Once the student's strengths, learning needs, and level of support needed have been delineated, it is time to look at the characteristics of colleges that might be a good match for the student. Consider various types of colleges: two-year colleges, public community colleges, private junior colleges, four-year colleges and universities, as well as graduate and professional schools. Students with LD can succeed in all types of schools, including the most prestigious.
Students must determine the characteristics of colleges that will make them happy and support their success. For example, how big is their high school? Will they feel more comfortable in a larger or a smaller college? Will they be happier in an urban or a rural area? Can they meet the academic requirements? Should they find a college that doesn't impose rigid prerequisites? Should they consider enrolling part-time rather than taking a full course load? What are their academic and extracurricular interests?
In looking at colleges, students may also want to consider whether progressive attitudes toward instruction prevail. Colleges that are using instructional techniques and electronic technology in a flexible way can increase students' success. For example, if courses are web-based so lecture notes or videos of presentations are available online and can be viewed multiple times, then students have natural supports built into a course. Nevertheless, according to the Heath Resource Center (2004), a student can get a good idea about the nature of the college by asking questions such as:
- Does this college require standardized college admissions test scores? If so, what is the range of scores for those admitted?
- For how many students with learning disabilities does the campus currently provide services?
- What are their major fields of study?
- What types of academic accommodations are typically provided to students with learning disabilities on your campus?
- Will this college provide the specific accommodations that I need?
- What records or documentation of a learning disability is necessary to arrange academic accommodations for admitted students?
- How is the confidentiality of applicants' records, as well as those of enrolled students, protected? Where does the college publish Family Education Rights and Privacy Act guidelines which I can review?
- How is information related to the documentation of a learning disability used? By whom?
- Does the college or university have someone available who is trained and understands the needs of adults with learning disabilities?
- What academic and personal characteristics have been found important for students with learning disabilities to succeed at this college?
- How many students with learning disabilities have graduated in the past five years?
- What is the tuition? Are there additional fees for LD-related services? If so, what services beyond those required by Section 504 and the ADA does one get for those fees?
In addition to talking with college staff, try to arrange a meeting with several college students with LD and talk with them about the services they receive and their experiences on campus. Such a meeting can be requested when you schedule the interview with the college staff. While you will certainly be interested in the answers to the questions, the impressions that you get during the conversations will be equally important and may serve as a way to make final refinements to the short list. (HEATH's How to Choose a College: Guide for the Student with a Disability contains more detailed advice.)
Students with disabilities must also look at other factors. They should investigate the support services offered by candidate colleges, discuss them with college staff (e.g., personnel in the Office of Disability Support Services), and verify that the services advertised by the college will actually be available to the student. For example, is tutoring available? Will extended time be allowed for taking tests? Is someone available to help with taking notes or preparing written work? Will college policies allow extended time to complete a course of study so that fewer classes may be taken over a longer period of time? Furthermore, students with LD must decide whether and to whom to disclose the presence of the disability. To obtain support services, students must self-disclose their disabilities to the Office of Disability Support Services. That office will notify professors of the necessary accommodations. Students are not required to give faculty information about a disability, but to obtain the best course work accommodations, they must be able to explain their needs to instructors. Therefore, students will want to investigate specific classes before they register for them. Some strategies for becoming informed about classes are listed below.
Participate in orientation programs. These programs provide opportunities to become familiar with campus life and to ask questions of continuing students and advisors about classes, faculty, resources, and services.
Don't procrastinate. Do not wait until the last minute to begin gathering information about courses and professors. Most Offices for Disability Support Services will allow students with disabilities to register a few days before other students, but you must be prepared.
Talk to other students. Other students are an excellent source of information about classes and professors.
Audit classes. It is possible to observe a class for a limited period of time to determine whether this is the right class. Students who audit a course are not responsible for exams or assignments.
Check the Internet. Most colleges and universities offer an increasing amount of information, including the course syllabus (outline of the course), objectives, textbook, readings, and assignments.
Meet the professor. Professors schedule office hours to answer questions about the course. Getting the textbooks and reading list ahead of time also allows students an opportunity to get a head start on the course.
For many individuals with LD, the transition to adulthood will be a time of positive self-discovery, but it will take trial and error. Goals and successes can sometimes be elusive, and the hidden nature of LD can pose special challenges. Careful preparation for the transition to college can help.
© ______ 2006, Merrill, an imprint of Pearson Education Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. The reproduction, duplication, or distribution of this material by any means including but not limited to email and blogs is strictly prohibited without the explicit permission of the publisher.