College AdmissionsThe school year is now officially in full swing. Back-to-School nights, football games, and the first signs of fall are here. Along with these also come college admissions season. College recruiters are scheduling their visits on high school campuses, and application deadlines for seniors are looming.

For many students the college admission process can be daunting. For students with learning disabilities, ADHD, or other educational-impacting disabilities this process can be even more challenging. If you have a student who is diagnosed with a learning disability, ADHD, or some other educational-impacting disability, fear not…there is a path for you, too! The following tips can help your student locate, apply, and receive acceptance to the perfect college for him or her.

1.  Make sure testing is up-to-date

Before doing anything, you should make sure your child’s testing and diagnosis is up-to-date. Many colleges will only accept testing reports that are at most three years old, so that means testing should be updated if it is any older than the student’s 10th grade year. Additionally, in order to apply for accommodations on the ACT and/or SAT, students may be required to submit current documentation of the disability (see below).

2.  Take the SAT or ACT with accommodations

If your student has a 504 plan or an IEP, then he likely qualifies for accommodations on the SAT or ACT. If not, then your child will likely require a current and valid nueropscyhological report from a licensed psychologist outlining the diagnosis. These accommodations are designed to “level the playing field” for students with learning disabilities and ADHD. Colleges and universities will not know if you used accommodations unless you report it, so don’t worry about what it looks like on your application. Depending on the diagnosis, accommodations on the ACT and SAT can include:

  • Extended time
  • Someone to read the exam (for dyslexia)
  • Extended breaks
  • The use of a 4-function calculator

There are many other accommodations for which students may qualify. Be sure to work with your high school counselor or disability services coordinator to help apply for these accommodations on the ACT or SAT. You will need to demonstrate a successful history of using accommodations in school to have the best chance of qualifying on the SAT and ACT, so start using accommodations in high school as early as possible.

3.  Research colleges and universities

There are loads of colleges and universities that cater to students with learning differences and ADHD. Just about every school these days offers some sort of accommodations as long as students have the appropriate documentation. However, some schools go above and beyond in their services for students with disabilities, and it’s important for you to research as much as possible the different types of programs out there.

My friend and colleague, Jenifer Price, a highly-respected college counselor in Austin, Texas, has provided me with a diverse list of schools that highlight the different types of programs for students with disabilities and ADHD, ranging from 2-year programs to large state schools. Here is just an example of the myriad options out there:

Landmark College, Vermont: Intimate 2-year school

Landmark’s entire college caters to students who have unique learning styles. It is a smaller school that offers a chance to earn an associate’s degree and/or transfer to a 4-year school, which many do. This is a great option for students who are ready to transition out of high school but still need a small environment and hands-on support and may not know exactly what they intend to study.

University of Arizona, Tucson: Large state school with big-time athletics

The University of Arizona offers one of the best academic support services program called Strategic Alternative Learning Techniques (SALT). SALT is widely recognized as a model program for helping students with various learning disabilities, ADHD, and autism spectrum disorder. It is a separate program within the university that students must apply, so having appropriate documentation is essential. SALT is a great program for those who want the big state school experience but need the extra support to maintain good academic standing.

Lynn University, Boca Raton: Small private school near the beach

Lynn is consistently ranked by U.S. News & World Report as one of the most innovative colleges in the country. Students and faculty regularly incorporate technology into the classrooms, something that works well for many students with learning disabilities. The school’s Institute for Achievement and Learning (IAL) provides a small, structured setting for students to receive academic support. While the college is expensive, it has a small student body so students have an opportunity to make a real connection with their peers and teachers.

This is just a sample of the different types of colleges and universities that exist for students with learning disabilities, ADHD, or other educational-impacting disabilities. With so many choices out there, it’s important to meet with an experienced college counselor to narrow down the list.

4.  Alternative programs

Sometimes students simply are not ready for college. I find that this is not only true for students with learning disabilities and ADHD but also students who just have not developed the maturity to handle that transition. In this case I recommend that parents consider alternative programs. Both GAP years and outdoor academies have become increasingly popular in the past few years. There are so many programs out there that finding a credible one can be difficult. I do not specialize in this area, but there are consultants who do.

If you think your student may benefit from a GAP year or an outdoor academy, then I highly suggest you seek out the appropriate consultation. Both of these options should offer students a chance to challenge themselves and grow; it’s not supposed to be a year “off” where traveling is the sole objective. Oftentimes students can earn college credit by completing the program, as long as the program is accredited. This is a great question to ask when considering a GAP year or outdoor academy.

A diagnosis of a learning disability, ADHD, or other educational-impacting disability does not mean the college admissions process is harder or more limiting. It just takes a different approach, and the process starts earlier. I highly encourage you to seek out your student’s counselor and begin the discussion. But rest assured that there is a great college out there for everyone!