Eleven percent of college undergraduates have a disability, the majority being learning disabilities, according to the U.S. Government Accountability Office. Yet many colleges and universities do not publicize their learning disability programs. Schools worry that if their LD services are well-known, it might scare away students with no learning issues.
Here are some things families should know about finding and paying for schools for children with learning differences:
1. Don’t keep it a secret.
Parents and teenagers often wonder if they should keep a disability a secret out of fear that it will harm admission chances. That’s a mistake for a variety of reasons.
For starters, when prospective students contact a college’s disability staffer, that query will never reach the institution’s admissions office. The two departments are prohibited from talking to each other about applicants.
Joy App, an independent college consultant in Houston, who has advised many applicants with dyslexia, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and other learning differences, urges students to share the information during the admission process.
It’s important to know if the institution is going to be helpful to LD students. “If a school is like Princeton and isn’t friendly to LD students, I want to know,” App says. And if a school holds a disability against an applicant, that’s not the kind of school the student should attend, she added.
2. Turn the disability into an advantage.
Students with learning disabilities may actually have an advantage at schools that evaluate applicants holistically. Private schools, in particular, look at more than just a student’s grade point average, test scores and class rank.
Having a learning disability can also be a plus at colleges that are looking for a diverse student body, says David Montesano, an independent college consultant with offices in Bellevue, Wash. and others cities on the coasts.
In addition, colleges may look at the student’s lower grades, class rank and standardized test scores in a different light. For instance, a student with a 3.4 GPA, who discloses his/her learning disability, may be competitive with an applicant pool with higher grades.
3. Look for strong programs.
A growing number of colleges are creating more structured learning support programs for their LD students. There is a demand for these services, but they can also be institutional moneymakers. Here’s a list of schools with strong LD programs, compiled with the help of consultant Joy App.
EAST:Carnegie Mellon University (Pa.), Curry College (Mass.), Farleigh Dickinson University (N.J.), Franklin Pierce University (N.H.), George Washington University (Washington, D.C.), Hofstra University (N.Y.), Landmark College (Vt.), Lesley University (Mass.), Mitchell College (Conn.), Northeastern University (Mass.).
MIDWEST: Augsburg College (Minn.), DePaul University (Ill.), Muskingum University (Ohio), Southern Illinois University-Carbondale (Ill.), University of Indianapolis, Westminster College (Mo.).
SOUTHEAST:Davis and Elkins College (W.Va.), East Carolina University (N.C.), Flagler College (Fla.), High Point University (N.C.), Lynn University (Fla.), Marshall University (W.Va.), University of the Ozarks (Ark.).
SOUTHWEST: Baylor University (Texas), Schreiner University (Texas), Southern Methodist University (Texas), Texas Tech University, Trinity University (Texas), University of Houston (Texas), University of Tulsa (Okla.).
WEST: Marymount College (Calif.), University of Arizona, University of Denver (Colo.), University of Montana, University of Redlands (Calif.), Western Colorado State University, Westminster College (Utah), Whittier College (Calif.).
4. Ask questions.
Visiting a school’s disability services office can provide a better idea of what the institution offers.
Here are some questions to ask when researching a school’s programs:
1. How many students use your services?
2. What assistive technology (AT) services do you offer? Do you have an AT expert on staff?
3. Does the office for students with disabilities act as a liaison between the students and their professors, or does it help the student to self-advocate?
4. Are the services limited (i.e. numbers of visits, advising sessions, among others)?
5. What is the retention rate and four-year graduation rate for students with learning disabilities?
6. Do you track students who have used your services after graduation? If so, what do your findings show about their success?
7. What do you consider the most difficult majors/classes for disabilities support students on this campus?
8. What is the procedure to get extended time on exams?
9. Do your services cost extra?
Finally, when evaluating a school’s learning disability programs, teenagers should also ask current students for their opinions on the school’s LD services.