How students with special needs can thrive in their freshmen year

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14 July 2020

Starting university is an exciting yet stressful time, filled with anticipation about what the next few years will bring, but also trepidation at having to adapt to a new environment.

As a student with special needs (SSN), you may face challenges such as needing your instructors to accommodate your special needs, or finding it hard to participate in co-curricular activities (CCAs).

As your senior, let me offer you three tips for making your journey in NUS smoother and more fruitful.

1. Know where to get help

As an SSN, the Disability Support Office (DSO) is your one-stop resource for anything you could possibly need. Agnes Yuen, a Student Care Manager has helped me numerous times through the years. Don’t be shy about dropping her an email to say hi!

 Other useful contacts

 For University-wide matters, e.g. examinations, graduation

 Registrar's Office

 For career-related advice

Centre for Future-ready Graduates

 For general logistical or academic support

Student Support Manager at your faculty Dean's Office

2. Be open about your special needs

Communication is key in ensuring that your special needs are met. The instructors at NUS are committed to leaving no student behind and will do what they can to accommodate you. But first, you must tell them what you need. I email all my instructors at the start of each semester to introduce myself and my special needs, so that each instructor and I can then discuss what assistance I might require in their module.


Once you declare a major, it’s also a good idea to get to know your department’s administrative staff. They, too, will play an integral role in arranging your accommodations. Make sure to introduce yourself and your situation to them so they know how to help you.

3. Grab opportunities by the hair

To be frank, not every CCA in NUS is suitable for SSNs. But keep your eyes peeled because occasionally, an opportunity will arise that will be perfect for you, and you’d best be ready to seize it! I started writing opinion pieces for TODAYonline thanks to an email blast from my department’s General Office inviting students to submit their work to the editor.


Writing is something my disability doesn’t impede, so I jumped at the chance to enhance my personal brand by being published in the mainstream media. This has boosted my visibility, in turn opening up even more opportunities. And as you probably know, having varied experiences outside of school is important in building your career profile.

A word about online classes

Because of social distancing measures necessitated by the COVID-19 pandemic, most classes will be conducted online this semester. It’s unfortunate that your first taste of university lessons won’t be the real deal, but online classes don’t have to be a poor substitute for in-person lessons. In fact, online classes work much the same way as physical ones. For example, tutorials are often held on the Zoom video-conferencing platform, which makes interacting with your classmates a breeze: simply unmute yourself and speak freely, just as you would in a normal classroom.

Armed with these tips, I hope you have a fantastic freshman year!


Jonathan Tiong is a Year 4 Communications and New Media student at the NUS Faculty of Arts & Social Sciences. Water and animals are his two pet causes and he has done some volunteer work with organisations such as PUB, the national water agency, and Bunny Wonderland, a rabbit rescue group. In his free time, he is usually somewhere in the virtual world of RuneScape, a game he has played for over a decade. Jonathan blogs regularly and you can get to know him better here