Back in September, the Ohio School Counselor Association asked me to write an article for a special college advising issue of their newsletter, ADVOCATE. Of course, I agreed!
Below, find the article. I hope it’s helpful for your teen!
All new freshmen face major adjustments as they cross the college threshold. Unquestionably, the changes are daunting. In fact, in February 2010, Rob Schnieders, director of national engagement at the Urban Education Institute, reported that fewer than 60 percent of all students entering
four-year colleges today graduate.
For college students with learning disabilities, however, the adaptations required to succeed are even more complicated. All the support systems on which students depended in high school have suddenly vanished. Gone are the IEP, parental advocacy, teacher support, individualized and/or resource room instruction and parental reminders of assignments, due dates, etc. that acted as safety nets in high school. This abrupt withdrawal of support places these students at considerably higher risk as compared to their non-disabled peers. Now, add to this mix unwitting self-sabotage.
Students classified as “Special Ed” are often reticent to disclose their disabilities in a post secondary setting. Tired of being “labeled,” they seek a fresh start where no one knows their history of struggles. Little do they know the consequences of this decision, for without doc- umentation on the college level, they cannot obtain accommodations (e.g.,extra time, a distraction-reduced test environment, etc.)
Thankfully, among all this doom and gloom, there is good news. That is, with proper preparation, failure need not be a foregone conclusion. On the contrary–with proactive training, students with disabilities can thrive in college. For college advisors, the ramifications of this are enormous.
If we hope to improve the college success rate of our students with LD, it is imperative that college advisors share the information below with students and their parents:
- It is not true that if you don’t go to college immediately after high school, you will never go. Many students need a gap year or time in the working world to mature. Students with even a vague sense of direction before entering college are more likely to succeed. If a student is not ready to take on the responsibilities of college, a parent should not write the check. Wait until your teen is ready to step up to the plate before you fork over a small fortune.
There are many paths to success, and college is just one of them. Individuals who are not academically inclined can earn a far better living by learning a vocation than by getting
mediocre grades in college classes that don’t interest them.
- Disclosure of a disability in college is confidential and pivotal to success. This information remains with the disability services office and any professors with whom the student decides to share. Unlike in high school, college has no labels; students can submit documentation and still fly under the radar, if they so choose.
- The road to success is littered with landmines. To get past these, students must develop emotional coping mechanisms prior to going to college.
- The No. 1 factor in college success is motivation (presuming “normal” intelligence). The second most important factor in college success is “best fit.” In other words, ask yourself: How equipped is this college to handle my student’s particular needs? A general rule of thumb is to seek colleges that provide at least twice the support given in high school.
- Expect that for every credit hour a student is in class, there will be 2-3 hours of outside work/study.
- Requesting help is not a sign of weakness; it is empowering. Students who seek help regularly are the ones who graduate.
- There’s a big difference between accommodations and services. By law, colleges that accept federal funds must offer accommodations, whereas services are optional and usually incur an additional fee. In most cases, accommodations alone are insufficient for college success. (Note: Fees for services can be tax-deductible; check with your tax preparer.)
Given that colleges are in competition for tuition dollars, disability service offices often paint a rosy picture. Parents must uncover the truth by speaking to students who use the
- Community colleges, because of their lack of services, are high risk. Parents should hire an outside learning specialist to closely support their student until he or she no longer needs it. This includes tutoring support as well as academic advising.
Quality trumps speed. It is best to start with a reduced course load and succeed at that before attempting an additional class. Most students with disabilities take longer than four
years to graduate. (Note: Beware summer, night and online courses; they are fraught with risk.)
- “LD-friendly” colleges offer students FERPA waivers, allowing parents to contact the college and access grades.
- College success hinges on “active” studying, not simply reading material over again. High schools need to prepare students with interactive study skills.
- Going to college and having a job are mutually exclusive for students with LD. Work should be reserved for summers and break periods. School should be a full-time job.
Picture your teen an alien, dropped in a strange land, where all the laws as he’s known them have changed. Now, imagine attending school there—except in this strange land, he has only 15 weeks to learn what you used to learn in 10 months. It’s easy to see how our students are blindsided. Advance preparation for at-risk students is fundamental to college success — knowledge is power!.
Ohio School Counselor Association | ADVOCATE – COLLEGE ADVISING ISSUE | FALL 2011