I began my career as a special education teacher, and to this day helping these learning disabled students holds a unique place in my heart. Special education students often struggle with reading and math and work really hard for every success.
My job was to teach to their strengths and provide them with strategies to help them succeed academically. The parents of these students were usually a bundle of anxiety and worry, wanting the best for their child and worried for their future.
This worry usually increased tenfold as their learning disabled child’s high school graduation drew closer. Parents would ask:
“Mrs. Keilholtz, will my son’s learning disability negatively impact his chances of college admission?”
“Should we disclose his disability when applying to college, or keep it a secret?”
“Are there colleges out there that have to follow his IEP or is he simply on his own?”
I could feel these parents’ concerns oozing through the phone lines. I usually soothed their anxieties by sharing stories of students who have succeeded in college. Getting into college can be difficult and stress-producing for everyone, but even more so for students with a documented learning disability.
The good news is that colleges are looking for diversity and a documented learning disability is considered a form of diversity.
Colleges will often look at an applicant’s grades and test scores in a new light if presented with evidence of a learning disability, which is why it is important to share this information with the school. Your student’s disability may help put their lower grades and rankings in the correct context.
For example, a student ranked in the top half of their high school class is up against an applicant pool with a majority of students from the top 25 percent of their class. Showcasing a learning disability can help bridge this significant gap in grades.
An LD student with a GPA of 3.4 may be competitive against an applicant pool that includes mostly students with GPA’s around 3.7. Other factors, such as academic activities and documented leadership experience, can also positively impact admission.
The key is to document the disability in advance of the college application process.
Nine Steps to a Smooth Transition
In my experience, there are at least nine steps parents should take to insure a smooth transition from high school to college for their special education student.
- Keep assessments and individualized education plans current. Any learning disability should be reassessed within three years before applying to college. IEP’s should be reviewed annually.
- Keep a copy of the latest assessment and IEP, as the college will need this to provide accommodations to your student.
- When making a list of colleges to consider, be sure to review each college’s academic support programs. Do they provide enough support for your student? Some colleges offer direct support and intervention of up to one hour twice a week; whereas other universities only offer extended time and peer tutoring centers. Find the best support system for your child’s academic needs.
- Call the college’s academic support department and talk with the specialist that runs the department. Inquire about their experience. Ask about the usual accommodations given to students and about software tools that would be available to your student. Keep their contact information, including phone number, email and mailing address handy, as I am sure you will have more questions.
- Ask about the retention rate for disabled students and how involved the academic support department is in helping each student.
- Review expected accommodations, based on the assessments and IEP at the high school.
- Include details of the disability under “additional information” in all college applications. Specify the name of the disability, its effects on learning, grades and any standardized testing, such as the SAT.
- In a separate paragraph, share the strategies utilized to compensate for your student’s disability. Give examples and share all accommodations received in high school.
- Conclude with a paragraph on how grades and test scores improved based on the accommodations, as well as any extras (such as an outside tutor). Despite your child’s disability, it’s very possible to live a fulfilled, successful life.
I’ve supported many students on their path to college and beyond. Let me help your child as well. For further information and to schedule a meeting, get in touch with me at 240-285-1920 or Dianne_Keilholtz@launchingcollegesuccess.com.