Choosing a college isn’t easy. There is so much to think about; academics, social life, location, culture, size, housing… the list can seem endless. For those of us who are neurodivergent, that can present an extra complication when it comes to selecting which schools may or may not be the right fit. Roughly 20% of American college students report having a disability, and that includes diagnoses like autism spectrum disorder, ADHD, and dyslexia. (“Learning differences” or “learning disabilities” are often used to determine accommodation and support in academia. People who identify with one of these diagnoses may substitute or add the term neurodivergent to self-describe. In this newsletter, I will use these terms interchangeably.)
Choosing a College with Dr. Eric Endlich
Recently, I spoke with Dr. Eric Endlich about how parents can help their neurodivergent student select a college. This week, I want to share a few points of consideration for students that can help them make the choice that’s right for their authentic self.
Am I ready to choose a college?
College success is about more than academics. A student may be ready for college-level courses, but being college-capable isn’t the same as being college-ready. For most students, college is their first taste of independence, and it’s essential to take stock of what life skills they already have in their arsenal, and which they’ll need to develop before college to close the gap.
An assessment like Are You Ready for College? helps students and parents to consider what gaps are presenting themselves, then provides guidance on how to correct them. This asks students to weight their readiness via the learning domains of self-awareness (how well students know their strengths and vulnerabilities), self-advocacy (how well they can speak up and ask for help when they need it), and self-management (how well students can regulate their actions and reactions). Of course, make sure to consult with professionals on your care team, such as therapeutic providers and educational consultants, to give you an honest take on your child’s college readiness.
How do I know if a college is inclusive?
Before choosing a college and apply, it is critical to assess how accommodating individual colleges can be, as well as what kind of accommodations would most benefit your student. Assessing the available accommodations is an extremely valuable part of the college search. Lists like this one on Dr. Endlich’s website are very helpful, but make sure that you reach out to the campus’ disability services offices, as well as other cultural or academic resources that may benefit your neurodivergent child. Connecting directly with these resources will give you a good idea of how your students needs will be met, and if they will feel comfortable and supported.
One of the most frequent questions I receive from students is whether or not to disclose their diagnosis when applying to college. This depends on individual comfort, but my advice is always to lead with one’s authentic self. My recommendation is for students to disclose (if they are comfortable doing so), because that diagnosis is a core part of their personal narrative. Sharing their story during the application process can provide colleges with insight into a student’s lived experience and how they have overcome adversity. When a student chooses to disclose, they can feel secure in the knowledge that they are not holding back any part of their identity on their application.
Is there financial help for me?
Figuring the financial aspect of college can be challenging, but medically-based financial aid is available for students with learning disabilities and chronic health conditions. Many U.S. states set aside postsecondary funding for students with learning disabilities, so reach out to your state’s office of vocation and rehabilitation in order to find out what types of funding are available for students with learning differences.
Whether you and your student are going through the application process now or some years into the future, it’s helpful to know what medical or educational documentation is needed in order to qualify for medically-based financial aid in your state. Yes, it’s one more hoop to jump through in the application process, but qualifying for one of these state-based programs is a worthwhile investment of your time and effort. Don’t wait until the last minute to get this information; this processes is stressful enough without scrambling.
Students with disabilities tend to stay in college at lower rates, and often have challenges with gaining employment when compared to their non-disabled peers, so it is critical for those students to choose the right college for their unique needs and strengths. Everyone is different, and there is no one-size-fits-all approach to education. Encourage your student to show their authentic self. Being honest about who they are increases their chances of finding a program that will set them up for success.