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.
Scholarships = Free Money You Don’t Pay Back. Since most scholarships out there are for high school seniors, you need to get started as soon as possible so you won’t miss the deadlines. I’ve found Fastweb.com to be a good source of scholarship information. You fill out pages of personal information, and in a matter of minutes, the site has sorted through its database and provided you with the ones that apply to you. They will also send you an email message you when more scholarships are released.
Check with your school district, place of worship, and local organizations to learn about scholarships you may be eligible for. There are not many scholarships out there strictly for individuals with disabilities, so don’t be afraid to apply for mainstream scholarships.
Ask yourself these questions when considering schools. Where do you want to live: urban or rural setting? What size campus are you interested in? What class size is best for you? By visiting the campus, you and your parents can decide if the atmosphere is a comfortable one for you. However, don’t pick a school simply because it offers a specific major because you may change your major at least once during your college years.
Priority enrollment is early registration for classes, and students with disabilities typically are eligible. Be sure to ask the Disability Services Office for details, and use it!
If you don’t get a class you want (or are placed on a waitlist), show up on the first day. Some students who are enrolled may decide not to attend, and you’ll be able to take the open spot. If it’s a course you absolutely must take, talk to the professor who may make an exception and add you - even if the class is already full.
Ask current students at the college about different professors and classes. If you’re not good at memorization, you may not do well in a class that simply regurgitates material. I learned early on not to take the “easy” classes because the classes that were easy for my peers were more difficult for me. I’ve actually done better in the “harder” classes because they force me to be more engaged in the material. If you’re interested in the class, you’re probably going to work harder, and you’ll get more out of it.
What’s the best way for you to learn - auditory, visual, or kinesthetic? Auditory means you learn best by hearing, visual by seeing, and kinesthetic by doing. In college, teaching styles tend to be geared more toward auditory and visual learners, making it more difficult for kinesthetic learners to succeed. This can be a problem for students with LD or AD/HD who often prefer kinesthetic learning activities. For kinesthetic learners, I recommend taking a little non-distracting object, such as a koosh ball or silly putty, to class for your non-writing hand (especially if you’re a compulsive pen clicker like I am) to channel excess energy.
If you don’t go to lecture, you’re not going to know what the professor considers important. You can cut your studying time in half by simply going to lectures, and concentrating on what the professor discusses. You can spend less time studying what the professor doesn’t talk about. That said, going to lecture is not a license to skip the reading assignment.
When you sit at the front of the classroom or lecture hall, there are fewer distractions, especially important if you have AD/HD (like I do) and need to be away from doors and windows. And because you’ll seem interested in the course, it may be easier to establish a good relationship with the professor.
Talk to the professor to set up accommodations for classes and/or exams. A professor with whom you’ve established a rapport is much more willing to meet you halfway. Your Disability Services Office should give you a letter to help you break the ice with your professor.
Your professor or teaching assistant (TA) has scheduled office hours - a time set aside each week for students to come in and ask questions about the course. Be sure to drop in because it’s an opportunity to be more than a face in the crowd. Office hours are a great time to get clarification about the material covered in class. Asking for clarification can help narrow down your studying for exams. Ask the TA if you can give him a draft of your paper to look over and give input before you turn in the final. In lecture classes at a large university, it’s often the TA who gives you the grade.
Where do you study most effectively? Is it in your room with music on, or in the library with absolute silence? Make sure you know where you study best and stick to it. I go by myself to the quietest library on campus, so there are no distractions.
Can you successfully cram for exams the night before, or do you need to study a week ahead of time in smaller increments? I, like many students with LD, cannot cram for an exam and remember the information. Instead, I study an hour a night for a week or so prior to an exam.
Because kids with LD or AD/HD often have a tough time beginning something new, it’s really important for parents to keep this information handy. If college is in the future for your high schooler, review these suggestions with her often to keep her on track to success.
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