In just a few weeks, thousands of young adults will be heading off to college—many of whom have a learning disability (LD). Growing up with LD, I sometimes felt college was out of my reach because I faced many academic challenges in high school. However, I’m now entering my fourth year of college and am living proof that success for students with LD is possible. I’m excited to share some helpful tips that have worked well for me and will hopefully work for you. (Parents, you’ll want to share these with your college-aged kids!)
Advocate for yourself.
Parents and teachers no longer run the show in college like they did in K–12. This is good news—as students with LD, we get to speak for ourselves. This means finding the Disability Services Office (all universities have one) and registering with them. After registering with the Disability Services, make sure to remember the names of the people in the office that you will be working with for the next two to four years. It is essential to create bonds with these individuals so they can help you advocate for your college accommodations. (Remember, your IEP or 504 plan does not transfer over to college. You’ll need to explicitly apply for any accommodations you may have gotten used to using in high school.)
Meet your professors and take advantage of office hours.
Making a good impression on your professors helps build relationships and enhance your academic experience. I’ve even had my final grade change from a B+ to an A- just because I took the time to visit my professor during her office hours. It’s been my experience that when a professor witnesses students advocating for themselves and explaining their strengths and weaknesses, it often leads to mutual understanding and makes professors want to help you with what you need to be successful in their class.
Find a support system.
While in college, especially if you are living away from home, it is important to socialize because your friends can be your biggest support system while away from your family. This is a time to find friends who are going to support you through your ups and downs—college is filled with enough lows and highs even before throwing LD into the mix. When I was first getting to know my roommate, I explained that I had LD and I was shocked when she said she did too, and that she received special accommodations while in high school such as resource room. Even though she decided not to register with Disability Services in college, she was extremely helpful in pointing me in the right direction since she was a sophomore.
In a way, your friends become your backbone when you are facing challenges. When you surround yourself with friends who accept your LD and support you, it makes your college experience much easier to cope with. If making friends has been difficult for you in the past, think of college as a new opportunity—campuses have tons of structured activities and clubs that allow you to meet others with common interests. Do not fret about people who don't understand why you may pronounce things differently, spell things wrong, get disorganized or have trouble sitting still. And don’t worry about the ones who tease you because of it. We are all on our way to adulthood in college and you don’t need to waste your time with immaturity.
Use your accommodations.
I have known a lot of people who chose not use accommodations in college and had extreme academic difficulty, sometimes to the point of having to drop out or transfer. I too almost fell victim to this, but I was lucky enough to get a stern warning from my mother that put me on the right track. She explained that if my school work was hard for me in high school because of LD, that school work was going to be even harder in college. While this seems simple, we often forget that LD does not magically disappear when we enter adulthood. You might as well embrace it! While I suggest being proud of the way you learn and being open about your LD and needed accommodations, remember that you’re under no obligation to explain to peers what accommodations you need or why. This information is kept confidential by your college.
Know your strengths and weaknesses.
It is very important to know your academic strengths and weaknesses. Knowing your difficulties will help you address the obstacles you will face in your studies. For example, I know that my working memory issues make it difficult for me to complete math assignments. Knowing this, I decided to find out what extra help my university offered in mathematics. I was able to set up private tutoring sessions and speak to my advisor regarding my major requirements and how I would approach the math classes available to me. This knowledge helped me pass my math classes and move on to classes I truly enjoy.
Kara Caroccio is an NCLD intern. She is currently a senior at Seton Hall University working on her degree in Biological Anthropology. She hopes to spread awareness for students who have learning disabilities in college by building a stronger LD community on college campuses.