HomeLearning DifficultiesHealth & DevelopmentLife After High School

College planning for students with learning issues

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By Loring Brinckerhoff, Ph.D.

Teacher feedback and grading

In high school, homework is often assigned on a day-to-day basis, and students are expected to turn it in daily, or weekly, for teacher feedback. In college, homework often consists of long-range assignments (with no scheduled check-ins) such as term papers involving extensive use of Internet resources or cooperative assignments with peers.

It is not unusual for college students to receive only two or three grades per semester. The first grade may not appear until the mid-term, five to six weeks into the semester. For high school students with LD, this is often an adjustment given that they're used to receiving regular, frequent feedback from teachers. Many college freshmen with LD or AD/HD find themselves for the first time in academic settings that are much more competitive than they ever imagined. High school grades that were once based on subjective measures like "effort" or the "degree of improvement" are replaced in college with grades assigned by teaching assistants who are looking for prescribed responses and mastery of course objectives as stated in the syllabus. The novelty and size of the college institution combined with the scholastic rigor of the curriculum makes it particularly difficult for students with LD or AD/HD to stay focused and up-to-date with assignments.

Teaching style

Not only is the grading different, but so is the teaching style of college faculty. High school teachers are often responsible for teaching a broad range of students and for teaching factual content, while college instructors often expect students to integrate course information independently from a variety of sources rather than merely parroting back isolated facts. High school teachers are known for taking attendance, regularly checking notebooks and homework assignments. College professors rarely take attendance and seldom monitor students' daily work. They typically lecture non-stop and require students to think analytically, and to synthesize abstract information on their own. Students with LD often have to adjust to many divergent teaching styles that they may not be used to, while they feel their way through course material for weeks at a time without direct feedback from the instructor.

Balancing personal life and academics

Perhaps the biggest challenge that students with LD or AD/HD face when they go away to college is balancing their personal life with academic demands. High school students find that their free time is often structured by limitations set by parents, teachers, and other adults. On the other hand, college environments require students to function independently by managing their own time both during the day and at night. Students are often ill prepared and overwhelmed as they try and strike a balance between their course work and active social lives.

Comments from readers

"We need to know if our child should write his college essay on his LD. How he has worked with it with the school and his love for learning because of the help he got from his IEP/ now 504 plan. "
"We are looking for a charter school (9th - 12th grade) in the Gilbert area that works with childeren that have AD/HD."