Requesting College Services for a Learning Difference
The very fact that you've been accepted to college means that your school believes in your capabilities and wants you to succeed. To make that success a reality, they'll do their best to provide whatever services you may need. But the only way for them to know what support you need is for you to tell them, especially if you have a learning difference. In this situation, you'll need to communicate with the Office of Disability Services (ODS) before classes begin to ensure your needs are clear. Here are some tips on how to get the help you need to accommodate a learning difference.
Know What You're Entitled To
While colleges are not required to offer special programs to meet each student's educational needs, the Americans with Disabilities Act does require colleges to ensure that the access you have to existing programs and services is equal to that of other students. You'll still be taking the same classes and tests as your classmates, but you have the right to request accommodations that help you get the most from those classes and to score fairly on those tests.
Some common accommodations include assistance with registration/enrollment, writing programs, tutors, course load or exam procedure modifications, and even the use of specially equipped computer labs. Now, that's not to say you'll get explicitly what you ask for: Schools can choose what assistance they provide — as long as it's proven to work. For example, if you ask your ODS for a computer and notetaking software, they may only offer you the help of another student who is paid to take notes for you.
Ask Ahead of Time
Once you ask for assistance, the ODS will likely require you to provide documentation supporting your learning difference. In some particular cases, ODS may even offer its own assessments to determine what services to provide. Going through this process can take time, so don't wait until classes start. Do your best to plan ahead, and find out what documents you'll need.
It's also not uncommon for a school to ask that you notify your individual professors in order to request accommodations on your own. The main difference between college and high school in this regard is that you'll have to do much of the heavy lifting in order to bring a learning difference to the attention of your college and your professors — even if your high school acted without much direction from you. If, for some reason, you either choose not to or you forget to request help and therefore struggle in your classes, you won't be able to make any retroactive changes: No tests will be re-administered and no grades will be reassessed, so be ready to ask in advance for what you might need.
While schools will almost always do what they need to help you succeed, they can't do anything unless you ask. Work with your parents, high school teachers and counselors to determine what you might need before you hit the campus so you're ready to go once the semester starts. And keep in mind that different schools offer different levels of learning difference services. Study up on what a variety of schools have to offer with our book The K&W Guide for Students with Learning Differences.