly as a Black disabled woman, that I wouldn’t have received back home in the south. Nevertheless, like any institution, there's room for improvement to enhance the academic experience for disabled students.

As someone with a disability, especially as a wheelchair user, I know that where there's an obstacle, there's a way to roll over it. I want to share strategies that helped me navigate the challenges I encountered during my first year of my master's program. Hopefully, these can assist someone who is considering or attending graduate school soon.

Planning Ahead: Considering my disability, I had to devise a plan to be successful in my studies without overwhelming myself. This involved arriving on campus an hour early to allow time for setup. I also structured my schedule to include online classes, reducing the strain of daily campus commutes, especially after my internship or work. Planning ahead can help you find what works best for you, ensuring success in your program while avoiding burnout.

Connecting with Peers: Despite my independence, I recognize the importance of support. I'm grateful for my cohort, who have assisted me in navigating inaccessible spaces, advocated for me and also other disabled students, and provided emotional support when I dealt with ableism. Building a connection (maybe friendship) within your cohort can help you navigate challenges and understand the significance of accepting help. You don't have to go through things alone.

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Utilizing Resources: Recognizing the importance of support, I made use of available resources. This included registering with the disability services office, communicating my needs to professors, and utilizing any provided resources to aid in my studies. Understanding your rights to accommodations and resources is crucial for academic success. If there are available resources to help you with your studies, please use them.

Advocating for Self: While challenging, advocating for oneself is essential in education. This experience has been particularly valuable for me as a social work student, where advocacy is a fundamental skill. There may be instances where professors or the institution lack awareness of the challenges faced by disabled students. Advocating for oneself not only ensures a better academic experience but can also drive systemic change, benefiting future disabled students by addressing institutional ableism.

Graduate school can be overwhelming, especially as a disabled person, but it can also be a wonderful experience. The key thing to remember while in graduate school is that you deserve to be there, and your presence makes a difference. While you are learning, many people are learning from you and using that knowledge to become better advocates.

Learn more about Transitioning and Navigating College and access our free booklet. Become an Advocate or Request a Peer Mentor

About the Author - Nila Morton

My name is Nila Morton. I’m a 23-year-old woman in a wheelchair. I have a bachelor's degree in Psychology and hope to become a Clinical Psychologist one day. I love being around my family and friends. I have a dog named Chloe, who is the light of my life. My favorite things to do are shopping, traveling, trying new restaurants, writing, and reading. I hope that every day I inspire other disabled people to not be ashamed of their disability and to live their life to the fullest. Instagram/TikTok: @nilanmorton

Nila Morton

The opinions expressed in these blogs are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation.