October 13


What to Know When Applying to College with a Learning Disability

By NeuroHealth Arlington Heights

October 13, 2023

college, learning disability, tips

The journey to college can be an exciting and transformative experience, but it also holds challenges — especially for students with learning disabilities. Learning disabilities such as dyslexia, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, and processing disorders can influence various aspects of applying to college. When you recognize these potential challenges, you can take proactive steps to streamline the process and avoid possible pitfalls.

You’re also not alone in pursuing higher education with a learning disability, even if it feels like you’re the only person in your peer group struggling with the application process. More than 19% of college students reported having learning challenges in a study by the National Center for Education Statistics. Connecting with the right resources — such as our NeuroHealth Arlington Heights team — can help you achieve success in college.

The Impact of Learning Disabilities on College Applications

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Image by Keira Burton is licensed with Pexels License

If learning disabilities affect your grades and test scores, you may benefit from additional tuition in the semesters before you start your college applications. You may also want to look into standardized test prep courses. If you struggle to bring up your scores, you can take a comprehensive approach that highlights other attributes colleges value.

During the application process, you should learn about the accommodations available for students with disabilities at your selected schools. Whether you need help taking notes or extended testing time, discussing these elements of your education early on can ensure that you get the support you need to succeed in your college course.

Balancing extracurricular activities with academic demands is another area to consider. Choose sports, clubs, and interests that fulfill your passions and demonstrate your unique talents and skills.

Build strong relationships with teachers who understand and support your needs. These educators will be important advocates during your college application process and may agree to provide you with letters of recommendation.

Finally, learning how to advocate for yourself and your accommodations is a valuable skill. Be prepared to communicate your needs effectively to college admissions offices and professors. They can’t provide the support you need unless you ask for it directly.

Choosing the Right College

Selecting the right college is a crucial step in a successful academic journey for students with learning disabilities. Consider the following factors when making your decision:

  • Affordability: Evaluate your budget and financial aid options. Look for schools that offer scholarships or grants specifically for students with disabilities.
  • Location: Consider the location of the college and its impact on your comfort and well-being, such as climate, distance from home, and access to support services, and compare the benefits of online school vs. a traditional campus environment. According to research by the United Nations, students with learning disabilities are less likely to benefit from distance learning programs than students who don’t share these challenges.
  • Unique program offerings: Research colleges that offer programs or majors that align with your interests and career goals. Ensure that they have the necessary support services for students with learning disabilities within these programs.
  • Courseload rigor: Assess the rigor of the curriculum at each college. While you should challenge yourself academically, it’s essential to find a balance that accommodates your learning needs.
  • Support services and accommodations: Investigate the availability of support services, such as tutoring, counseling, and academic accommodations, at each college. It’s important to start early. According to a study by the National Center for Learning Disabilities, more than half of colleges require you to submit disability documentation beyond an individual education program or 504 plan. Connect with disability support offices to discuss your specific needs.

Disability Disclosure

The decision to disclose your learning disability on a college application is personal. It’s important to understand your rights and the potential benefits of disclosure when making this choice.

The Americans with Disabilities Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act prohibit discrimination against students with disabilities in higher education. Disclosing your disability ensures that you’re protected under these laws and allows you to access essential accommodations and support services, such as extended test time or note-taking assistance.

Some colleges appreciate students who’ve overcome adversity and may view your ability to succeed despite your disability positively. Many college applications include an optional essay or section where you can disclose your disability and explain how it has influenced your academic journey.

Remember that you have the option to disclose your disability only after you’ve been admitted to a college. This can help you avoid potential bias during the admission process. However, disclosing during the process can be advantageous if you need to explain your good grades but low standardized test scores, for example.

Accommodations for Standardized Testing

Standardized tests such as the ACT and SAT are a critical part of many college applications. If you require accommodations due to your learning disability, follow these steps:

  • Start early: Begin the accommodation request process well in advance of your planned test date. Each testing agency has specific procedures, and delays can be stressful.
  • Document your disability: Provide comprehensive documentation of your learning disability, including recent assessments, educational history, and recommendations from professionals who’ve evaluated and worked with you.
  • Contact the testing agency: Reach out to the ACT or SAT testing agency to request accommodations. Be prepared to submit your documentation and complete the necessary forms.
  • Practice with accommodations: If approved, take advantage of practice tests that simulate the testing environment with your specific accommodations.
  • Stay informed: Keep track of important deadlines and stay in communication with the testing agency throughout the process.

Access Academic Accommodation Assistance With NeuroHealth AH

As you embark on your college application journey, remember that you’re not alone. Many resources are available to support your success, including NeuroHealth’s accommodation assistance services. Our team specializes in helping students with learning disabilities navigate the college application process, secure accommodations, and thrive in their academic pursuits. Our team of experts understands the unique challenges you face and can provide personalized guidance and advocacy to ensure you receive the accommodations you need. Schedule an appointment at NeuroHealth today for a partner on your path to success.

NeuroHealth Arlington Heights

About the author

For over 20 years, NeuroHealth Arlington Heights has been offering neuropsychological and psychological assessments and treatments for people of all ages. These assessments and treatments address Behavioral, Emotional, & Social Issues, Neurocognitive Functions, and Neurodevelopmental Growth.