It may be counterintuitive, but disclosing a documented learning disability in the college application process can actually provide your student with an advantage.
First, colleges cannot deny admission based on a student’s diagnosis of a learning disability according to the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (Section 504) and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990.
Second, if your student has excellent grades, is actively engaged in co-curricular life, and is, essentially, a strong applicant, indicating this record has been accomplished while managing a documented learning disability demonstrates valuable characteristics, such as self-discipline, tenacity, maturity, goal-setting, and the list goes on.
Third, if your student has one aspect of the application that is weaker, such as standardized test scores or a lower average in a specific subject related to the learning disability, the student can address the challenge in the context of the learning disability and how the student has met that challenge. The essay section or additional information section of the application can provide an opportunity to address this challenge.
The more important consideration, however, is how to determine if the college has the necessary support in place for your student to succeed as an undergraduate. The following steps will provide you with a practical approach to preparing for the process of applying to college with a learning disability:
- In the sophomore year, be sure all of your student’s psycho-educational testing is updated and current with the guidelines outlined by both SAT and ACT (both organizations can and will reject applications with testing that does not meet their standards, so be sure the psychologist is aware of what is required). Some parents and educators choose to have the student take the sophomore PSAT without accommodations in order to have a baseline score. However, it is essential the junior year PSAT be taken with accommodations. See the high school guidance/college counselor in the freshman year to learn what will be necessary, as it can sometimes take awhile to schedule psycho-educational testing. Testing that is more than three years old will not be accepted, thus having everything updated the sophomore year will carry the student through to freshman year of college.
- If the cost of private psycho-educational testing is prohibitive, your local public high school is required to accommodate you with in-house testing and a report. If your student attends a private school, have the guidance counselor act as a liaison for you with the public system to schedule the testing.
- Make a list of the accommodations that are essential for your student’s success and that are clearly outlined in the psycho-educational report.
- As you research colleges, be sure to research what accommodations the college provides and in what context. For instance, is there a support center that advocates for the student, or does the student need to self-advocate? Are there tutors available, and if so, are they trained tutors or volunteers from the undergraduate or graduate student body? How many tutors are on staff and in what subject areas. What specific accommodations does the college provide? The best guide to finding out this information is the K & W Guide.
- Once you have determined which colleges you will visit, use the K & W Guide to find out who to contact in the individual support centers to make an appointment to meet with their staff on campus. Be sure to plan at least an hour for your visit with the support staff and bring with you a copy of your student’s psycho-educational testing. Not only will this allow you to make sure they can accommodate your student’s needs, but it will allow your student to determine if the staff and center are a comfortable match. If your student doesn’t feel at ease with the staff, your student won’t access them as an undergraduate. Meeting the staff also puts your student on their radar in the admission process, essentially providing them with an in-house advocate.
- Finally, it is not necessary to raise the issue of a documented learning disability in the student admission interview. If the topic should arise naturally, as in answering a question about meeting a challenge successfully, it is fine to discuss your experience; however, because you will have already met with the support staff and will be addressing your disability in your application, the admission office will have enough information through those sources.
So much of this process is about preparation, research, and attitude. Make sure you prepare in terms of having all your ducks in a row with testing. Be sure to thoroughly research each college and to meet with the support staff. And, finally, be positive and confident. Demonstrate actively that you know what your challenges are and how to meet them in order to be successful.
For further advice on how to navigate your college transition, book a consult to learn how Empowerly can help.