College Guide for Students With Learning Disabilities

Students with learning disabilities may find it difficult to acquire knowledge or skills in the same ways as their peers. This could mean they struggle to learn through traditional teaching methods, or that they wrestle with a curriculum designed for students their age.

learning_disability_guide copy

Common Learning Disabilities

  • Dyslexia – Connected to reading abilities
  • Dyscalculia – Associated with difficulties in math
  • Dysgraphia – Resulting in specific learning disabilities in writing
  • Auditory Processing Deficit – Characterized by a struggle to understand and use auditory information
  • Visual Processing Deficit – A weakness in taking on and using visual information
  • Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder – Characterized by high degrees of distraction or hyperactivity

According to the latest data provided by the National Center for Education Statistics, of undergraduate students self-reporting a disability, 11% reported having a learning disability. Enrollment statistics also listed by the NCES found that 20.2 million students were expected to attend an American college or university in the fall of 2015, meaning more than 200,000 students entering college have some type of learning disability.

More than 200,000 students entering college have some type of learning disability.

These figures are a strong indicator of what students are capable of regardless of disability. When students make use of the various resources tailored for their specific learning needs, they find that they are able to excel in a classroom environment.

The National Center for Learning Disabilities reported in 2014 that among high school students with learning disabilities, 54% planned to attend a two-year or four-year college. Another 43% intended to complete a vocational training course.

College should be an exciting time for any incoming student, yet for those with learning disabilities it can create anxiety. Engaging with new faculty and classmates while also taking on more difficult coursework can be overwhelming if students don’t have the proper support. 94% of high school students with learning disabilities receive some form of assistance. In contrast, only 17% of college students with learning disabilities take advantage of learning assistance resources at their school.

Only 17% of college students with learning disabilities take advantage of learning assistance resources at their school.

New students may be unfamiliar with the range of services offered by their school’s disabilities services office, or they may feel embarrassed to reach out for assistance or accommodation. Unfortunately, students with learning disabilities have much higher rates of dropout than their counterparts. An NCES report found that only 34% of these students have completed a four-year degree eight years after their high school graduation. While students with learning disabilities may face extra challenges and hurdles, in today’s world of modified teaching and learning techniques, technological advancements and dedicated professionals on-staff, they don’t have to be part of this statistic.

Most college campuses have dedicated staff to help students with learning disabilities receive the resources and assistance they need to succeed in their educational journey. A number of different accommodations are available, enabling students to attend classes, complete coursework, and undertake exams in a way that suits them best. We cover some of the most common accommodations below:

Modifying Individual Course Instruction

Whether adjusting content, the presentation of content, or the learning environment, individual course instruction identifies specific needs of a learner and tailors information to make it more accessible while still presenting the same core content.

Alternative Forms of Coursework and Testing Material

This type of accommodation may rework an examination or culminating project in order to allow students different ways of expressing what they’ve learned. But while some courses only meet minimum legal accommodations, initiatives like the Universal Design of Instruction are urging educators to make exceptionally accessible courses that have an effect on every element of the learning process.

Adaptive/Assistive Software and Technology

Whether it’s a program to help dyslexic students process text more easily, a stress management tool, or a recording device, the range of assistive technology catering to learning disabilities is expansive.

Different Types of On-Campus Support Centers

When researching prospective schools, students with learning disabilities and their families should pay special attention to the support offerings. Examples could include a disability services office, resident directors trained to support students with learning disabilities, or a student-led group. Students should take time to get to know the staff behind these initiatives, as they’ll be much more likely to ask for help if they feel comfortable with the people assisting them.

Classroom Accommodations

These accommodations are wide ranging and could include providing a scribe or note taker, in-class assistants, accessible seating, or a quiet classroom for taking examinations.

Additional Time for Coursework, Testing and Assignments

Once a student has disclosed their disability to the proper office, they are often eligible to receive extra time for their coursework and exams. This could also translate into the school providing oral exams if the student responds better to this type of testing.

Disability Resource Centers

In addition to disability services on campus, students and families should research disability resource centers in the community surrounding a school. Often these organizations will maintain partnerships with schools to provide individualized services for learning disabled students.

According to the Assistive Technology Industry Association, AT can be any equipment, software, product or system specifically designed to assist individuals with disabilities. As technology further integrates into everyday life, countless forms of assistive software and hardware are now available to help students learn in a way that suits them best. Some common forms of assistive technology include:

Talking Word Processors/Speech-to-Text – Speech-to-text technology is especially helpful for students with dyslexia or a physical impairment, as it allows them to dictate a paper or assignment and have it translated into a text document.

Digital Recorders – Students who struggle with ADHD and find themselves distracted in class often use digital recorders, allowing them to record lectures or classroom instruction and listen to it later in a space where they can concentrate.

