Essential Tips For Students with Learning Differences When Applying to College

Written by Marybeth Kravets, co-author of The K&W Guide to Colleges for Students with Learning Differences.

Values and Strengths of Students with Learning Differences

College-bound students with learning differences are not labels, but individuals. As I (Marybeth) like to say, “Labels are for jelly jars.” Having a learning difference means you’ve navigated the rigorous academic landscape, developed compensatory learning strategies, and are heading into this journey like all other college-bound students. 

Some values many college-bound students with learning differences share include:

  • Pride in their accomplishments

  • Insight into how their learning difference has shaped them

  • Acceptance 

  • Ability to articulate their learning difference

  • Patience

  • Commitment

Still, high school is different for many students with learning differences. That’s why researching whether colleges that meet all the standard criteria will also offer the right level of support. To this end, here are…

A Few Important Considerations For Students with Learning Differences During High School 

What accommodations do you use in high school? What accommodations are officially stated on your IEP (Individualized Education Plan) or #504 Plan? Do they match? Do they include every accommodation that is appropriate?

Homework and Classroom Accommodations could include:

Testing Accommodations might include:

  • Extended time on tests and exams

  • Reduced distraction location for tests and exams

  • Use of calculator

  • Use of computer

  • Testing across multiple testing days

  • Small group testing

  • Clarification of directions

  • Breaks as needed

  • Scribe

  • Oral exam

  • Spell-checker

When was your most recent psycho-educational evaluation done? Most colleges won’t grant accommodations unless you were evaluated within the last three years at age 16 or older.

Assessments might include:

  • Woodcock-Johnson Cognitive Battery

  • WAIS (Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale)

  • Nelson-Denny Reading Test 

  • TOWL (Test of Written Language)

  • KAIT (Kaufman Adolescent and Adult Intelligence Test)

What questions should students with learning differences ask when looking for a college?

  • Is the college “test optional” or does it require an ACT/SAT score for admission?

  • Are course waivers or substitutions available if I have appropriate documentation? 

  • What kinds of support does the college offer? Do they provide a structured program with a fee for services, or only what colleges are required by law to provide?

  • Who is the staff providing this support? Are they certified in learning disabilities?

  • What is the route into my intended major? Will I be directly admitted as a first-year student or not allowed to declare my major until the end of my second year? Is the major GPA-driven? 

  • How are professors notified that a student is eligible for accommodations? More importantly, are professors instructed on teaching to students who learn differently?

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