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Transitioning to College: for Students with Learning Disabilities
by Steve Lewis M.S.
SLCC Disability Resource Center
LDAU Professional Advisory Board Member


Transitioning to College for Students with Learning Disabilities

Transitioning from high school (HS) to post-secondary education can be a daunting task for students with learning disabilities (LD).  These issues center on the “disconnect” between the nature and extent of disability documentation generated during a student’s public school career and the documentation required to access services at the post-secondary education level. There is no easy answer to this problem given the legal, practical, and philosophical differences between these two educational settings. All persons involved in the successful and equitable transitions of individuals with LD from high school to post-secondary institutions need to understand each other’s constraints and perspectives.

Start Early

Students preparing to transition to a post-secondary setting should take a few precautions in their preparations.  Students should think early on what accommodations they may be needing in the post-secondary setting and begin compiling a set of documents, SOP’s, IEP’s, or letters from school personnel indicating limitations that would support such a requested accommodation.  Students will need to “make a case for accommodations” using various types of documentation (student reports, K-12 Reports, observable limitations and 3rd party documentation) to support the requested accommodation. The best documentation would be a DSM-IV diagnosis and associated functional limitations; often times a school psychologist can produce this document easily.

Take a Methodical Approach

One the best pieces of advice anyone can offer to prospective post-secondary students is to get started compiling these documents in their junior year of HS through their senior year. Starting early in your junior year will help alleviate the stress that may be involved in doing it last minute. Take a methodical approach to getting letters from teachers, school counselors, special education personnel, doctors, and therapists that speak to a student’s limitations and struggles. Starting early will also bring to attention any gaps in documentation or testing that can be resolved over the student’s last year in high school. 

Make an Appointment with Your Disability Resource Center

Once a student is in their senior year they should begin speaking to the Disability Resource Center (DRC) at the institution they are planning to attend.  Students need to remember that in a Post-Secondary institution the student is the primary advocate for themselves (if 18 or older). Students also need to be aware of the application/qualifying processes for BOTH the institution and the DRC and realize these are separate processes. Getting started early will allow time for the student to calmly complete the required processes to get accommodations started at their chosen Post-Secondary institution. Most DRC departments can assist students through both processes and some will even help with getting the student registered for college. Be aware that disability services vary from institution to institution.

The student should bring as much of their documentation to their first appointment with the DRC where it can be reviewed and a dialogue can be started to build the case for whatever accommodation the student requests. Requested accommodations must be reasonable, directly related to the student’s functional limitations and can not fundamentally alter the essential function of course. Post-Secondary institutions are not required to fundamentally alter the essential functions of a course. Students need to understand their disability and related functional limitations and avoid college majors that would be a tremendous struggle. For example: although every case is unique. . .it is probably not the best idea for someone with a mathematics learning disorder to try and become an engineer . . .speaking in generalities of course.

Decide on Neccessary Accommodations

Once a student has applied and been accepted to an institution the next step is to decide on what accommodations the student might qualify. DRC offices do not provide tutoring services, although, most institutions in Utah have robust tutorial services on campus. It is good to remember that some accommodations cannot be allowed in some classes as they would fundamentally alter the essential function of the course. A good, although not exhaustive, list of accommodations is provided on Salt Lake Community College’s DRC website:

Don’t Forget Financial Aid

Financial Aid is a large component of Post-Secondary educations and a prospective students should go to the federal financial aide website. Many institutions offer various scholarships but there are few scholarships or tuition waiver programs for students with LD. Some students with LD might qualify for funding from Utah Vocational Rehabilitation .

For more information on transitioning to college for students with learning disabilities after high school feel free to contact Steven Lewis, M.S. at Salt Lake Community College’s Disability Resource Center (801)957-4659. 

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