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Planning for College

Planning for College: Accommodations for the Student with Learning Disabilities and ADHD

By: Diane Robertson
SINAI Teacher

“Preparation is the key to success.”  We hear this phrase over and over, but it is particularly true for the student with disabilities who is planning to go to college.  In “Planning for College: Eligibility and Access to Disability Services,” published in The Jewish Link on November 6, I discussed the importance of researching the services available at different colleges, and eligibility for and access to these services.  In this article, I will discuss the accommodations that may or may not be available to students with Learning Disabilities (LD) and ADHD. 

Colleges do offer some of the basic accommodations that students who have an IEP or 504 Plan may have utilized in high school, and they may even provide some accommodations to which students have not yet had access.  The important point is that colleges are not required to provide the same adjustments students have had in high school.

In fact, not only do they not have such an obligation, but the laws permit colleges to refuse certain requests.  Though they may choose to provide a student with waivers or substitutions of his or her requirements, colleges also can reject accommodations which are considered fundamental alterations to college programs.  This means that at some colleges, students may have to meet the same requirements as their typical peers for everything from admissions through graduation. 

Many colleges also make a distinction between accommodations that are generally recognized in educational settings and those that they consider “personal services.”  Frequently, this is an issue for students expecting a certain level of tutorial support.  Postsecondary schools are not required to provide students who have LD and ADHD with tutoring in a one-on-one setting, or to ensure that tutors have a special education background.  Students with LD and ADHD have access to the same tutoring as their typical peers, and students who want such assistance must seek out schools that provide it (typically in a fee-for-service program). 

Even within the classroom, accommodations which a student may have had throughout high school often are not available in college.  While some colleges do grant extended time to students who qualify, others do not.  Some colleges may suggest that in order to manage the workload, a student with LD or ADHD simply take fewer classes.  Students also may find it hard to get approved for alternative assignments or assessments (e.g., writing a paper instead of taking an exam, or taking an essay exam instead of a multiple choice one).  Also, colleges do not typically ask Disability Services or professors to provide study guides; students are expected to prepare their own.  Similarly, students should not expect to have adjustments made to class assignments, as they may have been in high school.

In order to prepare for these changes in accommodations, if you have a learning disability or ADHD you need to be prepared.  Before you apply to a specific college, inquire to find out if it might make the accommodations you need.  This information can usually be found on the Disability Services page of the college website, but if the information is not clear or does not address your particular needs, call the Disability Services office.   You should also research the graduation requirements of the different colleges to make sure that they do not include classes you fear you might not pass.  Once you are in college, you should choose a major taking into account that required classes for your field of study may not be waived.  Most high school college guidance counselors have some knowledge about the different levels of support at various colleges, but there are also professional consultants who specialize in helping students with LD or ADHD identify the best post-secondary choices for a fee.

The post-secondary system bears some resemblance to the one at the secondary level, in that certain basic accommodations are available (at no cost to the students) at every college in the country, no matter the level of competitiveness.  For the student with learning disabilities or ADHD, research and preparation are the keys to a successful college experience.

Part 1 of this article, entitled “Planning for College: Eligibility and Access to Disability Services,” is available online at