How to Succeed in College with a Learning Disability

Having a learning disability can present academic challenges, but that doesn't mean students can't excel in college. With the right planning, study strategies and lifestyle choices individuals with learning disabilities can thrive in higher ed classrooms while enjoying other great experiences that come with college. Here are 10 tips for student success.

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By Douglas Fehlen

learning disabilities college tips

1. Be prepared.

Succeeding in college begins with preparation. Take high school classes that are likely to prepare you for college coursework. Research colleges thoroughly, and choose one that supports students with learning disabilities. Many college best-of lists and books rank programs for students who experience difficulties with learning.

2. Know your rights.

Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and the American with Disabilities Act Amendments Act (ADAAC) provide 'reasonable accommodations' for college students with learning disabilities. While there are no Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) in postsecondary education, institutions do offer special services for individuals who have challenges with learning.

3. Document your disability with an institution.

Students can choose if and when they'd like to disclose a learning disability to a college. Many advocates, though, suggest disclosing disabilities right away - even if individuals haven't decided whether to utilize accommodations. This makes it possible for students to access services immediately, should they be needed. Individuals must provide documentation of a disability to the school.

4. Familiarize yourself with special services.

Colleges typically offer students with learning disabilities accommodations through a disability support services office. Individuals may be eligible for specialized counseling services, tutoring and classroom supports that can allow them to overcome difficulties with learning.

5. Understand your disability.

It's important for students with learning disabilities to be aware of their relative strengths and weaknesses. This self-awareness can help individuals identify tasks that will require special attention, whether that is organization, study habits or another area of skill. Individuals who understand their disabilities are also more able to effectively advocate for themselves.

6. Choose appropriate classes.

Students with learning disabilities should consider their academic challenges in choosing courses. For instance, those who struggle with numeric calculations can take the most basic math class to meet a general ed requirement. American Sign Language (ASL) might replace a foreign language in coursework. Students can work with an advisor to select appropriate classes.

7. Make use of assistive technology.

Assistive technology can enable individuals to overcome academic challenges. College students may be able to use tape recorders, talking calculators, screen readers, Personal Digital Assistants (PDAs) and other devices that help them learn. Information on assistive technology should be offered at a disability support services office.

8. Engage your preferred learning styles.

Most people have preferred styles of learning. For instance, some students are auditory learners while others retain information best with the help of visual input. Some individuals process information best when a tactile activity is incorporated into learning. Students should do whatever they can to take advantage of individual learning styles.

9. Connect with college staff.

Many students who choose to disclose learning disabilities to a college make a point to talk with professors, teaching assistants, librarians and other staff about academic challenges. Making these people aware of disabilities can allow faculty members to provide the most effective level of student support.

10. Get extra help.

Sometimes students with learning disabilities require more support than they can get from instructors or other college staff. These students may benefit from joining a study group or enlisting the help of a tutor. Depending upon a school's resources, free tutoring and note-taking services may be available. Students can go to the disability support services office for specifics on available support.

Just about to begin college? Get tips for surviving your first semester of school.

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