Today I’m quite pleased to share some valuable and hopeful advice for high school students who possess learning disabilities and are wondering how that will impact their college search. The expert suggestions come from David Montesano, a very smart admission strategist in Bellevue, WA, who operates College Match Educational Consultants, which maintains multiple offices on the West Coast, as well as New York and London. – Lynn O’Shaughnessy
By David Montesano
Clients often ask, “Will my student’s learning disability negatively impact his chance of admission?” The answer that I give is always, “No, in fact it will help your student gain admission.”
LEARNING DISABILITIES AND COLLEGE ADMISSION
Colleges are looking for diversity and having a learning disability is 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. The learning disability may help put lower grades and class rankings or test scores like the SAT or ACT in a learning disability context.
Here’s an 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% of their classes. Showcasing a learning disability can help bridge this significant gap in grades. A learning disabled student with an average GPA of 3.4 may be competitive against an applicant pool of that happens to include mostly students with GPA’s around 3.7. Other factors such as academic activities and leadership also impact admission. For more information on these factors please review our case studies.
DOCUMENT THE LEARNING DISABILITY
The key here is documenting the disability in advance of college applications. High school students and their families should follow these steps if they suspect a learning disability:
1. Assess the specifics of the student’s disability through testing with a qualified third party such as an educational psychologist or physician. Check with your high school for a referral to an educational psychologist, Many practitioners are also listed online; for example, Center for Developing Minds in Los Gatos, CA.
2. Establish a record of accommodations / Individualized Education Program (IEP) with your high school. These may include timing and location of tests, presentation of materials, and other techniques and tools for improving understanding as outlined in the student’s LD assessment.
3. Assessments and IEP’s should be kept current. Reassess learning disabilities within three years of applying to colleges.
REVIEWING COLLEGE SUPPORT RESOURCES
Review each prospective college’s academic support programs. Students with learning disabilities must familiarize themselves with their needed accommodations and ask for these accommodations from their colleges. Get in touch with each college’s learning disabilities resource– who will be more than likely located in the college’s academic support services department.
Here are some steps to take while reviewing colleges:
1. Contact the college’s academic support department. Ask to speak with a “learning disabilities specialist.” Write down their name.
2. Ask the learning disabilities specialist if they have experience working with students having similar disabilities. If so, how many? What are usual accommodations given these students? Ask about specific software tools or processes used to help students with this particular disability.
3. Ask about the retention rate of LD students. How long does it take students using the program to complete their required courses? How involved is the LD resource in helping each student? What is the ratio of students with disabilities to LD specialists? What types of support does the institution offer faculty in terms of training in accommodating students with special needs? Is support in the program offered by interns, graduate students, peer tutors or trained professionals?
4. Review expected LD accommodations, based on IEP and LD assessment, with the learning disabilities specialist. Gauge learning disabilities specialist’s resource’s level of enthusiasm and/ or helpfulness.
5. Ask for the learning disabilities specialist’s phone, email and mailing address.
PREPARE A LEARNING DISABILITIES STATEMENT FOR EACH COLLEGE APPLICATION
The college admission process offers LD students an opportunity to set themselves apart from the competition by placing their academic performance in the context of their disability. After screening colleges for appropriate LD support, the application process is the next step. In the applications it is important to establish the student’s learning disability.
Here are the steps for increasing the chances of admission to a college or university:
1. In college applications, give details of the learning disability under “Additional Information”. Please specify the name of the learning disability and its effects on learning and grades and/or standardized testing.
2. Under “Additional Information” discuss grades and test scores and their impact from this disability.
3. In the next paragraph talk about ways that you have compensated for this disability and give examples. Also discuss all the accommodations that you received in high school.
4. Conclude with a discussion of the how your grades and test scores have risen based on the accommodations you have received as well as your extra efforts to “compensate” for said disability.
It is important to stay in communication with each college’s academic support program. A learning disabilities “portfolio” should be readied including:
1. A recent assessment of the learning disability.
2. IEP or record of accommodation at the high school.
3. Notes or comments from high school counselor or LD resource specialist.
Go ahead and forward this information to the selected college’s learning support/LD specialist.