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Teens With LD and/or AD/HD: Shopping for College Options

If your child has a learning disability, here's how to find a college whose offerings are a good match for his strengths and needs.

By Loring Brinckerhoff, Ph.D.

An increasing number of students with learning disabilities (LD) and/or Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (AD/HD) realize that, in order to be better prepared for adult life and the world of work, additional training beyond high school is essential. High school guidance personnel can play a critical role in apprising students of a variety of postsecondary options available to them - ranging from open admission community colleges to highly competitive Ivy League institutions. When guidance support is not available to high school students, or is minimal, parents are often left to their own devices at trying to find the best "postsecondary match" for their son or daughter.

This article will highlight some practical ways that high school students and their parents can effectively work together to identify postsecondary institutions and LD support services that match the student's interests, abilities, and needs. I will discuss the range of support services available to prospective students. In addition, I will make a number of suggestions on how a college-bound student with LD or AD/HD can utilize a transition planning portfolio (TPP) to enhance her chances of gaining entrance into the college of her choice. The good news is that there are now over 1,200 colleges in the United States and Canada that offer students with learning disabilities and/or AD/HD some level of support services. To illustrate the variety and type of LD support services currently available to students, I will profile two postsecondary institutions which offer either basic support services or a comprehensive LD program.

Sorting out College Options

To begin, students need to be instructed in how to use college resource guides or directories, and the latest computer-guided software to assist them in the college search process (Mangrum & Strichart, 1997). Internet sites like,, and allow prospective students to search for colleges based on factors such as:

  • type of school (e.g., university, community college, or vocational/technical)
  • size of student body
  • faculty/student ratio
  • geographic region
  • intercollegiate sports and extracurricular activities
  • areas of study (majors)
  • campus culture
  • tuition fees
  • technology (level of sophistication, requirements, and support)
  • financial aid available

Students can then use the "hot links" from these sites to go to the homepages of the individual colleges for more information, to compare and contrast school offerings, or to apply online (Brinckerhoff, McGuire & Shaw, 2002). Based on this initial search, catalogs can be downloaded or requested by mail for a more detailed analysis.

Community and technical colleges are a very popular option for students with LD since they allow students to try out college course work while simultaneously maintaining the support of friends and the familiar routines of living at home. Since nearly all community colleges have open admissions policies, smaller class ratios, comparatively low tuition rates, and a wide range of vocational, remedial, and developmental courses, they are often an appealing first choice for students with learning disabilities (Brinckerhoff, et al., 2002). Another advantage of community colleges is that they do not require standardized entrance examinations such as the ACT or SAT. Some students with LD may elect to pursue careers in technical areas that deemphasize reading and writing skills and capitalize hands-on experience. For others, a technical college curriculum that specifically emphasizes mathematics, science, or engineering may be a more appropriate choice. Some students may meet more success in college settings that feature a co-op curriculum that focuses on both coursework and work experience rather than in an institution with a more traditional liberal arts curriculum (Brinckerhoff, et al. 2002). Regardless of the college setting, students with LD and/or AD/HD need to start early planning for the transition from high school to college.