By Dria Fearn
Planning for college really is a team effort by high school students and their parents. Although the suggestions below are written for students with learning disabilities (LD) and/or Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (AD/HD), parents need to be aware of what is involved so they can help their teenagers follow through. Parents may even take on some of the tasks for their teens, such as arranging an appointment with an admissions officer or making sure the student gets reevaluated and remains eligible for accommodations.
If your high schooler expects to attend college, be sure she begins these activities at least by the summer before her senior year of high school.
Most colleges and universities require students to submit personal statements along with their applications. The topic should probably be about disability and how you, the applicant, have overcome or compensated for it. This is the typical “obstacle” essay. It serves as an opportunity to discuss any particular courses you’ve struggled with due to the nature of your learning disability and explain why your grades may not necessarily reflect the time and effort you put into your classes. A well-written personal statement can make the difference between being accepted or being denied, so take time to plan, write, and rewrite it. Don’t be afraid to ask your English teacher to read it over and make recommendations.
Before you apply for admission, ask the staff of the Disabled Student Services Office if the college offers separate admission standards to students with LD. Also find out what documentation of LD they require for admitted students to receive services. Since you have LD, it’s very important to feel comfortable with the services available because you’re going to be using them. If you need tutoring or special academic accommodations and they’re not available, then perhaps you should consider another school.
It’s a good idea to check out the Admissions Office of a potential school in order to understand what you need to include in your application, as well as to get a feel for the campus. Admissions Officers work twelve months of the year so they may be able to meet with you during the summer months.
Make an appointment, and take a copy of your transcript (complete with cumulative GPA and all relevant test scores) and a resume. You may also want to take a copy of your personal statement to receive some feedback. Also, ask about the appeals process in case you are not admitted, most schools have a process and many have a high rate of return.
There’s nothing worse than being a senior and realizing you still haven’t taken all the required tests. Keep track of the testing dates and know which tests need to be taken, such as the College Board (SAT I & II) and the ACT. As a test taker with a disability, you have to get your forms in before the deadline to receive accommodations. You’ll need a special accommodations form that can be picked up from your high school counselor’s office. Fill it out early in case a mistake is made on either end.
There are no Individualized Educational Plans in college, so it’s your responsibility to go into the Disability Services Office to sign up for services. No one will track you down to provide you with the accommodations you need. Most colleges require documentation, and it’s only good for 3 or 5 years depending on how old you were at the time of the evaluation (3 years if under 21 year of age, 5 years if over 21). If your documentation isn’t current, you can be denied services. Make sure your documentation states all the accommodations you may need, e.g., tape recorder for lectures, computer for exams, a notetaker, etc.
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