Tips for College Success for Students with Learning Differences

written by: Jed Geary
There are three universal tips for college success that are not limited to students with learning disabilities and that I would give all 18-year-olds heading off to college and possibly leaving home for the first time.
  1. Go to every class.
  2. Do your work.
  3. Ask for help.
While seemingly quite simple, these three rather common-sense ideas present the biggest challenges to new college students experiencing academic and social freedom for the first time, and are the reason why the ones who struggle don't succeed. Several years ago, Penn released research about college success that I share with students and parents through our College Counseling Guide. To sum it up, success in college lies more with motivation, emotional balance, and wherewithal than it does with academic ability.

Beyond these first three pieces of sage advice, there are some specific tips that I think are important for students with learning disabilities to follow: 
  1. Get to know your professor. Establish a relationship with her. Let her know that you are interested in the class and motivated to do well by demonstrating your knowledge and passion for the subject.
  2. Use the learning center. It is designed for all students at the school, not just students with disabilities. Don't worry about being labeled—nobody has an interest or time for that in college. Getting help is a sign of maturity that future employers want to see. Collaboration and seeking help are signs of a responsible person.
  3. If you qualify for accommodations, use them. They are not a sign of weakness. Accommodations are designed to make the inflexible classroom environment fair. They wouldn't offer them if they were unfair to students without learning disabilities.
  4. Attend a summer transition program if offered at the college. They are a great way to get a feel for the layout of campus, make some friends, possibly earn some community service scholarship or college credit, and basically help students get a jumpstart on getting comfortable in a new learning environment.
  5. Take advantage of your time in high school and prepare yourself. Whenever I ask directors of support programs what the greatest weakness of incoming freshmen is, the answer more often than not is writing skills. Develop them in high school, in class and independently. The other weakness mentioned is maturity, oftentimes in males. Sorry, guys, but you should make sure you abide by the first three tips at the top of the page. Skipping class may seem cool, but at the end of the semester coolness does not get factored into your GPA.
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Learning Diversity is a blog hosted by Eagle Hill School where educators, students, and other members of the LD community regularly contribute posts and critical essays about learning and living in spaces that privilege the inevitability of human diversity.

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