College Search for Leader, Athlete with Learning Disability

Question: My son is the student council president of his school. He's the captain of the football team, and he has a B to B- average. He also has an IEP, with a learning disability in comprehension. Where do I start? Do we look at division 3 football teams, like the coaches suggest? Do we focus on schools that specialize in kids with disabilities, or do we focus on his incredible leadership skills? Thank you

So many colleges these days have support services for students with disabilities that you should be well served by prioritizing your son's other preferences … size, location, academic offerings, athletic offerings, campus climate, etc.. (Try College Confidential's SuperMatch for suggestions.)

Just be sure to focus on places where the typical admitted student has a GPA in roughly the B to B- range. (If a football coach is hot for your son, you may find that he will be admitted to colleges where his GPA and test scores are somewhat below the typical accepted-student range. But you will also have to decide if you want him in a place where he may be struggling to keep up, especially in light of his disability.)

You didn't mention SAT or ACT scores. These can often play a bigger role in admission decisions than many admission folks are willing to concede. If you feel that your son's scores don't reflect his abilities, you can also consider the long list of test-optional (or “test-flexible") schools that you'll find on the FairTest Web site:

Have you checked out the book and/or Web site for Colleges That Change Lives? Perhaps one--or many--of these schools would be a good fit for your son. (Here's a recent CTCL thread from College Confidential: ) One young man I know from Massachusetts attended Guilford College in North Carolina, a test-optional Quaker-founded school with a football team in Greensboro. His life was indeed changed by the attention and encouragement he received at Guilford, and he went on to be accepted by his first-choice grad program and to land a great job after that.

So my advice would be to first seek out colleges that tick the must-have and hope-for boxes on your son's wish list (and yours) and then contact each college's disabilities resources office (most schools have them though the names will vary) to find out how your son's special needs will be met … and to evaluate the vibe you get from the staff when you ask whatever questions you have.

If your son plans to play football in college (or even thinks he might), he should fill out the athletic recruitment forms for prospective students that you'll find on most college Web sites. If he can't find the form, he can email the coach directly and explain his interest, experience, and strengths. (I think it's a good idea to email the coach directly, even when there is a form.) If you are planning campus visits, try to schedule an appointment with coaches when you are there. WARNING: At the Division 3 level, where coaches don't have to prove their interest by offering scholarship money, you may find that coaches are prone to exaggerating interest in a prospective player. Even a “guaranteed four-year starter" may find himself on the bench in September, so proceed with caution and ask a lot of questions.

Whatever he decides, it sounds like your son can find many colleges that will fit him and welcome him, and his learning disability should not be at the epicenter of his search.

Happy hunting!

(posted 6/3/2012)