College Admissions Process

The college admissions process, while exciting, can be extremely stressful and laborious for any high school student. We spoke with Dr. Megan Hallam, a school psychologist and Director of Student Support Services with a doctorate in Educational Leadership, to learn more about how this process uniquely affects students with disabilities. We put together six important steps in the college admission process for high schoolers with disabilities.

1. Do not underestimate your value. 

Oftentimes, students and families get so wrapped up in the competitive nature of getting into a college, trying to showcase their best selves, that they often downplay their learning disability. "They try to prove that they are the best person for a limited spot on campus and can fall into the trap of viewing their neurodivergence as a weakness and something to hide," Dr. Hallam states. Instead of shying away from disclosing learning differences, you can use the essay, interview, and other parts of the admission process to showcase your hard work, perseverance, and the way you have overcome challenges.  

2. Remember, the college must prove its worth as well. 

It is important to not worry so much about selling yourself, that you fail to assess if the school is actually a good fit for you. It is crucial that students and families look at the overall picture of the campus and school environment and determine if that is the best place for them to be. 

Dr. Hallam suggests the following: 

  • Pay close attention to websites and the college/university environment. You should be looking for a school which is open about the availability of student support services. It should be easy to locate and frequently mentioned on websites and campus literature. 
  • Look for a campus which is actively seeking and embracing diverse learners. You should feel as if you are welcome and you should see visible references to this inclusion in the syllabi and other resources. 
  • If language and resources are not referenced, and it is difficult to find information about support services and accommodations, this might be a red flag that this community might not be celebrating diversity. 


3. Understand who you are and what you should be looking for in a school. 

This is a time when students need to learn about and understand who they are as learners and evaluate what they need to be successful. Having an understanding of oneself can assist in selecting the right schools. For example, would you benefit from or be hindered by an online class? Should you be avoiding large, seminar style classes?

When it comes to colleges and universities, you will find a range of services available to students. "Some schools have robust and in-depth support systems, specialized support, resource centers, and strong awareness on campus," Dr. Hallam explains. You should also consider what specific services you will need (talk to text, audio books, counseling centers, etc.) and determine if the schools have these resources available. 

In addition to academic services, Dr. Hallam suggests looking for schools with a strong campus wellness program. Many students, especially those with multiple diagnoses, will benefit from counseling services which can help them to manage their transition and the stress of college.


4. Utilize campus tours.

Campus tours will allow you and your family to look at campus support centers and meet staff and students. When interviewing schools, ask about classroom accommodations and assistive technology, how the university support center will work with you in the context of your courses, how the center is staffed, and if tutoring services are provided. 

Oftentimes, schools will link a prospective student to a current student. Ask to connect with a current student who is using similar accommodations and find out how they are utilizing the campus resources and how their experience has been. 


5. Understand you might have unique struggles. 

The application process itself (essays, deadlines, organization, time management, planning, etc.) demands a lot on students. This can be especially challenging for students who might be facing difficulties with the normal school load. More specifically, students with ADHD can have trouble managing the organizational piece and deadlines, whereas a student with dyslexia can find reading through the application materials challenging. Recognize that this is a challenging time. Don't be afraid to acknowledge these struggles and advocate for help. 


6. Have a solid transition plan in place. 

Schools and counselors can work closely with families to ensure that all necessary paperwork and documentation needed to apply for services for the upcoming year is organized and ready. You don't want to be scrambling in your freshman year to find your IEPs and evaluations, slowing down the services application process. 

Dr. Hallam highly recommends that students have a closing conversation with their high school learning specialist/case manager about their strengths and areas of needed growth. For example, if your learning specialist was the one always advocating for you, you will need to make that a priority for yourself in the upcoming transition. 

Once you have selected which school is the best fit for you, it is important to get connected to campus resources and current students as soon as possible. The earlier these conversations can happen, the better. Once on campus, you need to quickly source out what is available for you to be most successful and get any necessary paperwork started. 


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