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College Admissions

Helping Students with Learning Differences Succeed in College (Part 2)

For all students, making a good college match means considering a school’s size, curriculum, location, and student life. Students with AD/HD and learning disabilities need to add another element to the college search. Does a school offer support services that can help them succeed?

The transition from high school to college can present more challenges to students with learning disabilities and AD/HD. Some students feel stigmatized by their diagnosis, and are reluctant to ask for help. While they may manage in high school, this go-it-alone approach may not work in the less structured college environment. Teachers won’t give regular quizzes that require students to keep up assigned reading. Parents won’t be there to help students get to class on time, do homework and follow through with papers. Time management, organization and planning, and prioritizing are essential.

Colleges offer differing levels of support to students with learning disabilities and AD/HD. All schools provide a basic level of accommodations to students with physical, psychological or learning disabilities, in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. Academic accommodations, such as extended time or a non-distracting room for exams, are meant to equalize the learning environment and are available at no cost.

For students who have developed learning skills, are able to self-advocate, and don’t need individualized support, the basic accommodation model can work. Students at these schools must take the initiative to get academic accommodations. While most of these schools offer minimal services, some do offer programs such as time management workshops and access to assistive technology.

Schools with structured support go beyond basic accommodations and offer additional support outside the classroom. This can include group or individual sessions to help students with reading comprehension, writing, speaking, listening and time management. Some of these programs also provide summer pre-orientation sessions to prepare students for college courses, familiarize them with campus resources, and introduce them to peers with similar learning issues.

Then there are colleges that provide more comprehensive support. These programs teach learning strategies and skills based on a student’s learning style. One of the most well-known comprehensive programs is the Strategic Alternative Learning Techniques (SALT) Center at the University of Arizona. Students are assigned to learning specialists who provide individualized academic support and help them learn new strategies for success the university environment. Specially trained tutors and writing support are available, as is a computer lab that provides access to assistive technologies.

Another option is a two-year school like Landmark College in Vermont, exclusively for students with learning disabilities and AD/HD. Students receive extensive support as they develop learning strategies, and most go on to four-year colleges.

Programs that offer support beyond basic accommodations usually charge fees, which can run several thousand dollars a year, depending on the level of service. Students who need disability support in college must have proper documentation. Check with each school for their requirements, but most colleges want test results that are less than three years old.

Parents are sometimes afraid that disclosing a learning disability will jeopardize their child’s chance of admission. But colleges can’t discriminate on the basis of disability, and if a school wasn’t welcoming to students with a learning disability or AD/HD, would you really want your child to be in that environment? In fact, admissions officers are likely to respond positively to a student who has done well in high school while dealing with the burden of a learning disability or AD/HD, and who can advocate for his or her needs.

When visiting colleges, students should stop by the academic support office and find out what services are available. The attitude of the staff is important in determining whether a college offers a good environment for a student.

Students who know their strengths and weaknesses are in the best position to find schools that offer the support they need, and are likely to be successful in college.

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