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College Tips for Students with Learning Disabilities

  • Synopsis: Published: 2009-09-13 (Rev. 2013-06-15) - A number of useful tips and information for persons with learning disabilities attending college. For further information pertaining to this article contact: Joan Azarva.

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Quote: "It is preferable to register in the Disability Services office where your classes can be hand-picked by someone who knows your learning style and how much you can reasonably handle."

High school students who transition to college find themselves facing a whole new set of challenges. Unfamiliar with the college system, they are prone to making poor judgments. Because college proceeds so rapidly (a typical semester is fifteen weeks), a few poor decisions can produce dire consequences. This list should help students make decisions that bode for success.

  • 1. Find a college that offers the services of a Learning Specialist by appointment. Learning Specialists are trained to break down concepts into their simplest parts and use "tricks" that make learning easier and more efficient. They often work "hands-on" with students. The tutoring lab for the general college population is usually not effective for freshmen with disabilities.
  • 2. Students who received learning support in high school usually require tutoring by a Learning Specialist three times per week... until they get their "sea legs". For each college credit, students have 2-3 hours of work outside of class. Unlike high school, college assignments require interpretation and inference. Tutoring improves these skills and gradually readies students for independence. After several semesters, students may need tutoring less frequently.
  • 3. Practice for college placement tests: English, math and reading (Google "Accuplacer" practice). Placement tests determine the level at which you may begin your courses. Find out in advance if a calculator is permitted for the math exam - many colleges do not allow it. In that case, you need to review long division, multiplication, fractions, decimals, etc. the old-fashioned way - don't be caught off-guard. If you are not satisfied with the results of your exams and feel they are not representative of your abilities, ask if you may take the tests again.
  • 4. Update your documentation, if it is older than three years, and submit it to the Disability Services office at the college of your choice shortly after you receive your acceptance letter. High schools often administer new psycho-educational evaluations for students transitioning to college, but you will probably have to request it. If your high school does not test, find a recommended school psychologist who does psycho-educational evaluations. Unlike in high school, you can rest assured that your disability will remain confidential. You will attend regular classes; none of your peers will know of your disability unless you decide to tell them. What are the benefits of disclosure? It allows you to receive accommodations (i.e., extra time, a distraction-free test environment, assistive technology, etc) and services, such as specialized tutoring, that level the playing field, boost your confidence, and, hopefully, start you off with a strong GPA (grade point average). In addition, students who disclose receive protection under the Americans with Disabilities Act, unlike those who do not. Those who try things on their own first, without disclosing, often do poorly because they lack knowledge of college protocol and sensible navigational strategies. By the time they ask for help, it is often too late. The result can be that it takes many semesters before they are able to raise their low GPAs.
  • 5. Attend freshman orientation but also attend the LD orientation offered by most colleges. While some of the information overlaps, there are essentials to be gained from both.
  • 6. Register as early as possible each semester. Some schools give priority registration to students with learning disabilities. Early registration provides the most choices. It is preferable to register in the Disability Services office where your classes can be hand-picked by someone who knows your learning style and how much you can reasonably handle.
  • 7. Consider taking a reduced course load, at least your first semester. Set yourself up for success until you are sure you can handle the new demands placed on you. It will do wonders for your confidence! Your health insurance will not be in jeopardy - the disability coordinator can write a letter to your insurance company indicating you are full-time with fewer credits due to a disability.
  • 8. Never register yourself (self-advise)! The Disability office is there to give you advice regarding all academic decisions. Use it.
  • 9. If Freshman Seminar is required, take it your first semester. You will learn the ropes, and it will make future semesters easier.
  • 10. Schedule school according to your biological clock . In other words, take classes when you are most alert and know you can get there on time.
  • 11. Take more difficult classes on Monday/Wednesday/Friday and easier classes on Tuesday/Thursday. Even though your time spent in class is the same, it is easier to maintain attention for the shorter three-class-per-week schedule. Be sure to keep your schedule balanced, so challenging classes are offset by easier ones.
  • 12. Schedule classes five days a week. Being in school every day serves as a constant reminder that education is your full-time job. It also allows you to partake in extra-curricular activities that increase your connection with school.
  • 13. Listen to students' recommendations of professors and courses. If they match your learning style, ask your Learning Specialist or adviser about them.
  • 14. Beware of summer and online (E-learning) courses. While it is natural to want to pick up additional credits in the summer, know that summer semesters are short, and the work comes on with the speed of a runaway freight train! It is advisable to take summer courses only in easier electives or areas in which you excel. Most importantly, if you failed a course in a 15-week semester, DO NOT retake it in the summer! How likely are you to understand it when it goes 2 1/2 times as fast? Online courses carry their own risks. Generally, they are for the extremely disciplined student who doesn't need the structure and interaction of traditional classes. Also, for students accustomed to using tone and facial expression to augment comprehension, online classes will put you at a distinct disadvantage.
