Synopsis: Students with learning disabilities need to allow adequate time to set themselves up for post-secondary success.
Since students with learning disabilities are at greater risk in college, they need to allow adequate time to set themselves up for post-secondary success now. Keeping the following factors in mind increases the likelihood that transition from high school to college will be as seamless as possible.
1. To start your college search, make a list of desirable qualities in a school (i.e., commuter/residential, size, location, etc.) Start your search on the internet then begin college visitations. Allow your parents to narrow down your list to their acceptable choices. Then, once you see where you are accepted, you know those schools are all "parent-approved".
2. Perseverance is the single most important factor in college success. Tied for second are the ability to delay gratification (i.e., saying "no" when your friends are going out, but you really should study) and an organizational system that works for you. The sooner you work on these three things, the easier college will be.
3. In college, you are a legal adult and need to articulate your disability on your own. Self-advocacy goes hand-in-hand with this; it is critical in getting your needs met in college.
4. If you are serious about a school, ask to meet a successful student from Disability Services. Before making your final choice, ask about spending an overnight with that student. You will get a better sense of whether or not you would feel comfortable at that college.
5. FERPA - The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act is a Federal law that protects the privacy of students' educational records. However, keep this in mind: your parents support has helped get you to where you are today. Considering they are footing the bill, it is not unreasonable for parents to want to be kept in the loop. "LD-friendly" colleges allow you to sign a FERPA waiver.
6.The director of Disability Services sets the tone for the entire department. If you find this person off-putting, think twice about whether you would feel comfortable at the college.
7. If your documentation is older than 3 years, it should be updated. Make sure the list of recommendations at the end of the documentation includes critical items for your success. (Of course, they must be supported by the testing.)
8. Start exploring technologies you have never used but might help level the playing field for you. You can get an idea of different technologies when you visit the Disability Services offices at different colleges.
PROCEDURE FOR GETTING ACCOMMODATIONS
9. You and your parents should meet with the director of Disability Services as soon as you are admitted. Bring your documentation with you. IEPS are not of value in college.
10. The director will review your documentation and subsequently meet with you to discuss accommodations to be included in letters to your teachers. An accommodation you should strongly consider requesting is a reduced course load - at least for the first semester. Students can be considered full-time with as few as 6 credits, depending on the amount of work they can handle. Ask the director to write a letter for your parents' insurance company explaining your full-time status with a reduced load, but do not submit the letter until it is requested.
11. Check back with the Disability Office at the start of school to pick up your accommodation letters. You need to deliver a letter to each instructor to whom you are disclosing. Find a private moment before or after class to do this, or make an office-hour appointment with your instructor, so you can maintain your privacy. This meeting is a good opportunity to introduce yourself and explain your needs to your professors.
12. The process of requesting, picking up, and delivering letters must be repeated each semester. If you need a change in accommodations, discuss this with the director of Disability Services.
13. Initial class selection is based on the result of college placement exams which all freshmen take. Remember that most colleges ban the use of calculators for the math exam. You should go in prepared to do all calculations the old-fashioned way. That means extensive practice until this comes naturally again.
14. Your schedule should be balanced between challenging courses and easier ones. Take the challenging classes three times a week, not two.
15. Classes should be hand-selected by someone in the Disability Services office who knows your learning style and the instructors who suit you best.
16. Keep your ears open to friend's recommendations of engaging professors - but make sure they suit your learning style before enrolling.
17. For most incoming freshmen, tutoring three times a week is recommended to get off to a good strong start. Consider tutoring empowering; the more help you have initially, the sooner you'll feel confident in your abilities.
18. As you become stronger and meta-cognitive (the state of learning how to learn), your Learning Specialist may suggest you gradually reduce tutoring. Some students may eventually be able to access tutoring on an as-needed basis, rather than by standing appointment.
There is a lot more to learn about achieving success 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".
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" locally and will soon offer it online in webinar format.