As families are well aware, the college admissions process has become more competitive in recent years. Even during these economically challenging times, a college degree is likely to enhance a person’s employability, independence, and quality of life. Over a lifetime, a college degree predicts much greater earning power. Adults with a high school diploma, on average, earn $30,000 annually; those with a 2-year degree, $36,000; and those with a 4-year degree, $46,000.
College services for students with non-apparent disabilities (e.g., LD, ADHD, Asperger’s, and psychiatric disorders such as depression or anxiety) have mushroomed in the past two decades. However, many students and families remain uninformed about these important resources. This lack of knowledge can be problematic because college demands new skills and abilities that high schools may not be able to instill. As a group, students with disabilities take approximately a year longer to graduate from college. Five years after enrolling, approximately 53% of students with disabilities have obtained a college degree, while 64% of students without a disability have done so.
While some students (with or without disabilities) flounder in college due to misplaced priorities and lack of effort, the picture is more complicated for students with LD, ADHD, and other learning issues. Going off to college involves two substantial transitions. First, the students’ external structures decrease rapidly. External structures include things like living at home with parents’ supervision, having a consistent daily schedule, and receiving clear assignments and frequent feedback from teachers. Second, demands on the student’s executive functions increase substantially. Examples of these demands include the need to create/follow a weekly schedule, read extensively, write papers with little guidance from professors, and apply memorized facts to hypothetical scenarios on essay exams. These transitions often result in serious “bumps” for students who did well in high school and did not think their disability would affect them in college.
Students with disabilities often have limited preparation for this significant transition. They may not even have a formally diagnosed disability in high school. They may not use accommodations such as extra test time or notetakers due to embarrassment or because they could not qualify for them. Parents typically supervise high school students’ use of prescription medication and order the refills without preparing students to do so on their own. Most significantly, students often report that they were never taught how to study while in high school.
To succeed in college, students with LD, ADHD, and other learning issues need to be self-determined. Self-determination is the ability to identify and achieve goals based on a foundation of knowing and valuing yourself. Self-determined college students:
- Know what their disability is and how it affects their learning and social life
- Are comfortable asking for help (and do so when needed)
- Self-monitor so that potential problems are identified early
- Have and use effective study skills
- Self-advocate for accommodations to “level the playing field”
- Develop new tools or strategies to stay organized and manage their time
CRG offers a range of services for college-bound or in-college students with learning, attentional, and/or mood disorders. We provide comprehensive assessments to help students identify and understand their learning issues. CRG evaluators know how to prepare this “disability documentation” so that it meets college requirements. Dr. David Parker is CRG’s postsecondary disability specialist. He has coordinated LD/ADHD services for students at UNC-Chapel Hill, the University of Connecticut, and Washington University in St. Louis. Currently, he is the executive editor of the Journal of Postsecondary Education and Disability. Dr. Parker offers one-on-one strategy instruction to high school and college students. This service fills an important gap by teaching students how to study, using their current coursework as the “curriculum.” Dr. Parker also works closely with families to help them during the college search process. This entails helping students identify colleges that match their abilities and preferences and accessing the services on that campus that can help students thrive. Dr. Parker helps students better understand (and accept) their learning profile so they can become proactive self-advocates in college. He also facilitates a parents’ book club called “Ready for Take-Off,” which helps parents learn how to coach their adolescent with LD or ADHD to become a more effective problem-solver.