The Fit is It!

Key Components in the College Search Process for Students who Learn Differently

           It’s that time of year when seniors across our region are asked, “Where have you decided to go to college?”  Typically, most students would like to respond proudly, “I got into  (fill in the blank of a well-known school). “  However, for students with learning differences, the search for the right college “fit” may lead them down a different path than other students who are emphasizing the right location, size or sport. There are key components in the search that parents and students with learning differences should know.

 First, and foremost, an examination of the type of learning support available should be made.   In order to be successful, students with learning differences need to thoroughly investigate the support that is available at each college or university.  It is not enough that the college or university has a reputation of providing “good support”; it must match the type of services or support needed for the student to be successful.  For example, a good “fit” for a student with dyslexia may mean finding a college or university that has easily accessible assistive technology.  For a student with executive dysfunction, it may mean finding a college or university with a solid coaching program, run by professionals, not peers.  For a student with ADHD, a distraction-reduced testing environment may be essential for college success.  Some students may also need a comprehensive support program that provides intensive, individualized services and support where regular meetings with a learning specialist are made as part of a fee-based support service.   

Another key component requires looking at the academic requirements of each school.  It is important NOT to pick a school that is over the student’s head academically; and therefore, students and their parents should not be swayed by the well-known name of a school or the student’s desire to attend a “reach” school just because it is impressive to friends and family.  Students with learning differences know that they have to work harder and longer than their peers.  Consequently, “getting in”, while a laudable goal for most, should not be the goal for students with learning differences.  Students with learning differences should strive to be in the top 50 to 75th percentile academically when compared to other students admitted to the college or university.   

           Lastly, students with learning differences generally do best in colleges where they have easy access to professors and where classes are more discussion-based and smaller in size.  If lectures halls of 200 or more are the norm, it is difficult for students to seek the help that they need and learn the material experientially.  Typically such faculty and classroom structure is found at a smaller college or university. 

           While concentrating on the key components other than those traditionally considered by students may seem daunting, the good news is that there are over 3,000 colleges and universities in the U.S., and there is something for everyone.  Finding the right “fit” may mean extra effort, but if done right, it is worth it.  “Fit is It!”  


Sue Cook Christakos, JD, Independent Educational Consultant

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