Students with Disabilities and the College Search

Posted by: Carolyn Koning, Assistant Director for Disability Services

image of advisor working with student

The mission? Finding a college that’s a good fit for you!

If you are a student with a disability, the strategies recommended by guidebooks, websites, and guidance counselors are still important and offer a good starting point for your college search. However, here are some additional steps you can take to help your search process go smoothly.

Step 1: Figure out what accommodations and resources you may need in college.

  1. What is your diagnosis? Read your disability documentation. Start by learning about your disability.
  2. What accommodations have been important in high school? Do you use extended time on tests? Why?
  3. Ask your resource teacher, counselor, or a trusted mentor to help you better understand your disability and how accommodations create equal access for you.

Step 2: When you visit colleges, request an appointment with someone in the disability services office.

Prepare questions in advance by putting questions in your phone or on paper. If possible, take notes during the appointment or ask if you can record the conversation using your phone.

What should you ask? Here are some suggestions that may help you determine which colleges have resources that will set you up for success:

  1. How many students does the disability support office serve? The national average is approximately 10% of the total student body. Strong programs generally have a high number of students registered for services.
  2. How are testing and other accommodations arranged? Some colleges have testing centers while others do not. You want to make sure accommodations are commonly provided and that there is an established, uncomplicated system in place. The answer to this question may also give you information about the campus culture and faculty attitudes about providing accommodations.
  3. What professional development opportunities are available to advisors and professors to help them learn more about students with disabilities? While others across the campus are experts in their fields, they may need specialized support when serving students with disabilities. Look for signs of collaborative relationships across campus between faculty, staff, advisors, and the disability services team.
  4. What other student support resources are available? It will be your responsibility to take advantage of student success opportunities in college. At Meredith, we offer tutoring programs; academic skills training and coaching; counseling and health services; career planning; and opportunities for involvement, service, and leadership. Using these resources can make all the difference in your college success.
  5. Can I talk with a current student registered with disability services? This may be arranged in advance or afterwards via phone or email, and confidentiality issues must be considered. Ask her to describe her experiences working with faculty, staff, and disability support staff at the college. Ask her what she likes most and least about the college.

Step 3: Pay attention to details during your meetings.

During each appointment, the disability services staff member will likely explain the certification process, documentation guidelines, and some of the accommodations you may qualify for. A couple of things to consider during this conversation:

  1. Is this person treating you and your family respectfully?
  2. Do you feel valued, welcomed, and important?
  3. Did you receive hard copies of the information and policies discussed? Or were you directed to a helpful college website?

Step 4: A few key things you need to know as you go through the process:

  1. You must self-identify to receive accommodations and services in college by sending your disability documentation directly to the disability support services office.
  2. The laws that protect K-12 students with disabilities are different from those that protect college students. Therefore, you may not qualify for the same accommodations you received in high school. Some accommodations may not be appropriate at the college level.
  3. There are no IEPs or 504 Plans in college.

And, finally, a recommendation:

Consider including at least one smaller college on your short list. Most students are more successful in smaller classes (less than 50 students). Don’t misunderstand: students with disabilities definitely thrive at larger universities and in classes among hundreds of students. However, students at smaller colleges benefit from instruction by professors who know their names. Smaller colleges often foster a more collaborative learning environment. And many students with focus or concentration issues find smaller classes more interactive and engaging.

If Meredith is on your short list, please come visit me!

Resources for Students with Disabilities

Government Resources

Resources by Disability Type

Assistive Technology

U.S. Department of Education > Office for Civil Rights > Students with Disabilities Preparing for Postsecondary Education: Know Your Rights and Responsibilities

Survival Guide for College Students with ADHD or LD by Kathleen G. Nadeau, Ph.D.

Taking Charge: Stories of Success and Self-Determination by Sheryl Burgstahler, Ph.D.

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