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Students with Learning Differences: Getting Started with the College Search

Some students yearn to “be like everyone else,” to not stand out.  They spend energy and effort in trying to make it without any special accommodations. Some students succeed, although typically at considerable cost in time and energy. Others simply fail.  Some students spend lots of time worrying if their grades are deserved or if they are being graded too liberally. They want to make it in spite of their disability, not because of it. Some students come from sheltered high school settings where many things were done for them. When they arrive at college, they have many unfulfilled expectations and feel angry and bitter about the perceived lack of support. Some students are able to adjust to the rigors of college; many others, unfortunately, do not.

Most students who have difficulties in postsecondary education, however, do not fall into any of these categories. They experience difficulties because they are not good at letting others know what they need in order to be successful. In other words, these students have poor self advocacy skills.  There are many different reasons why students may not be good at communicating their needs. Some feel shy about approaching professors.  Others are reluctant to ask for needed accommodations because they do not want to be a burden or because they do not want to be treated differently. Some do not know what to say and what not to say to professors. Others fear that their request will not be honored or respected.  Regardless of the reason, research shows that when students get assistance from their professors, they feel more positive about themselves and their professors, and they increase their chances of academic success.

Your student can become her own advocate by becoming proficient at realistically assessing and understanding her strengths, weaknesses, needs, interests and preferences.  The first step is to sit with a professional and review the documentation to be sure your student understands and can effectively communicate her area of disability.  Be sure she is comfortable and confident in communicating her areas of strength and weakness as well as all accommodations she has benefitted from in the past.  The next step is to complete a self-assessment and examine critical questions involving your student’s level of motivation and independence.

Author Michael Sandler identifies six questions to assess self-motivation and independence in students with ADHD that can be adapted to students with any learning difference.  These questions can help identify specific attributes that you and your student must consider in a researching an appropriate college setting:

  • Did you need support and structure in high school?
  • Do you routinely need help from others to keep you motivated and focused?
  • Do you thrive on individual attention from teachers?
  • Do you prefer to immerse yourself in a subject?
  • Do you need a high energy environment?
  • Do you have trouble falling asleep?

Once you have examined your student’s needs and preferences, consider other elements, such as the location of the campus and your student’s career goals. In making the decision to attend a college or university, one obstacle is to select a college that best matches individual needs.  Students with learning challenges must not lose site of the fact that college life extends beyond a student’s academic needs. Rather than basing the decision solely on whether or not the college has a strong Disability Services Office, be sure the college can meet all your needs and preferences including academic supports and social opportunities.  Remember, there are a variety of resources available to students with learning differences.  So, comparing your student’s academic and social abilities to the expectations of the selected colleges is a critical factor in selecting the right college.

Tomorrow, I’ll continue with how to consider which location would be best for you.

Heather Creech
Educational Consultant Specializing in Learning Differences

 

 

 

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