College is usually an academically challenging time for any student, but for those with learning disabilities the post-secondary level of education can present new difficulties. While organization and study skills remain important, there is also an increased need for self-advocacy at the college level in order to access valuable resources that can facilitate success.
Ultimately, success in college is determined by satisfactorily completing all curriculum requirements and graduating. The following strategies and suggestions are intended to assist college students with learning disabilities in achieving this goal.
1. Know Thyself. The more you know about your interests, strengths and weaknesses, preferred learning style (e.g., visual, auditory, tactile), study habits, career interests, and other areas the more you will be able to effectively advocate for yourself and receive assistance in achieving your educational goals. Self-awareness is extremely important at the college level and beyond.
2. Get Tested. If you haven’t already had your learning disability officially diagnosed and documented by a qualified professional, it is to your advantage to do so. Proper documentation on file at your college entitles you to receive appropriate accommodations and services as required by federal law (e.g., Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, and the Americans with Disabilities Act).
Whereas in the past your parents and teachers made sure all of the paperwork was in order, in college the responsibility for doing this shifts to you, the student. You must take the initiative. Once you take an active role in your education, a variety of special resources will become available.
3. Read the Orientation Materials. Knowledge is power, and this information is given to students for a reason. The more you know about your college, its graduation requirements, and available services the better prepared you will be for a successful experience. Review the college website, viewbooks (glossy, colorful brochures used as marketing tools for colleges), brochures and handouts as well as the student handbook and course catalog as early as possible.
Pay particular attention to services available to students with disabilities as well as other more general resources on campus such as career planning services, health and counseling services, financial aid assistance, housing assistance, academic support services, etc.
4. Speak to Your Professors. They will provide extra help during their “office hours” or other times as arranged. It is important to let your professors know in the first week of classes that you may need accommodations (after you fail the first quiz or exam may be too late).
If your learning disability is affecting your performance in a particular class your professor should be able to assist you and direct you to other appropriate resources. It is best to seek help when you first experience difficulty before the material becomes too complicated, your grade is significantly affected, and time runs out for the semester. If you follow these rules, they will most certainly help you overcome any hardships.
5. Seek Out Support. In addition to friends, try to find a mentor, tutor(s), and study buddies. College is difficult and you do not have to go through it alone. You need people who can provide academic and social support. A mentor can guide you through the college years and help you plan for your future. Tutors can spend extra time with you on your problem subjects to help you understand the material and prepare for tests. Fellow students can help by sharing information and studying with you.
6. Schedule Your Courses Wisely. Actively select your courses taking into account your special needs and interests along with any school requirements. Don’t simply let your advisor (or worse, the computer) select all of your classes.
Try to vary the types of courses selected for your semester schedule (i.e., don’t take five heavy-duty reading courses at one time) and allow extra time for courses which will pose more of a challenge for you (e.g., reading, writing, math). Be sure to adjust your credit load accordingly. Get recommendations on courses from students who have actually taken the course so that you have some idea of what to expect from the course and the professor.
7. Take Developmental Classes. Your college will likely offer classes on orientation/adjustment; study skills (e.g., textbook reading, note taking, research and paper writing, time management); remedial reading, writing, and math, etc.
These classes can help you make a good transition to college and acquire the necessary skills in order to be academically successful. Ask your high school teachers to recommend courses that would best help you and work with your advisor at college to select appropriate developmental classes.
8. Manage Your Time. Organization and structure will help you to be successful in college. Develop daily, weekly, and semester schedules to help plan and coordinate your studying, employment, and social activities.
Be efficient in the use of your time and build study breaks into your schedule. A general guideline for the amount of study time is that on a weekly basis a student should spend two hours studying for a class for every hour spent in that class, however, this can vary depending on the student and his or her special needs. Although the school is a priority, try to find a workable balance between school and your other activities.
9. Use Compensatory Strategies. Rather than focusing solely on your areas of difficulty, remember to also focus on your strengths. We all have strengths. If you struggle with numbers and are planning to take a college math course, then try to balance out your course load with another course that is easier for you and perhaps even fun.
Study during your best times and use learning approaches that work for you (e.g., verbal rehearsal, notecards that chunk information into smaller bits, study partners, etc.). These may be different from what other students are doing and it may sometimes take you longer, but if it works – use it. The goal is to do well in your classes and this may require some extra effort on your part.
10. Remember The Basics. Proper nutrition, sleep, and exercise are important for everyone. If your body is not healthy it will not be able to function at its best and your attempts at academic success will be compromised. Mental health is also important. If you experience anxiety or depression, or other medical conditions (either physical or psychological) you should seek help at your college’s student health center, counseling center, or consult with your family physician.