A significant development in the world of college admissions is the increasing number of students with learning differences or disabilities who are attending college. For families and students, managing the transition to college is often a bewildering and arduous task. But it doesn’t have to be. This column will give you the basic knowledge to plan your “mission” and successfully launch into college.
While in high school, a student with a documented learning disability is covered under the federal Individuals with Disabilities Act and receives services via an Individualized Education Plan or Individualized Family Services Plan. However, when the student goes off to college, these accommodations and services do not necessarily follow.
In college, students are covered under Titles II and III of the American with Disabilities Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. Under these laws, it is up to the student whether, when and how to disclose a learning disability and to seek accommodation. In order to seek accommodation, a student will need to provide medical documentation showing he or she has a disability and needs accommodation. Parents have no right to access this information of their adult-aged student unless the student waives privacy rights.
Ready for boarding
To ease them along the path, it is vital for a student with a learning disability to be involved in setting long-term goals for an IEP/IFSP transition plan, which often includes finding a college that is a good fit. The student should learn how to articulate his or her learning disability and be aware of how the services needed will facilitate success in school.
With this in mind, there are three stages of the college admissions process where it is important to consider learning disabilities: testing, college selection and college application.
Here are the specifics about each area:
* Testing: Almost all colleges require standardized test scores, such as SATs and ACTs. Students with learning disabilities have the right to test accommodations that may vary from wheelchair accessibility and Braille to extended testing time or taking the test in a quiet room. The student must apply in advance for the accommodation; just because he or she has an IEP, it does not automatically mean the services will be granted.
Check each test provider’s website — http://sat.collegeboard.org/register/for-students-with-disabilities and http://www.actstudent.org/regist/disab — to learn more about the process. Keep in mind that colleges do no see what accommodations a student received during testing.
* College selection: The college search process is essentially the same except for the way students with learning disabilities prioritize their selection criteria. The type of student support services offered are a vital aspect of whether a college is a good fit. The key question to analyze is just how much support a student will require.
The “go to” resource for learning disabilities information on colleges is the “K&W Guide to College Programs & Services for Students with Learning Disabilities or ADD/HD” by Marybeth Kravets and Imy F. Wax. In general, there are three types of college programs for students with learning disabilities:
— Structured: This is the most comprehensive type of program and may require additional costs. There is trained staff who track, monitor and counsel students. Many services are offered such as note-taking and reduced course loads. The University of Denver and the University of Arizona’s Strategic Alternative Learning Technique Center are examples. There also are colleges that are designed exclusively for students with learning disabilities such as Landmark College, a two-year college in Vermont, and Beacon College in Florida.
— Coordinated: This type of program is not as comprehensive and does not cost extra. There may be one or more staff who are specially trained, but there are not as many services offered. Stanford, Brown and the UCs are examples.
— Basic: This program meets the legal requirements, but there is usually no trained staff to help. Whether course-level services are received often depends on department chairs. Basic programs are best suited to highly motivated, independent self-advocates. Emory, University of Oregon and Loyola Marymount are examples.
* College application: The primary difference in the application process is self-disclosure since students will not receive services unless they choose to divulge information. A student should consider whether he or she feels comfortable revealing the learning disability situation in the application — perhaps in the essay — or if it’s preferable to wait until hearing the admissions decision.
Be aware that disclosure is voluntary and confidential. A student cannot be denied admission solely on the basis of a learning disability. Instead, colleges consider whether the student has met the admissions criteria and will be able to be successful in school.
Countdown is a go
Throughout this process, it is essential that students and families work with their high school counselors and their support teams to ensure that deadlines are met and correct documentation ends up where it needs to go.
To infinity and beyond
Although students with learning disabilities/differences and their families may feel disheartened about certain aspects of the college admissions process, please remember that there is a college out there for everyone. As stated in his book “Colleges That Change Lives,” Loren Pope says, “Today’s learning disabled will be tomorrow’s learning gifted.”
So, get ready to blast off and discover just what the universe holds!
— Jennifer Borenstein is an independent college adviser in Davis and owner of The Right College For You. Her column is published on the last Tuesday of the month. She lives in Davis with her husband and two daughters. Reach her at [email protected], or visit www.therightcollegeforyou.org.