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6 Tips for Students with Learning Differences in College

We all learn differently. Thanks to Howard Gardner’s book Frames of Mind: the Theory of Multiple Intelligences (1983), colleges know this too. Every student, whatever may be their strengths or weaknesses, has an equal opportunity to succeed in college. There are many colleges that provide an environment for students who may have various learning differences. When students make use of the many resources that are available to them, they discover they are able to excel in college, regardless of the diagnosis that they enroll with.

Having success in college for students with a diagnosed learning disability, however, requires more than getting accepted. There are many differences between having succeeded in high school and what will be required in order to find their way in college.

Additionally, It is important that students, prior to heading to college, be prepared with basic living skills. The ability to manage money, prepare a meal, do laundry, and have good hygiene are among the necessities of self-management and being away from home. Without a solid base of executive functioning ability, the potential of adapting to college living as well as the academics can be extremely difficult.

Here are our top six suggestions that will yield success in college:

  1. Understand Yourself  We believe, first and foremost, the student must be able to understand their diagnosis and be able to articulate the specifics of their strengths, limitations and needs. Those who know themselves and are effective in their self-advocacy are more likely to transition comfortably.
  2. Make Yourself Known Students should immediately register with the office or department that is responsible for disability support and special needs services. Many schools offer tutors, classroom support and any number of counseling services. The most conscientious students will take advantage of all that is made available and those that leverage offered assistance are far more likely to graduate. Asking for help is a significant life skill that far too few are willing to accept.
  3. Advocate For Yourself Unlike the IEP that a student may have had in high school, college students will need to know what are those “reasonable accommodations” to which they may be legally entitled, and to incorporate whatever technology and learning aids which will allow them to maximize their individual learning methods. Students should be comfortable in asking their counselor/advisor if they are unsure they have registered for appropriate accommodations.
  4. Set Yourself Up for Success First-year students, recognizing that they are entitled to “early registration,” need to be sure they have communicated early enough with the support program at their college in order to have this option. Many times a professional in this office of support services can help a student pick the classes and if available, the professor who may best meet their style of learning. It is best to defer any class that might be academically challenging at the outset. It is advisable, as well, for students to enroll in a lighter course load in their first semester and to be mindful of the time of day the course is being taught.
  5. Use Office Hours We encourage students to take advantage of any special or extra sessions being offered by their professors or their graduate student teaching assistants. It is appropriate for students to inform professors and other faculty of their disability and their specific needs.
  6. Parents …. Let go. You’ve done your part getting your child to this point. Your new role is being a sensitive listener. The college experience goes well beyond academics. Now is the time for your college student to accept the full opportunity to learn independence. We say that parents should graduate high school when their teens graduates; it should be only their student that continues on.

About the Authors

K & W Guide cover

Imy Wax, M.S., LCPC, NBCC, CEP is an Educational and Therapeutic Consultant, Founder of the Aspire Group that serves families around the world with offices in Deerfield and Chicago, Il.
Marybeth Kravets, M.A. is an Educational and College Counseling Consultant at Marybeth Kravets & Associates, for students with and without learning disabilities. Additionally, she is Director of College Counseling at the Wolcott School (Chicago, IL).

Imy Wax Marybeth Kravetz

Together they have over 60 years of professional experience and have released their 14th edition of The K&W Guide to Colleges for Students with Learning Differences, order here). This College Admissions Guide focuses on 338 Colleges and Universities with Learning Disability Support Programs or Services for Students with ADHD, and ASD. This updated analysis includes:

  • Advice from learning specialists on making an effective transition to college
  • Detailed services available to learning-disabled students at each college: tutors, note-takers, oral exams, extended test time, and more
  • Identification of policies and procedures regarding course waivers or substitutions
  • Expert strategies to help students find the very best match for their needs

The K&W Guide to Colleges for Students with Learning Differences, 14th Edition is the perfect guide for students, parents and professionals.