Learning disabilities require extra preparation for college admission
Students With Learning Disabilities
“Adam (or Ellen) doesn’t test well. Do you think he (or she) could get extra time on the SAT?” I frequently hear this question in February or March, as the main SAT, ACT test season approaches. The issue often pops up too late for successful action. Whether a student can obtain accommodations for college admissions tests depends on how long their high school has had accommodations in place. The student must show that they were granted extra time on tests in high school for at least four months prior to registering for the SAT. To receive extended time on the ACT, one year of prior accommodations in high school is required. The school psychologist or guidance counselor should submit an accommodation form plus results of specific disability testing. The student must be determined to have a substantial limitation in comparison to the average person. The disability may take the form of physical impairment such as impaired eyesight, chronic health conditions (ADHD), or significant emotional difficulties. The guidance office should submit the student’s IEP or 504 plan along with their application.
Early preparation for testing accommodation is crucial. Eligibility for accommodations is determined on a case by case basis through documentation review by the testing authorities. This review can take from 6-8 weeks so high school juniors should be working on this now if they seek extra time on the SAT or ACT in the spring.
Testing accommodation is just one among a variety of college admission issues that LD students face. Another significant concern is finding a college match for the LD student that supports their special academic needs as well as fitting their interests and preferred social environment. Learning disability services at colleges can range from one part time advisor from off-campus to an entire center devoted exclusively to helping learning disabled students. It is important to schedule an interview with the LD specialist on campus to find out if the college can meet the student’s specific needs.
The more extensive programs often include extra fees because they require specially trained staff. Colleges with extensive programs may have computers with tailored software, secluded testing rooms, resource libraries, a team of specialists on site and other services. A good reference for families researching the extent of services offered by colleges is The K & W Guide to Colleges for Students with Learning Disabilities by Marybeth Kravets and Imy Wax. Guidebooks can help students narrow their list of colleges but there is no substitute for a personal visit. A student can then assess how comfortable they feel in the specific learning environment and in the social culture. Finding a supportive learning environment where the student feels at ease can make the difference between success and failure in college.
Colleges handle learning disabilities in a notably different way than high schools. Throughout their high school years, LD students benefit from structured 504 or IEP educational plans that outline required services. In many cases, parents act as advocates for their school-age children, making sure their needs are met through the IEP or 504 plan. These educational plans no longer apply in college. College students must understand their disability well enough to explain what they need and what won’t work for them. Self-advocacy must become a habit for LD students because parents are unable to advocate after students are admitted and significant issues can crop up in unexpected areas, such as the learning environment in the dormitory. Many, many learning disabled students have completed college successfully. Success in college for LD students depends on a proper college fit based upon a well- researched process that should begin no later than mid junior year.
Dr. Lucia Tyler has worked in higher education at Cornell University for over 15 years after receiving her PhD in analytical/fd.chemistry. Her professional roles have included researcher, lecturer, lab coordinator, student mentor, grant writer and curriculum developer. She has tutored students and written job, internship and professional school recommendations for them.
Her interest in college consulting began when she was helping her own children through the admissions process. Most recently, she worked in Cornell veterinary admissions giving presentations, counseling applicants, and writing a faculty admissions handbook. Her love of teaching continues in her free time when she tutors adults learning to read. She also enjoys skiing, swimming, reading and community service in various local environmental organizations.
Dr. Tyler is a member of IECA, an educational consultants association that requires commitment to a high ethical standard.