Young woman in wheelchair working in office


More students with physical and learning differences are successfully pursuing college degrees than ever before. The differences between how high schools and colleges accommodate these students and their unique needs can be confusing to parents and students. It is essential for students with disabilities to learn as much about each college and its support services as possible when visiting campuses. It’s important for families to make an appointment to meet with each college’s support services staff to ask the following key questions.

What must a student do to apply for accommodations?

Students should not assume that because they receive accommodations at their high school those same accommodations will be given in college. Sometimes the process and requirements are clearly outlined on the school’s website, but other times, little no information is given online. What is the process to receive accommodations at this particular college? Will the student’s previous testing be accepted? Will new testing be required, and if so, can the testing be done on campus for little or no cost?

What accommodations are commonly offered?

Students with physical restrictions will want to know what type of access they will have in college. What type of technology will be available? Students with learning differences need to know what steps each college will take to help. Some schools offer extensive and varied accommodations on a regular basis, while other colleges seem to address all students’ needs with general accommodations such as extra time and separately proctored exams. Students and parents should be sure to seek out the types of accommodations that have been useful in making the student academically successful in high school.

What is the process for working with professors who don’t follow approved accommodations?

As often as student support service staff tell prospective students that the campus is welcoming to those with physical and learning differences, from time to time professors don’t implement a student’s approved accommodations. What recourse does the student have? How involved will the support services staff be in assuring accommodations are used? Having accommodations on file doesn’t help if a student is struggling with a professor who doesn’t want to follow them.

What is the graduation rate for students with similar disabilities?

Colleges with organized and effective departments for student support services should be able to provide actual statistics on the success rates of their students. When visiting potential colleges, families should ask about graduation rates of students with similar physical or learning differences. Answers should go beyond generalizations such as, “Our students do well,” or anecdotal examples such as, “Last year, we had Sally, who graduated with honors.” Families should look for statistical evidence of student success.

What are the most difficult classes for students with disabilities?

Are there particular majors, classes, or professors that are particularly challenging for students with disabilities? Why are these classes difficult? Is it because the course is difficult for all students, including those with differences? Or is the class difficult because the nature of the assigned work is more challenging to accommodate, or the pace is so rigorous that even with extended time, students struggle?

What do current students with similar disabilities have to say?

For applicants who are serious about attending a particular college, it may help to speak to current students who have similar disabilities. Often, the student support services office can help arrange these conversations. What has that student’s experiences been at the school? Do they feel they are supported? Are professors easy to work with and willing to provide accommodations? What problems have they encountered? Would they recommend this college to other students in similar situations?

How helpful were the people at support services?

This final question is one students and families should ask themselves. After visiting a college, meeting the support services staff, and learning about the school’s programs for student success, families should evaluate how they felt at the campus. Even if all the information seemed appropriate on the surface, if a students doesn’t feel comfortable with the staff or program, that college may not be the one where he or she will be most successful. Did the program director and support staff seem welcoming and helpful? Is the environment one in which the student will feel comfortable seeking assistance?

Some colleges specialize in working with students with learning differences. A student with significant needs may want to look into colleges that offers specialized programs for students with learning disabilities.

Students with learning and physical differences have additional challenges when trying to find the right college. Students and families should plan ahead and contact the office dealing with disability services before making a college visit. Asking questions, taking notes, and evaluating each college’s atmosphere can help students with disabilities find the college that will be right for them.



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