Roughly 14% of public school students have a learning difference. Many of those students can—and do—thrive in college.
But first, students with learning differences, like any student, need to navigate the college admissions process.
How to Find Colleges that Accommodate Learning Differences and Your Student’s Unique Needs
As required by federal law, all accredited universities provide support services for students with learning differences. These services vary in quality and scope from school to school. For students with differences, it is imperative to find the school that is the best fit in providing programs, policies, procedures, and facilities to meet their needs.
Here are some tips on finding a right fit school:
1. Review your student’s needs with a knowledgeable adult or counselor.
The goal is to better understand how your student’s learning style will influence their college choices.
Questions to answer include:
·      How does this difference affect how they learn?
·      What are their academic strengths?
·      How do they learn best?
·      What strategies do they need to help them learn?
·      What facilities might they need?
Once you have these questions answered, the next step is to begin building a college list.
2. Investigate and choose schools
Students with learning differences should follow the same steps for choosing and applying to a school as any other student. Preliminary research can be accomplished via internet searches, visiting college websites, checking out college guides, going on college visits, attending college fairs, attending virtual information sessions and asking around. Make a list of all the schools that interest your student.
Ultimately, all students need to select colleges that help them acquire the skills and knowledge to pursue their desired careers and offer an experience that is conducive to learning and personal growth.
3. Make a separate list of what a college must have to accommodate your student’s needs.
Determine if the college offers the services and accommodations that can meet their specific requirements by contacting each school’s student services office and by visiting its website–especially if there is a dedicated page for student support services.
Most colleges have an office that provides services to students with learning differences, or a person who coordinates these services. To get comprehensive details and perhaps a personalized plan for your student, contact the student services office directly. This way, your student can present their unique situation and get the exact answers they need.
Questions for this office may include:
·      What are the eligibility requirements?
·      What kind of accommodations are available?
·      Is there an extra cost associated with the program?
·      Are there classes available in basic skills, study skills, and/or time management?
·      What kind of one-on-one support is available?
·      Is adaptive technology available?
·      How many learning specialists work with the program full time and part time?
Ask About Accommodations for Students with Learning Differences
College students with learning differences commonly have access to various forms of assistance. For example, many college students with a learning difference may have access to:
·      Extended assignment deadlines
·      Extended test times
·      Private exam rooms for tests
·      Note-taking support
·      Audio recording options for lectures, textbooks, etc.
·      Tutoring services
·      Counselors
·      Study guides
·      Expanded feedback on assignments
·      Course substitutions
Precisely what is made available to a student will likely depend on the exact nature of their learning difference. Additional options may exist, which is why students should reach out to each college they are considering to find out what’s available.
How Students with Learning Differences Can Strengthen Their College Applications
Like any other student, students with learning differences need to keep up their grades and become involved in extracurricular activities.
A school cannot deny a student admission because of their learning differences if they meet the basic requirements for admission, including application deadlines, grade point averages, and college entrance exam scores. In fact, students don’t even need to tell a school they have a learning difference on their application. That said, disclosing such information in a positive way such as overcoming obstacles, may provide valuable context regarding a student’s performance.
Colleges examine everything a student includes in their application. Usually, this includes grades on high school transcripts, standardized test scores, extracurricular activities, volunteer work, essays, and more.
To Tell or Not to Tell
Whether a student chooses to reveal their learning differences early in the admissions process is up to them. The best decider may be: “Will it hurt my chances?” vs. “Is it helpful to know?”
Disclosure is often recommended for applicants who need to provide context. For example, a student with learning differences may need to explain why a standardized test score is low when compared to their outstanding grades. However, applicants with strong grades and test scores should think twice before disclosing this information, especially if there were no academic repercussions, or if it is no longer relevant.
The Application
If a student decides to disclose their differences, they can call attention to their difference in the Additional Information section of the Common Application. They can also use any learning challenges they have overcome in their main application essay. Admissions officers understand when a student has a learning difference, it often means they faced a significant challenge. Some of these gatekeepers find this admirable, especially if a student discusses overcoming their challenges in a well-written essay.
However, this doesn’t mean that students should only talk about their learning difference in their required essays. While it can certainly be the focus of one, the wise approach is to discuss different topics in the supplemental essays. This means you will get to highlight different aspects of yourself to the admissions committee. Also, do not write an essay designed to make an admissions officer feel sorry for you; this doesn’t work.
Final Words on College Admissions for Students with Learning Differences
Look into scholarships for students with learning differences. You may be very surprised–and pleased—to see how many are out there. Some schools offer institutional scholarships to students with learning differences.
The college admissions process can be daunting for any student, but it can be entirely manageable if you start early and take it step by step. The more information you have, the more educated your decision will be.

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