Applying To College

College Essay Writing and Interview Skills

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Helping Students with Learning Differences Transition to College: A Mom’s 10 Tips

Helping Students with Learning Differences Transition to College Mom's 10 TipsRecently, I participated in a college prep panel at Eagle Hill School in Greenwich, Connecticut, a school that educates children with language-based learning disabilities. My role on the panel was to discuss successful college essay writing techniques for students with learning differences.

Liz Evans was also a panelist. Liz is the mom of six children, five with learning differences. During the evening Liz shared her anxieties and hopes about the college process, as well as some of her experiences with her kids, (some of whom succeeded  and some who did not) in the transition from high school to college.

She gave Ten Tips for Parents of LD Students Who Are About to Embark on a College Search. Liz graciously agreed to let me reprint her comments here:

My comments are totally anecdotal. I’m not a professional, I’m a mom of six kids, five of whom have diagnosed learning differences.

As background, we have six children. Two have graduated from college and are gainfully employed. Two are freshmen in college: one who panicked first semester, left and is now enrolled at a different university and doing well; the other experiencing success from day one.

One never made the transition to college or any post high school program. One floundered in traditional college and became successful in community college…although that is currently on hold.

Each case was unique.

The kinds and amounts of support required were different for each. Each child’s understanding of his or her needs was unique.

Here is What We Learned From Our Kids’ Experiences:

1. First, it goes without saying, but the support program at the colleges our children attend are extremely important.

Before they begin the search process make sure the student is familiar with the recommendations that have been developed from their educational evaluations. Then, when the student interviews with the school’s support program, they should go over each item on the list with the school and write down how they will access that support.

As a parent, I would independently research the support programs at the schools your child is considering. I would allow your student to interview with the support programs and get a feel for their help, but independently from their interviews I would discuss with the school what you see as important support tactics for your child. For example, it is helpful to know whether the school will talk to you if things are not going well academically for your child. Can your child sign a waiver allowing them to speak with you?

Ask probing questions of the support program. Don’t take anything for granted:

  • How many staff members for how many students?
  • How are accommodations explained to professors?
  • Is tutoring and note taking part of the support program or available to anyone? That’s important, because if tutoring is available to anyone, there is often a long lead time to get an appointment.
  • Is it professional or peer tutoring?
  • If tests are to be taken at a different location, what is the process for making those arrangements?
  • Will your child have one main contact or just the office at large?

2. Second, we found that our kids who had internalized their need for support were most successful. Their parents, their high school teachers and counselors, and their educational consultants can try to convince students of their need for support, but they have to believe it and be willing to make accepting that support a high priority.

3. Those students who had grappled with failure were more successful. (They weren’t dejected by the challenges college presented.) One of our kids failed two or three classes, but she kept on going. I believe the ability for a student to allow him or herself to be vulnerable correlates with success. Having a soft landing for those difficult blows helps, however…and that is where a support system that your child will utilize is important.

4. If your student is coming from a high school that caters to students with learning disabilities, they need to be ready for the reality that their roommates and friends will spend much less time on their work and nevertheless be successful.

5. Those students who had a strong work ethic were most successful.

6. Students have to believe that they can be successful. Our son, who was enrolled for all of two months at Rochester Institute of Technology, never saw himself as being able to be successful. He wasn’t ready for college emotionally.

7. Again, this is just in my personal experience, but our kids who chose schools that were a little lower on the competitive scale than others they were accepted to, did better.

8. From my vantage point as a parent, if your kids are transitioning from a supportive, specialized LD program, they may not be  in a good position to realize that the teaching methods and support they are accustomed to is not typical. So that while they may recognize they qualify for extra help, it still can be a wake up call when the class instructional techniques are very different from the techniques that have been used in their LD high school.

9. Visit more than once. Revisit the school’s support program. Spend the night, if possible.

10. If the school your child decides to attend offers a summer program, I highly recommend taking advantage of that opportunity. We didn’t encourage our son, who attended The University of Vermont, to do that. The result was that he found the transition from a small high school to a big university overwhelming and never got past it.

I’m sure this is most likely self intuitive for most of you.  It can be such an exciting time that you share with your kind of adult child. They need to feel in control, but recognize that parents have a role in the process.

Related Posts:
Should I Disclose a Learning Difference in My College Essay?
Questions to Ask About College Services for Learning Differences


Sharon Epstein is owner of First Impressions College Consulting in Redding, Connecticut. She is a Writers Guild Award-winner and two-time Emmy Award nominee. First Impressions tutors are award-winning writers and authors. We teach students how to master interview skills, write killer resumes, and transform their goals, dreams and experiences into memorable college application essays. We work with students everywhere: in-person, by phone, Skype and email. Visit our website for more info. Connect on Google+, Pinterest and Twitter.