Choosing a College for Students with Learning Disabilities

© 1996 Will Small

There are many colleges and universities in the United States that have good track records when it comes to accommodating learning disabilities. The quality of any given college's response is subject to the vagaries of funding, administrative fiat and the current image an institution is trying to promote. What was an effective, coordinated support program one year, may turn into a vague assortment of academic support services the next. The commercially available guidebooks to colleges and universities for students with learning disabilities do a fine job capturing most of the institutions and what they offer the students.

Services/Accommodations That May Be Available to LD Students at Selected Colleges and Universities

Questions to Ask When Visiting a College

The published guidebooks to colleges and universities for LD students do a great job in delineating questions to ask. Check out any of these books for more on this.

Here are some questions many students and parents fail to ask when visiting a college/university:

Questions to Ask a Current User of the College’s Support Services


On the issue of whether to disclose your LD or not in the admissions process, that must be your decision. My experience suggests that it may be best to disclose. By disclosing you can have appropriate accommodations identified and granted should you need them at some point, rather than facing the disclosure and accommodation-granting processes in the middle of an academic crisis, say, in your junior year.

Start your college search process early. If you are going to disclose your LD and ask for accommodations, note the date of your last educational evaluation and check that against what the colleges consider “dated” testing—don’t wait until senior year of high school to do this.

Many high school guidance offices are aware that students with documented learning disabilities may be eligible for special accommodations for the SAT, but may not be aware that this also holds true for the PSAT.

College admissions folk will look at your transcript as part of the admissions process. They like to see that, even with your LD, you’ve challenged yourself in high school. They'd rather see challenging courses with C’s than all “breeze” courses with A’s and B’s.

Almost all of the LD college students I’ve spoken with have said that the most important skills to develop in high school are note-taking, self-advocacy, time management, and written expression with a computer. They urge high school students to develop these skills early on—make sure that they are reflected in your IEP or Education Plan in high school. Students: if you haven’t been actively involved in the development of your IEP, ask to be included in the process.

If you were granted a waiver of the foreign language requirement in high school, make an effort to take something in its place. Be creative, consult with your learning specialist about some options—sign language? computer programming language? This type of proactivity will illustrate your willingness to work hard and is something you can boast about in the application process.

If you can’t get a waiver for a college-level foreign language requirement, lobby to have American Sign Language or a programming language to substitute; if you have to take a language, consider Latin or Spanish because of the number of cognates (words related to English words) and their regularity.

If an essay is required as part of the application process, consider discussing your journey to cope with and understand your learning disability as the subject. This may help the admissions committee see that you are comfortable with who you are and that you are a self-advocate.

Once you’ve narrowed down your college list, if at all possible, request an interview with admissions even if they are not required. For students with LD’s, the interview can be the factor that tips the balance in favor of acceptance.

Take advantage of any early orientation or registration programs offered during the summer before your freshman year. It’s a great way to get acclimated early on. Take photographs and/or a video and, once home, use to review campus landmarks and important buildings: student center, dorms, student support services, library, dining hall.

In the few summer weeks before classes begin in your freshman year, practice setting your alarm and getting up early at home, and spend some time reading and writing each day. If you’ve purchased technology for college, open it, plug it in, and get used to it before your first day of classes.

If you are going to tape a class lecture, make sure you simultaneously take as many of your own notes as possible. Use the tape to fill in what you didn’t get in class. Do this daily; if you don’t, the tapes wil pile up quickly and you will be overwhelmed.

If you are registered with Recording for the Blind and Dyslexic, get your book list for freshman year AS SOON AS POSSIBLE and contact RFB&D to see if they have it on tape. Many students forget to match edition and copyrights; doing so will help to avoid the confusion of mismatched text, pages and chapters.

If your college offers a “students with LD support/discussion group once a week,” go. This is an activity that can not only allow you to vent, it’s a great way to learn new compensatory strategies and which faculty are supportive.


Survival Guide for College Students with ADD & LD. Kathleen Nadeau. Magination Press

ADD and the College Student. Patricia Quinn. Magination Press

Unlocking Potential–College and Other Choices for Learning Disabled People: A Step-by-Step Guide. Schieber & Talpers. Adler & Adler Pub.

Succeeding Against the Odds. Sally Smith. J. Tarcher Pub.

My favorite, full of tips, case histories, questions to ask, and clear explanations of learning disabilities.

Promoting Postsecondary Education for Students with Learning Disabilities. Brinckerhoff, Shaw & McGuire. Pro-Ed pub.

This is the bible on postsecondary education and support for students with LD written for service providers, but is a great resource to see what colleges can and should do. Note: Shaw and McGuire are affiliated with the University of Connecticut; Brinckerhoff was affiliated with Boston University and is now in private practice in the Boston area.

Colleges with Programs or Services for Students with Learning Disabilities. Lipkin
Schoolsearch Press

Peterson’s Colleges with Programs for Students with Learning Disabilities. Mangrum & Strichart. Peterson’s Pub.

The above two books are good resources for identifying colleges and universities that may be appropriate; both offer great tips and how-to strategies chapters preceding the listings.

Copied with permission from LD Resources for people with learning disbilities (which is no longer available).
Copyright © 1996, 1997, 1998 LD Resources. All rights reserved worldwide. These materials may be used for
non-commercial purposes only. They may not be redistributed for commercial purposes without the express written
consent of LD Resources. Appropriate credit should be given to these resources if they are reproduced in any form.