Learning differences

College Planning for Students with Learning Differences

First off, we want to make clear that we are not experts on the needs of students with learning differences (LD). However, over the years we have discovered several resources that provide valuable assistance and guidance for families. We wanted to take a moment to share some of our thoughts with you.

Students with learning differences enroll in postsecondary education at about the same rate (67%) as the general population.

Students with ADHD or dyslexia or other learning differences need to find colleges that will support their specific needs.

Parents are sometimes surprised to discover that colleges are not required to provide support services, although many do. These services may include tutoring and coaching, additional time for coursework, tests and assignments, note takers, quiet spaces for test taking, audio books, and assistive technologies such as equipment, software, learning materials, screen readers, and voice-recognition programs.

Where to start?

One of our favorite resources is a wonderful book by Elizabeth Hamblet called Seven Steps to College Success: A Pathway for Students with Disabilities (An earlier edition of her book, From High School to College: Steps to Success for Students With Disabilities, might be available at your library.) Her books will help you understand the laws in place, how to access accommodations, how to apply, whether or not to disclose your LD, and much more. They are a great foundation with lots of detail about what parents need to understand.

If you are on Facebook, you’ll want to check out her Facebook Group called College Transition and Accommodations Information for Parents. You can read and ask questions in the group while you’re looking for colleges and even while supporting your students in college. Tons of parents post about their experiences.

AND don’t forget your high school counselors, intervention, and transition professionals. They are there to support your child and will be invaluable sources of information and guidance.

How do you find colleges that provide the support your student needs?

A book/guide that is pretty decent is The K&W Guide to Colleges for Students with Learning Differences. It provides details about specific colleges. You’ll want to read about the support services available at each college and the policies and procedures at each. You can probably find this book at the library if you want to check it out before buying it.

Be on the lookout for college fairs specifically geared for students with learning differences. Here in Central Ohio, Marburn Academy hosts one every year. (This year’s is December 7, 2023 from 6:oo to 8:00 pm). You can talk to many different colleges and add to your list all at once.

Use the internet to read all you can about colleges your student is interested in. For example, this page from Ohio State University goes in-depth about their available services and has links about how to register, qualifying conditions, and more.

Families in Ohio should check out the Ohio College2Careers (Ohio C2C) program. Ohio C2C counselors are located in the disability services or career services office at each partner college. (Not in Ohio? Visit your department of education website to look for similar services.)

We’d also like to mention LimeConnect which provides many different support services including career networking and scholarships for those with disabilities.

Learning to self-advocate

Your student may be moving away from home for the first time, so helping your child learn how to self-advocate now is so important. Frankly, this skill is paramount whether a student has learning differences or not! Practically all teens struggle with speaking up for themselves, and college is an environment where they will have to take initiative when they need something.

On this page from Boston College, scroll down to the “Suggestions for Students with Accommodations” pull down menu. These tips are good to start working on now while in high school.

In addition, role-playing potentially awkward situations like making phone calls, initiating a conversation with an adult, etc. can help students feel more confident in the real-world situation.

What about struggles with executive functions?

Students with learning differences can sometimes struggle with executive functions like planning, time management, and organization, and these skills become even more important when the student goes to college and needs to manage things on their own. We have two resources to suggest.

You may want to connect to Jessica Garrett Mills. She specializes in academic coaching for students with learning differences, and she usually does some college preparation workshops in the summer before college starts. She also has a semester-long program that starts in January and August.

Midwest Educational Therapists & Associates help people from children through adults to overcome problems with procrastination, planning, organization, and other executive function issues. They help families successfully navigate school, work, and everyday activities.

The importance of preparing for college rigor

Keep in mind that college courses will have the same rigor for all enrolled students regardless of any need for accommodation. A good idea is to start to prepare for the rigor of college BEFORE getting to college. Dual enrollment programs are available in most states (Ohio’s College Credit Plus is a great example), and students can take a college class while having the support of living at home.

Students can access the college’s Office of Disability Services while taking a dual enrollment course to have a first experience with college courses and accommodations before they enter the college world full-time after high school. It can be a very helpful experience.

Remember, there is a well-tread path that you can follow that MANY students like your child have already blazed. You can do it!

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Original 10/2021
Updated 9/2023