The National Dissemination Center for Children with Disabilities says that "...as many as one out of every five people in the United States has a learning disability." If you (or your child) has been diagnosed with a learning issue, it is an important topic to deal with in college admissions. Many parents are reluctant to do this for fear that their child's application will be jeopardized by such a disclosure. As it turns out, just the opposite is true. Read on.
Since the passage of the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act on their admissions applications, colleges may not ask if a student has a learning disability. Therefore, students are responsible for informing colleges about their learning issues.
Each college handles information about learning disabilities based on their own individual policies and procedures. If you have a learning disability and are applying to colleges, the first thing you should do is find out how each school on your college list handles learning issues. You can get this information on their respective websites.
There are three levels of learning disability support at colleges.
• Some colleges offer very comprehensive learning disabilities programs, which include trained staff people and a very high level of support and services.
• Other colleges offer services, but not a program, which depending on the college will be vary in support and services.
• Still other colleges offer accommodations for learning disabilities with little or no services, and students must take responsibility for arranging them.
Not to disclose your learning issues can be a "set-up" for disappointment and/or failure in college admissions. Here are some reasons why:
1. To receive a fair and adequate review, you as an applicant need to provide colleges with a clear understanding of how your learning issues have impacted your ability to learn and perform academically, including:
• a description of your disabilities and how long you have been aware of them,
• what challenges you have faced as a result of having these issues,
• how you deal with and/or overcome your challenges, including what you have done on your
own (such as putting in a lot more time than other students), getting educational tutoring and/or taking medication,
• what you have learned from the your experiences with a learning disability,
• what kind of accommodations, if any, you might need in college.
This explanation can be in the form of an answer to an application essay question or an addendum to an application or a separate hard copy letter to the admissions office. Colleges want to know how well a student understands his or her learning issues.
2. Explaining your disabilities is an opportunity for you to demonstrate your positive attitude and coping skills.
3. Students are not penalized for disclosing their learning issues; in fact, disclosure is likely to help admissions officers understand less than stellar grades and/or test scores, and especially the discrepancy between a student's abilities and intelligence and his/her GPA and test scores.
4. If your learning disabilities were not diagnosed until your junior or senior year, college admissions officers should be informed of any positive changes you made after the diagnosis.
5. In elementary, middle and high school, parents are their children's advocates regarding learning differences. Once you are a college student, everything that happens around these issues has to come from you, including getting accommodations, connecting with the college learning disabilities center and taking responsibility for any medication you take. You need to learn to self-advocate about your learning disabilities before you leave for college.
It is very useful to have the educational psychologist who provided your educational testing to write a letter to the admissions offices of the colleges to which you are applying summarizing his or her findings.
Also, if you have the opportunity to personally visit different colleges, while on campus make sure that you stop by each college's learning disability center to find out who they are and what they offer students.
If you are interested in finding out more about what kinds of programs different colleges offer and also how to deal with admissions as a learning disabled student, here are some of the best resources available on the topic:
Kravets, Marybeth, M.A., and Imy F. Wax, M.S.: K & W Guide to Colleges for Students with Learning Disabilities, 10th Edition (College Admissions Guides) New York, Princeton Review, Random House, 2010. A book filled with advice to learning disabled students about what to say and do about their learning issues in the college admissions process. Also provides the names of colleges that provide learning services and what you can expect from them.
Lipkin, Midge, Ph.D.: Colleges With Programs or Services for Students With Learning Disabilities (3rd ed.) Westford, MA, Wintergreen Orchard House, 2009. By far, the most comprehensive book on what colleges and universities provide students who have learning disabilities