College for Students with Learning Disabilities? Of Course!

January 10, 2016 | By More

By Megan Howell, Imago Dei School Principal

Most of the three percent or so of high school students who have been diagnosed with learning disabilities struggle so much in their high school classes that they often give up on hopes of college, setting back their job and career prospects, according to statistics compiled by the National Center for Learning Disabilities.

But there are new reasons for hope for anyone with attention deficit disorder, dyslexia, or other common learning challenges. A growing number of colleges, services, and technologies are helping students earn admission to, and diplomas from, colleges and universities.

Start preparing early. Many students, parents, and high school officials think struggling students should be shifted to easier classes. But starting in freshman year, anyone hoping for college should try to stick with college prep classes and avoid the temptation to retreat to lower track classes.  College courses are hard. Students who have been waived from high school algebra and other tough courses likely don’t have the knowledge or skills to be admitted to four-year colleges.

  1. Be creative. Students who just can’t succeed in some required courses can look for substitutes. For example, those whose learning disability makes it difficult to keep up in foreign language classes can try switching to something like American Sign Language.
  2. Put the student in charge.   Colleges don’t typically provide any special help unless students—not parents—know exactly what they need and know how to ask for it.  Students have to be ready to have an adult conversation about what they need, such as note takers, extended time on assessments and assignments or special software.  High school is a good time for parents to let students experience the repercussions of small failures so that they learn how to advocate for themselves.

Update the documentation on your learning disability. Students who want accommodations from their colleges must have documentation confirming the diagnosis that is generally no more than one or two years old, college officials say.

Accentuate the positive. Applicants aren’t required to inform colleges of their learning difficulties, and many students keep quiet for fear of hurting their chances of admission. Federal law bans colleges from discriminating based on disability, but it doesn’t require colleges to give any special admission breaks to learning disabled students. Many admissions officers say that students who can explain a bad grade or test score, or who use their application essays to show how they’ve overcome their challenges and “developed resiliency,” improve their chances of admission.

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