Choosing a College
Your child's choice of college will be governed by many factors. Even the most prestigious and highly selective colleges will provide accommodations for students with learning disabilities, so his dyslexia should not be a barrier.
However, in choosing a college, it is important for your teenager to consider his own learning style and preferences. He may find that he prefers a college with flexible graduation requirements, or he may want a college where class sizes are small to allow close interaction between students and instructors. Encourage your child to obtain the course catalogues for colleges he is interested in, as these provide information about school policies and course sequences that are not covered in the glossy brochures.
By comparing catalogs from different schools, your teen will see that requirements for majors can differ considerably; this can be important if there are specific courses that your child would like to avoid.
Keep in mind that there are literally hundreds of excellent colleges your child can choose from. Many have very lenient admission standards, and will accept your child even he has received mostly Bs and Cs in high school. Attending a smaller, less well-known college can be a distinct advantage for a student who sometimes struggles with learning, as the school environment may be less competitive and the instructors more willing to provide support and guidance.
College Support for Students with Dyslexia
Because of provisions of the Americans with Disabilities Act and Section 504, almost every college will make some provisions for students with learning disabilities; the only colleges exempt from the federal legal requirements are some small religious colleges that do not accept any federal funding or benefits for their students. However, the law requires only that colleges make “reasonable accommodations” for students; it neither dictates what is “reasonable” or mandates extra support services. Thus, the level and type of support can be very different from one institution to the next.
In addition to the usual questions your child may have about college, such as admissions requirements, academic programs, and dorm life, your teenager needs to make additional inquiries, either through correspondence, review of brochures or Web site material, or while visiting the campus. Find out what special programs and support services are in place at each college your child is considering, and how long the support program has existed. You and your child should specifically ask about types of assistance he is most likely to need, such as arrangements for students who need help taking notes or writing papers, or availability of recorded books.
Jonathan Mooney, author of Learning Outside the Lines, has severe dyslexia and didn't learn to read until age 12. He graduated from an Ivy League college, Brown University, with a degree in English literature after gaining admittance as a transfer student. He attributes his success in part to choosing a college with an “academic culture” that “values self-directed learning, independent study, and diversity.”
Ask what the procedures are for negotiating accommodations and modifications with instructors. Are students on their own, or will the college help with advocacy? What is the procedure for resolving disputes with professors?
Find out whether support services like tutoring or a writing lab are included in the tuition, or whether your child will be assessed additional fees. Ask whether tutoring and academic counseling are handled through the learning disabilities support center or through academic departments and general counseling offices. It is often important that advisors and tutors have experience with students who have learning disabilities. Ask whether there are courses available in basic writing and study skills, and whether such courses earn academic credit.
Ask how many students receive support each year, and what percentage of students receiving extra services graduate. Low numbers may indicate a weak level of support.
Ask what sort of documentation is needed to obtain support services. Some colleges may accept the high school IEP, but others may require a recent evaluation by a qualified professional.
College Classes and Graduation Requirements
Your child's success in college may depend on many factors unrelated to services specifically afforded to students with dyslexia. In choosing a college, encourage your child to ask these questions:
What is the average class size in her areas of academic interest? Do classes consist mostly of lectures, discussion, or laboratory sessions? Do professors usually give multiple-choice tests, or essay-based exams; or do they rely largely on student papers or projects for grading? Ask about the college grading system, and whether it is possible to take some courses on a pass/fail basis.
Does the college, or your child's likely major, have a mathematics or foreign language requirement? If these subjects are likely to present a problem, may other courses such as computer courses, an international studies course, or American Sign Language be substituted to satisfy such requirements? If not, does the college ever waive these requirements for students with documented disabilities?
Ask what the minimum number of credits are required each semester or quarter in order to be considered a full-time student, and how many credits are typically earned for a single class. Find out if the college has core requirements that must be fulfilled in the first year, and what those are. Your child may do better if he is able to limit course load.
You should also find out whether there is a maximum number of courses allowed, and whether there are extra fees for taking courses beyond a certain amount of credit; it is possible that your child may at some point have to repeat a course to make up for a failing or incomplete grade. Find out what the college polices are for students who take more than four years to complete their degrees, especially with regard to financial aid.
Find out what is sort of work-learn programs and internships are available. If your teenager learns best from hands-on experience, consider choosing a college that encourages and offers academic credit for work experience in his field of interest.