By Joan M. Azarva, Ms.ED.
May 13, 2013
Students with learning disabilities who have done well in high school often presume that their academic success will continue in college. Given, however, the differences between high school and college, that presumption may be false.
Rather than rely on misplaced confidence, students with learning challenges will do better to understand the key ingredients for college success, practice those skills they can while still in high school, and apply them diligently when they get to college.
The recipe for college success begins with the following ingredients. Students with LD who have at least normal intelligence but lack one or more of the fundamental qualities below will find higher education a steep, uphill climb:
- Desire to attend;
- Knowledge and acceptance of one’s disability;
- Willingness to seek help.
Possessing those attributes makes college success possible—but not necessarily probable. To ensure a favorable outcome, students with LD must add the following critical components:
Preparation for College-Level Work
- Upon entering college (or maybe during summer orientation), students are required to take placement exams that determine the levels of English, math, and perhaps reading, at which they’re required to begin their studies. You can prepare for these tests by searching “Acuplacer” on the internet and taking practice exams that point out your strengths and weaknesses. Then, shore up those weaknesses. The alternative is beginning college with “developmental” classes that don’t earn credit.
- You should expect two to three hours of outside work for every one hour you sit in class. Prepare for the increased workload by upping your study time while in high school.
- Write! Know how to formulate a thesis statement and defend it in a lengthy paper with sources cited.
- As for tests, forget about studying by simply reading over the material and understanding it. Learn to study without a study guide—that means extracting the important concepts in your reading and lectures on your own. Know how to study actively in short, frequent sessions. That means interacting with the material by reading it, listening to it, taking notes on it, and utilizing practice tests as “dress rehearsals.”
- Understand that, while important, effort isn’t factored into your grades in college, and extra credit opportunities to raise your grades are hard to come by.
- High school is the time to become aware of all the changes that make college such a high-stakes challenge. If the rules of the game suddenly flip, students lacking knowledge of the new system are blindsided. Those who continue to operate using time-worn high school behaviors find themselves in academic quicksand.
- Unprepared students may say things such as, “Where are the parent police?” “Who stole my IEP?” “You mean I can’t skip classes when I have a headache?” “Why do I need a daily/weekly planner, and how do I use it?” and “I only have one class on Friday—WOO HOO, I can PLAY!” They don’t realize they must utilize weekends to get everything accomplished; nor do they understand the significant toll that poor self-discipline and time management skills can have on their grades.
- Expect changes in course load. Twelve credits, or only 4 classes, can be full-time.
- The IEP is now ancient history. No longer do parents and instructors take responsibility for student success. Students must know the accommodations to which they’re entitled, request them each semester, and explain them to their professors. If they feel they aren’t getting what they need, they bear the responsibility for requesting it.
- Students need to know how and where to access academic help and utilize it at the first sign of confusion.
- It’s essential that the college you choose have the resources to meet your particular needs. Colleges are not one-size-fits-all. Nowadays, just because almost every college has a disability services office, don’t assume they automatically have the resources you need. When visiting colleges, a good rule of thumb is to anticipate needing three times the assistance you had in high school. Then find out whether the college is able to provide it.
Joan M. Azarva runs Conquer College with LD, a website for parents of college-bound students with learning differences. She also has a private practice in the Philadelphia suburbs that focuses on helping students make the successful transition from high school to college.
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