Five Tips for Applying to College When You Have Learning Disabilities

Regardless of ability or brain makeup, preparing for college is hard as hell. Deadlines, rigorous applications, and worst of all, competition is enough reason for anyone to be reluctant to go through with it. It’s an extremely unfair assumption that people with learning disabilities have it easy getting into college just because of a diagnosis. Although colleges and universities provide services for the learning disabled and that there are available scholarships for those who intend to pursue further education, but that doesn’t mean that regular admission standards don’t apply to us. Standardized testing, GPA, and class rank aren’t curved based on ability, making it hard to stand out amongst thousands of neurotypical applicants. Through my experience applying as a learning disabled college applicant, I’ve come up with several tips, tricks, and advice that may ease the process.

  1. Utilize the “grade explanation statement”

Most college applications, especially for institutions that utilize the Common Application or Coalition programs, have a box for a short statement where you have the option of explaining any sort of disparities when it comes to grades. For example, if you got switched to a different medicine that didn’t end up working one semester and your grades suffered, feel free to let the institution know the circumstances. This will allow them to more accurately assess your work ethic and dedication without misunderstanding your circumstances.

2. Apply “test optional”

Standardized testing is a real pain in the butt. Especially if you have trouble focusing for long periods of time, or simply have difficulty answering the questions. Even though the SAT/ACTs ask about racial demographics and parents’ highest level of education, for some reason, they do not collect information based on learning disabilities or impairments. Unfortunately, there is not a great way to distinguish your scores from a neurotypical test taker’s scores even if you work just as hard as they do. For those of us with learning disabilities, recalling information under stress can be a huge problem. Luckily, many universities are now “test optional,” allowing you to submit your application without your SAT/ACT scores affecting your admission. This is a great option if your scores don’t meet the colleges median requirement.

3. Alert your college if you have an IEP

If you utilized an Individualized Education Plan, or IEP, during High School, most universities will allow you to continue the same accommodations you have received from the IEP. Some colleges even provide all students access to IEP resources such as free tutors, counseling, and professor office hours. Showing a successful IEP can also give a college a better idea about what kind of student you are and your potential for success.

4. Don’t write your personal essay about your diagnosis

While it may be tempting to let your dream school have all the nitty-gritty details of your diagnosis and your process of overcoming obstacles, to some readers, this topic may be dull and boring. Colleges want to know about your personality and how you’ve grown as a person. Sure, if your diagnosis was part of a period of self-growth, go for it; but don’t make your entire essay about it. Although a learning disability may be a huge part of your life, implying that it is the only thing that separates you from a crowd may not do what you intended it to.

5. Work with a teacher on your essay

As someone who can’t focus for more than .0067 seconds on any one thing at a time, the prospect of sitting down and working on a giant essay FOR DAYS is daunting. Talk to your favorite teacher; it doesn’t even have to be your English teacher. They may be able to help you come up with a great essay topic, and help you filter your thoughts into a great paper. Make sure you pick someone who you are comfortable with being vulnerable around because chances are, you will be discussing personal details about your life.

I wish everyone the best of luck during college application season. Regardless of your ability, you have the right to pursue higher education if that is what you desire.

Photo: Diet Doctor

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Rebekah Harding is a 17 year old aspiring journalist from the Washington D.C. area with a passion for activism, politics, and fish.

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