With more than 4,000 public, private, and for-profit colleges and universities in the U.S., searching for the “right college” can be time-consuming, stressful, and often chaotic. If your child is a student who happens to learn differently, this task can seem downright overwhelming. Yet, it actually can be a very rewarding experience. Remember, the college search process is a journey of self-discovery. The possibilities available to your child are numerous and exciting if they ask themselves the right questions and take the correct steps.
How can parents help make the right college match? We all know that every student has individual priorities and needs, hopes and dreams. But as a student with learning challenges, your child has more criteria to consider beyond geography, program of study, and size of school.
They also have to look at how a college accommodates their particular learning style. Should they consider a college that is dedicated exclusively to students with learning disabilities and/or focuses on specific types of learning challenges (such as dyslexia, ADHD, or ASD)? Or would your child be better served by a traditional college that offers accommodations at the comprehensive, structured or add-on services level?
By following these steps, your child is taking the time to better understand their unique learning style, academic needs, and optimal learning environment while strengthening advocating skills. This process helps determine whether the colleges they are exploring are a good match.
Once they’ve narrowed down the college search to the ones to which they’d like to apply, they then need to visit the campuses. Prior fact-finding is important, but seeing is believing. A good college match means understanding what they expect, need and want from their college years and then aligning these factors with what the college offers and, most importantly, delivers.
While it’s important to know what the college has to offer, it’s also vital for your child to explore and know their own interests, talents and skills. Learning differently means they approach things from another angle, a different perspective. This is a good thing. They need to find the school that can benefit from their attendance.
They can begin by starting the college planning process early, doing their homework, researching and exploring, and asking the right questions, such as these.
1. Understanding: Do you know your challenges and how they affect your ability to learn?
2. Self-Awareness: Can you describe the services you received in high school and determine what level of support you will need in college?
3. Advocate: Are you able to articulate your learning challenges?
4. Type of Support Programs: What services does the college offer and do they provide support for your particular learning challenge?
5. Success: What are the college’s retention, graduation and placement rates for students with special needs?
6. Attitude: What is the view of and how accepting is the campus community toward students with special needs?
7. 360 Degrees: Is there support for both in and out of the classroom?
By Kimberly Hodges and Kevin Mayne, independent educational consultants with Estrela Consulting who specialize in working with college-bound students who learn differently. Estrela Consulting is a Northeast Ohio-based firm guiding students through the college search process.