Students with Learning Disabilities – Transition from High School to College

by | Sep 17, 2018

Evaluating colleges is more challenging for a student with learning disabilities or mental health issues, so there are seven things you need to keep in mind:

1. Should you disclose a disability?

Parents worry that disclosing a disability will hurt the student’s chances for admission. Even though a student has no legal obligation to share this information with the school, experts agree that it is in his/her own interest to do it.

The student’s story will explain things like a high GPA but low test scores due, for example, to language processing issues.
A good way to inform the school of a learning difference is on the section of the application that asks for additional, relevant information. Some students also choose to write about their disability on their essay.

If you choose not to disclose this information, make sure you notify the school’s disability office once you are accepted.

2. Make an appointment with the disability office.

Before deciding on a college, make sure you have a good idea of the accommodations and services they provide. Colleges that receive federal funding are obligated to provide accommodations but the services can vary a lot from one school to another.

Keep in mind that the disability office cannot, by federal law, disclose any information to the admissions office, so you don’t have to worry about this visit affecting the admissions process in any way.

3. Ask the right questions.

Here are some excellent questions to ask:

  • With your support, what kind of student is successful here?
  • What accommodations are available and how do I qualify for them?
  • What technology do you have to offer support (for example, devices to scan books to be listened to on a laptop)?
  • What do you think are the most difficult majors/classes for DL students?
  • Is there a transitional summer program?
  • Can students with disabilities skip foreign language requirements?
  • Do you have math and writing labs?
  • What is the graduation rate for students with this type of disability?

4. Check for special programs.

Some colleges go beyond offering extended time for tests or note takers, providing programs that are more involved and that sometimes require an additional fee, like the following institutions:

  • American University (DC)
  • Boston University (MA)
  • High Point University (NC)
  • Marist College (NY)
  • Muskingum University (OH)
  • University of Arizona
  • University of Denver (CO)
  • Westminster College (MO)

5. Make sure your paperwork is in order.

To be qualified for accommodations, students must have been tested at age 16 or later, you can’t rely on your IEP or 504 plan that were used during high school.

Students are responsible for registering with the office of disabilities before their first semester and must request letters of accommodations at the beginning of every semester, to be sent to their professors.

6. Test-optional colleges.

An option for students who do poorly on standardized tests, at these colleges tests scores are optional or their weight is minimized. There are more than 900 colleges that are test optional, many are non-selective, but there are a significant number of highly selective liberal arts schools who are test-optional, including: Bowdoin, Smith, Wesleyan, Bates, Bryn Mawr, Pitzer and Holy Cross; also, some highly selective universities like Wake Forest, George Washington, Brandeis and American universities.

After years of navigating the world of learning disabilities in high school, the transition to college brings a great deal of anxiety. Here are some important differences to keep in mind:

Required Documentation

In High School:
  • Individualized Education Plan (IEP) and/or 504 Plan
  • Free evaluation
  • Main focus is on the student’s eligibility for services according to categories of disabilities in IDEA.
In College:
  • Additional information is require d specifically for each category of disability.
  • The cost of evaluations are the student’s responsibility.
  • Must include information on specific limitations that interfere with the student’s functioning and that require specific accommodations.

Legal Structure

In High School:
  • IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act), Section 504, Rehabilitation Act of 1973. IDEA focuses on success.
In College:
  • ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990), Section 504, Rehabilitation Act of 1973. ADA focuses on access.


In High School:
  • Students are identified and it is the school’s responsibility to support them.
  • The school is responsible for arranging accommodations.
  • Teachers are proactive, approaching the student when they think help is needed.
In College:
  • Students are expected to reach out to the Office of Disability Services.
  • The student is responsible for arranging accommodations.
  • Professors expect students to take the initiative if they need assistance.
The Parents Role
In High School:

Parents are asked to consent for assessment and services, have access to student records, participate in the process of determining accommodations and act as advocates for their student.

In College:

Parents need the student’s consent to have access to records (FERPA forms must be signed by student). The student is expected to be his/her own advocate.

Questions? Let’s chat!

Weil College Advising

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