Why Pursue a College Degree?
People with learning disabilities (LD), ADHD, psychiatric disorders, Asperger’s, and other types of disabilities often face greater challenges in college compared to other students. While 40%-45% of high school graduates without disabilities are enrolled full-time in college, only 9%-19% of high school graduates with disabilities are enrolled full-time. 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. These differences are important because, 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.
Barriers to Success in College
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 disabilities. Going off to college involves two substantial transitions. First, the students’ external structures decrease rapidly. External structures include things like living at home, having a consistent daily schedule, and receiving clear assignments and frequent feedback from teachers. Second, demands on the student’s executive functions rapidly increase. 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 exams. This combination often leads students who were successful in high school to encounter sudden and significant difficulties in college they did not anticipate.
Many students with disabilities have limited preparation for the transition to college. They may not have a formally diagnosed disability in high school. They may avoid using 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 (stimulants, anti-depressants) 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.
Characteristics of Successful College Students:
To succeed in college, students with LD, ADHD, and other disabilities 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 diagnostic and educational services for college-bound or in-college students with learning, attentional, and/or mood disorders. See the Resources tab for more information.
For More Information:
Association on Higher Education and Disability (AHEAD)
National Center on Secondary Education and Transition
Section 504 & Postsecondary Education
Differences between High School and College for Students with Disabilities
Learning Strategies Resources (Dartmouth College)
College Planning for Students with Learning Issues
SAT Accommodations for Students with Disabilities