Assistive Technology Centers – These centers typically provide a variety of services, including formatting materials or coursework to be accessible to students with different learning disabilities, training students or staff in the use of assistive technologies, or providing assistive technologies to those who require them.

Common Accessibility Apps

Available for all devices operating on Android 2.1 or higher, Big Launcher simplifies the user interface on your smartphone or tablet with enlarged, easy-to-read text and icons. Download the free demo version or upgrade to the full version ($9.99) for added features.
Ideal for brainstorming and organizing concepts, Ideament lets you convert your charts and diagrams to text outlines (and vice versa). The Apple Store provides a free version and a paid version ($3.99) for both the iPhone and the iPad.
Designed for those with dyslexia and dysgraphia, Ghotit Real Writer proofreads and spell-checks your writing using advanced grammar and phonetics capabilities. Features include speech feedback and integrated dictionaries. Available in the Apple Store for $99.99, this app requires iOS 9.0 or later.
Available in English, French, and Spanish, Proloquo2Go helps those who struggle with language development and verbal communication by allowing them to use symbols to interact with others. With a variety of customization options, the app caters to a range of visual and cognitive skills.

Regardless of whether or not a student has a learning disability, college students are busy individuals with little time to ensure they are striking a balance between coursework and their own wellbeing. With a number of schools now hiring full-time staff trained to help students maintain healthy lifestyles, leaders in higher education are demonstrating their commitment to bettering the lives of all disabled students. Some of the services provided to help students with learning disabilities succeed include; learning access programs, counseling services, community wellness and health education, and assistive technology centers.

Examples of schools creating best practice models for incorporating wellness strategies include:

American Association of People with Disabilities - Tony Coelho Media Scholarship

Visit the Scholarship Page

Award Amount: $5,625
Description: This scholarship is open to second-year associate students, undergraduates in their second to fourth years, or graduate students with disabilities. Students must be enrolled in a communication- or media-related degree program.

Allina Health - Scholarship for People with Disabilities

Visit the Scholarship Page

Award Amount: $1,000
Description: Students are eligible for this award provided they are a Minnesota resident, hold a high school diploma and are currently enrolled in a higher education program. The student should also be able to demonstrate financial need.

American Speech-Language-Hearing Foundation - Graduate Student Scholarship Competition

Visit the Scholarship Page

Award Amount: $5,000
Description: Graduate students enrolled in a program related to communication sciences and disorders are encouraged to apply for this one-time scholarship.

Dyslexic Advantage - Karina Eide Memorial College Scholarship

Visit the Scholarship Page

Award Amount: $2,500
Description: This scholarship is awarded to current college students with documented dyslexia. Applicants should have completed at least one term of higher education when they apply.

Google - Google Lime Scholarship Program

Visit the Scholarship Page

Award Amount: $10,000
Description: This scholarship is open to undergraduate, graduate or PhD students with a learning disability who are studying a STEM-related topic.

Incight - Incight Scholarship Program

Visit the Scholarship Page

Award Amount: $500-$1,500
Description: Any Oregon-, Washington-, or California-based student with a documented disability recognized by the ADA, DSM-V, IDEA or another governing body is eligible to apply for this renewable scholarship.

National Center for Learning Disabilities - Allegra Ford Thomas Scholarship

Visit the Scholarship Page

Award Amount: $2,500
Description: This scholarship is open to graduating high school seniors with documented learning disabilities. The recipient must be planning to attend a community college, vocational/technical training program, or a specialized LD program.

Park City Community Foundation - Joseph James Morelli Scholarship Fund

Visit the Scholarship Page

Award Amount: $1,000-$2,000
Description: This scholarship is for high school and college students with documented learning disabilities who plan on pursuing a career in STEM.

P. Buckley Moss Society - P. Buckley Moss Endowed Scholarship

Visit the Scholarship Page

Award Amount: $1,500
Description: This scholarship is awarded to a high school senior with a documented language-related learning difference and with verified financial need. Recipients can attend either a two- or four-year institution so long as they plan to pursue a career related to visual arts.

Rise Scholarship Foundation - Rise Scholarship

Visit the Scholarship Page

Award Amount: $2,500
Description: Awarded to a high school senior with a documented learning disability who plans to attend college during the following academic year.

AHEADD. With a mission of helping students with learning disabilities achieve in higher education, AHEADD offers coaching, mentoring and self-advocacy skills for students with a variety of learning disabilities.

American Youth Policy Forum. The AYPF maintains a series of webinars and YouTube videos that focus on helping students with disabilities transition to either college or a career.

Going to College. This site specifically helps students with learning disabilities prepare for the transition from high school to college life.

The Viscardi Center. Although the VC focuses on a lifetime’s worth of programs and services for the disabled, they have a number of resources specific to college-aged students.

U.S. Department of Justice and Civil Rights Division. The Americans with Disabilities Act provides a comprehensive description of Title II and how it serves and supports individuals with disabilities.