The Jonathan Foundation

College Planning Guide for Students with-Learning Disabilities

Learning disabilities present unique challenges when you’re planning to attend college. The National Center for Learning Disabilities conducted a survey in 2016 of 800 parents, and 72% said it was hard finding information about college disability services. For these students, getting the right information and support to excel in college requires a persistent strategy. In this extensive planning guide, we give you the tools you need to be successful in understanding the college environment for students with learning disabilities as well as your rights and potential accommodations. Whether it’s in-person or online college you’re pursuing, we’ll show you where to find the best resources to achieve your goals.

Common Learning Disabilities Among College Students

There are many learning disabilities that can be challenging in a college environment. Typically, students will work closely with college personnel to navigate their specific condition. Here are some of the most common learning disabilities that often require accommodations.
  • ADHD. Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder is a brain development disorder that affects focusing and impulse control. Students with ADHD often struggle with executive deficit disorder as well, which can affect problem solving, multitasking, and time management skills.
  • Auditory processing disorder. Also known as central auditory processing disorder, this is difficulty hearing and understanding information.
  • Dyscalculia. Students with dyscalculia have trouble understanding numbers, math concepts, and calculations.
  • Dyslexia. This is a learning disability where people have trouble recognizing words accurately and also may find reading comprehension difficult.
  • Dysgraphia. Dysgraphia is a neurological disorder that makes it difficult to write thoughts in a coherent manner.
  • Visual processing disorder. Processing visual information is challenging, and often drawing, copying, or distinguishing differences in letters or shapes is hard.

Challenges Students With Learning Disabilities Face

College students with a learning disability face a variety of challenges at school. For some, admitting they have a learning disability is a challenge to overcome. According to the National Center for Learning Disabilities’ executive summary The State of Learning Disabilities: Understanding the 1 in 5, only 24% of college students told their school that they had a learning disability. But 69% did not say they have a learning disability because they thought they no longer had one, even though people generally don’t stop having learning disabilities. This can be a significant barrier to success because only a portion of college students with a learning disability are getting the accommodations they need. Reasons why students don’t disclose they have a learning disability include:
  • Thinking they’ll be perceived as either lazy or unintelligent.
  • Not wanting to be identified as someone who needs help due to their learning disability.
  • Not knowing how important accommodations may be for their success in college.
  • Not realizing they have a learning disability until they are diagnosed in college.
Another potential reason students with a learning disability may not seek accommodations could be due to the fact that their individualized education plans (IEPs) do not transfer from high school to college. This puts the impetus of petitioning for accommodations solely on the student’s plate. However, you may be able to transfer some of the accommodations written into your IEP through the Disabled Student Programs & Services (DSPS) office or equivalent department at your college. DSPS will review your IEP and see what accommodations are available at the college level that may be beneficial to the student. Students may also be able to transfer accommodations from a 504 plan to college. But you should keep in mind that colleges are not obligated to transfer all of the accommodations that were included in an IEP or 504 plan. DSPS offices differ from college to college — some colleges offer excellent support, while others do not.
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