College Search Considerations for Students Needing Accommodations by Sara Zessar

If you are concerned about your child’s college search, ADHD, and accommodations, you are not alone.

I recently spoke with independent college consultant Sara Zessar about college search considerations for students needing accommodations.  Please see her poignant advice below.

If you have concerns about how you can best support your child as they consider the role that accommodations will play for them in college, please read my article ADHD and College: Making it Work on Sara’s blog.  And as always, please reach out to me with any questions or if you or your child needs support.

College Search Considerations for Students Needing Accommodations by Sara Zessar

If you’ve gone through high school with accommodations provided by a 504 or IEP, you’d probably like to continue getting accommodations in college. If that is your goal, what should you consider as you begin your college search?

This blog post will answer that question by breaking it into three components:
       1. Determining the level of services you need.
       2. Identifying colleges whose services meet your needs.
       3. Contacting their disability services offices.

1. Determining the Level of Services You Need

Just about every college provides services for students with disabilities, but the extent of those services can vary widely.

For example, some colleges have academic counselors who regularly meet with students to help them with organization and time management. This helps ensure that students stay on track with their courses, communicate with their professors, seek tutoring and other assistance when needed, etc. These types of services are only offered at a small number of colleges and often require an additional fee on top of tuition.

On the other end of the spectrum are colleges that offer more basic services like working with professors to extend assignment deadlines, giving students access to a private room to take exams, arranging for a note-taker, etc.

In determining the level of services you need, you should consider what you are currently receiving (both at school and through outside providers) and talk with your parents and case manager. Additionally, keep in mind that you may need more services in the first semester or year of college than you will later on.

2. Identifying Colleges Whose Services Meet Your Needs

All colleges that receive federal funding (including many private schools) are legally required to ensure equal access to education for students with disabilities.

Thus, as stated above, most colleges offer services for students with disabilities. But how can you find colleges whose services will meet your specific needs?

A great place to start is The K&W Guide to Colleges for Students with Learning Differences. This book includes profiles of over 350 four-year colleges across the U.S. “with programs or services for students with ADHD, ASD, or learning disabilities.” In it, there is information about admissions, accommodations offered, and the documentation required to access services in each college’s profile.

I frequently refer to The K&W Guide when making college lists for students who will be seeking accommodations. However, I caution students that just because a specific college is not listed in this book doesn’t mean services are not available at that college. If there is a school you’re interested in that’s not in the guide, I would recommend visiting its website and doing a search for “disability services office.”

3. Contacting Disability Services Offices

While you should be able to find information about the disability services office on a college’s website, my students have found that some sites are very comprehensive, whereas others provide little information. Therefore, chances are you’ll end up needing to contact the office directly.

As much as today’s teenagers tend to shy away from making phone calls, you’re likely to get more useful information by calling instead of emailing. (Students, not their parents, should make these calls, as they are the ones who will be needing the services.) Also, if you’re planning to visit a college, you should see if you can make an appointment with someone in the disability services office while you’re on campus.

It’s a good idea to have some questions in mind before you call or meet with someone in the disability services office.

Your questions will largely depend on your individual situation, but here are some that everyone should ask:

1. What types of accommodations do you typically offer?
2. Will you provide the specific accommodations I need?
3. What is the process for requesting accommodations? What type of documentation do I need to provide, and how recent must my testing/evaluations be?
4. Do any of the services offered require an additional fee?
5. How many students are currently receiving services?
6. How many staff members does the office have, and what are their roles?
7. Are professors generally receptive to providing accommodations?
How does the disability services office help if a professor is not complying with a student’s accommodations?

Students with disabilities likely will consider many factors in their college search, but the services and accommodations colleges provide should be high on your list.

Additional resources:
[What Makes a Good Accommodation]
[What is the true value of Testing Accommodations – we may not really know YET!]


Sara Zessar is the founder of Discovery College Consulting, LLC. A former high school counselor, she has assisted hundreds of students with the college search and admissions process. Now, as an independent college consultant, she helps students prepare for, explore, and apply to colleges that are the best fit for them academically, socially, and financially. To learn more about Sara and her services, visit www.discoverycollegeconsulting.com or email [email protected].

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