Applying To College With A Learning Disability

By Rebecca Putter

 

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If you’re a student who’s seeking support services at college, you may find this checklist helpful as you explore and apply to colleges that fit you best.

As you transition from high school to college, one of the most important things you can do is advocate for yourself and take charge of your own education. The college application process provides a great opportunity to begin taking ownership of an important part of your academic progress. Understanding your challenges and knowing what you need to do your best will help you through every part of the college admissions process and serve you well once you actually get to college!

Explore Colleges

  • Reflect on your high school experience and ask what has worked for you and what hasn’t. What kind of living and learning environment is right for you? For example: Do I need a small, nurturing community? Do I like to participate in small class discussions or prefer large lectures? Would I like to develop relationships with my professors? Do I want a more traditional college experience with football and Greek life?
  • Reflect on your challenges and what support you need to do your best. Ask yourself if you’ll need and utilize support services and accommodations at college. Different colleges offer a varying menu of services for students seeking extra support—from tutoring and counseling to extra time accommodations and comprehensive disability services. As you begin to research colleges in guidebooks, online, and on-campus visits, make sure you investigate the available support services you think will be important for you.
  • Read our blog post: Five College Planning Tips for Students with Learning Disabilities and research college LD support services in The Princeton Review’s K & W Guide to College Programs and Services for Students with Learning Disabilities or ADHD.

Visit Colleges

Before you go:

  • Check out the college website to find out what kinds of tours and information sessions are offered to prospective students and their families. Ideally, plan your visit while classes are in session (not on break) so you can see what the college is really like.

  • Check out our founder's blog post: Five College Visit Tips.

  • Inquire about visiting with someone at the disability resource center (a.k.a. student support services) when you are on campus. Check the disability services webpage for each school. Some colleges, like Wheaton College in Norton, MA, offer a special appointment for students visiting campus for a tour or interview. If possible, make an appointment to briefly talk with someone about the resources and services provided.
     
  • Visit the disability resources office. Gather some brochures and talk with someone about services. Here are some questions you can ask:

    1. What tutoring and counseling services are available to all students at the college?
    2. Does the college offer services and accommodations for special needs/LD students? If so, what services do they offer to students with special needs/LD students? (Do they offer executive coaching, note-taking services, extra time for tests, etc.?)
    3. What documentation do students need to submit to receive accommodations and what is the process/timeline?
    4. How often do students meet with disability resource staff?
    5. Is there an extra fee to receive support services?
    6. Is there a special freshman orientation for students with learning differences?

After you visit, email or mail thank you notes to the admissions officer and disability services administrators you met. 

Apply to Colleges

  • Create a balanced list of 8–12 colleges you'd be excited to attend and research the application requirements carefully.
  • Stay in touch with your high school counselor throughout the application process to make sure the colleges receive your transcripts and other required materials.
  • Develop a system for staying organized and managing all the deadlines involved in applying to various schools. Get the help you need to make the process as easy and stress-free as possible.
  • Write about your challenges in the additional information section of the application. Approach this piece of writing like another personal statement so that it helps admissions officers understand you a bit better. Think about how you will thoughtfully reflect on your challenges, how they may have impacted your high school academics and life, what you’ve learned from the experience, and what kind of college experience you envision.
  • Get letters of recommendation from teachers who know you best and have seen you evolve as a student during high school. Consider getting an additional letter from a case manager or the SSP coordinator at your high school. Ask recommenders to address your learning style, motivation to do well, level of achievement, self-discipline, mastery of subject matter, and the kinds of academic risks, intellectual curiosity, and personal growth they’ve seen over the years. 

Throughout this process, remember that the end goal is finding colleges where you will feel challenged, nurtured, and able to be at your best. The more you know about yourself, the easier it will be to find the best colleges for you.

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