College Planning For Students With Learning Differences

For many, the college journey isn’t just an intellectual one, it is also a transition to adulthood, from being a dependant, to being independent. A big part of that transition, for all students, is the act of taking ownership of your decisions, your needs, and your resources. Students must learn to advocate for themselves, to recognize their needs and seek out help when appropriate, and manage the demands of college life. What is true for all students, is just as true, as always, for students with learning differences.

One of the biggest differences between high school and college is that of directed learning versus independent learning. High school students spend roughly six hours a day in class with almost daily contact with teachers who get to know them. College schedules vary daily and, in general, for every hour of class time college students spend three hours of out of class preparing assignments and/or studying. For LD (or ADHD) students, this amount of time may be doubled.  By senior year in college, this will feel normal. In the fall of your freshman year, however, this transition can be abrupt and, for many, overwhelming.

Time Management is Critical for Students with Learning Differences

The most significant challenge that LD students face at college is the balancing act between social life and academic demands. Distractions are endless in college, which only exacerbate the difficulties of time management. This is all the more reason to find a college where the academic support is not only available, but easily accessible and strongly encouraged. 

So what should the college search for LD students entail?  Speak with teachers and counselors/deans at your high school who know you and can honestly evaluate the level, and types, of academic supports you will need in college. Listen to their recommendations and share them with the college counselor at your school so that he/she can sensibly guide you through the admissions process.   

Learning Difference Support Varies College to College

Almost all colleges will claim some level of support for students with learning differences. The actual nature, accessibility, and cost of this support varies widely and often has limits. The more acute your student’s need for support, the more imperative it is to identify those schools that offer the specific academic support that you need. Finding the right environment and the right level of support, especially in the first three semesters of college, can make all of the difference. This is where the school advisor (or independent counselor) can, and should, provide the appropriate direction.

Almost all colleges offer accommodations (i.e. extended time; note takers; adaptive software), but to obtain even basic accommodations, students must provide comprehensive documentation of the learning disability.  On every college website, you can find the specified documentation including the requisite educational testing, that each school requires. Note that an IEP or 504 is not adequate documentation; colleges want to see a fairly recent psycho-educational evaluation.

The information below details the levels of support that various colleges offer.  In general, Services are the resources available through the academic services office at no cost to LD students in addition to accommodations; Programs are exclusively designed for LD students and provide more in-depth and individualized support and often incur an additional fee.  The table below details the levels of support that various colleges offer. 

Three Tiers of Academic Support at College for Students with Learning Differences

Comprehensive Support Programs

  • Frequent meetings with learning specialists to assist students with academic, organizational, and time management skills
  • Typically staffed by full-time learning specialists
  • May include workshops on study skills, and special orientation.
  • Additional fee for support service on top of tuition

Coordinated Services

  • Support office works with students who need help with academics, but staff typically does not include learning specialists.
  • Students may seek assistance from staff to help with organizational skills and time management.
  • May include workshops on test-taking skills, and strategies for stress reduction.
  • Services are free of charge.

Basic Support

  • Available through the college’s Office of Student Disabilities, which also oversees specific accommodations.
  • Student must advocate for himself, register with office and provide documentation. The office will not track down, or follow-up with students.
  • Services are provided free of charge.

For further guidance on the college search and admissions process for students with learning differences, please join us for an exclusive parent workshop hosted by Noodle Pros on Wednesday, October 3 at 6:30pm. Register here.

As the founder of ReadySetCollegeNYC, Franca has been successfully guiding students on their college journey for the past 12 years. Through personalized guidance and continuous support, Franca empowers students to take control of their college search and to achieve success in a sensible and strategic way. Partnering closely with families, she allays parent concerns and student anxieties by organizing and overseeing the process. Franca is a member of the National Association of College Admission Counseling (NACAC) and the New York State Association of College Admissions Counselors (NYSACAC). She holds an MA in Journalism from New York University and an MA, and BA, in Biology from Queens College.