  • 15. Speed should not be an objective in completing your degree. For students with learning differences, quality and speed are mutually exclusive; those who race usually finish with unimpressive GPAs.
  • 16. Do not worry about choosing a major for your first 48 credits . Use that time to sample classes in various disciplines. You may want to take an online career inventory that demonstrates how your abilities and interests align.
  • 17. When you choose a major, base it on something you love to do and do well. Believe it or not, hobbies can easily translate into careers - even video games and shopping. If you need guidance, go to the counseling center and ask them to administer an interest and/or personality inventory, such as Strong or Meyers-Briggs. This can be helpful in finding your direction.
  • 18. Head to the library between and after classes . You can read over notes you just took. Reviewing notes within 24 hours helps material start its journey towards your long-term memory. Even if you have your own room at home, there are has more temptations than at the library, where you can get a carrel with sides or a private study room to stay focused. Ideally, you should study for as long as your attention span allows, even if it is just 20 minutes. Follow that with a 5-minute break and return to work. Research has shown that effective studying is done in short, frequent sessions when our attention is at its peak.
  • 19. Study using flash cards and the coordinating website that appears on the back of your textbook. Flashcards worked in third grade, and they still work. They are effective because they show you what needs further review. If your handwriting is poor, find a free online site where you can make flashcards. For a one-time nominal fee, you can print out your cards. In addition, make use of the coordinating website that most textbook publishers now offer. These sites contain interactive activities and practice tests that provide feedback on how well you know the material. Also, some books come with CD-ROMs containing interactive exercises. The last step in the study process should always be a practice test - it is a "dress rehearsal" for the real thing!
  • 20. Get help at the first sign of confusion. Problems don't resolve themselves. With fewer tests in college, each one carries more weight. You can either make an appointment to see your instructor for clarification during his/her office hours or see your Learning Specialist. Evidence shows that students who have even just one close faculty contact have greater odds of success. Also, in class, sit near the most successful students who can help clarify things. Take their phone numbers. "Why would a successful student want to take time to help me" you might ask. First of all, he/she will be flattered by your request. Secondly, helping you reinforces the information for your classmate, so it's a win/win situation.
  • 21. If you do poorly on a test or quiz, determine why. If you do not find the source of your errors, you are destined to repeat them. Did you study the wrong material? Did you not study long enough to really learn the material? Did you misunderstand the directions? Did you cram? Were your notes incomplete
  • 22. At any time during a semester, you should know where you stand grade-wise. If you are unsure, ask your professors privately. You can also ask for suggestions on improving your grades. If you have done everything possible (i.e., getting help from your instructor, Learning Specialist, classmates, etc.) but are not in a position to pass a course, it is better to withdraw than take a "D" or "F". A "W" will not affect your GPA and has no stigma (unless it is done repeatedly). NOTE: Students on financial aid must be prudent about withdrawals - check with the financial aid office before withdrawing.
  • 23. Socializing should be reserved for nights when you don't have school the following day. Going out on a school night is incompatible with school success for most students. Even if you are back early, you are "wired" - it is not the same as spending a quiet evening at home.
  • 24. Keep employment to a minimum . Students with learning differences need to allot more time to studying. Sometimes organizational issues accompany a disability as well. Work is a distraction to students who have trouble "switching gears". College presents enough challenges without the added responsibilities of employment. Work should be restricted to no more than fifteen hours per week. Students can make up the money during lengthy winter and summer breaks.
  • 25. Ring out the old, ring in the new! Forget your habits of the past. No one knows you - wipe the slate clean and start fresh. Above all, get serious - this is the official start of your adult life!

In short, because of the vast number of differences between high school and college, all new freshmen are prone to unintentional navigational errors. For freshmen with disabilities, however, the consequences of these mistakes can be severe. Students who adhere to the above twenty-five rules are likely to increase their chances of academic success in their new college venue.

Reference: Joan M. Azarva, Ms.ED is an expert college Learning Specialist and most recently worked in this capacity at a local community college. She has nearly 35 years of experience working with students with LD/ADD. Joan currently teaches "Conquer College with LD/ADD" online in webinar format.

There is much more to learn about succeeding in college with a learning disability. If you would like more information, please go to www.conquercollegewithLD.com and sign up for a free copy of "Learning Disabilities: 10 Tips for High School Students with College Aspirations".

Related Information:

  1. Study and Receive an Education Online - Online education allows students to fit study around their busy life and earn virtually any degree or certificate.
  2. SAT Scores and Children with Learning Disabilities - New online SAT preparation course can help children with learning disabilities obtain good SAT scores.
  3. List of Disability Scholarships - Information and list of disability scholarships for applicants including financial aid for the disabled and grant money for students with disabilities.




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