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Learning Disabilities

Ten Things Students with Learning Disabilities Must Know About Going to College

By Joan M. Azarva, Ms.ED


In order to achieve postsecondary success, students with learning disabilities must cross the college threshold with eyes wide open. Here are ten facts they need to know:

1.      There is no correlation between high school and college success because the two systems are as different as day and night.  Behaviors that worked in high school (i.e., passive studying, cramming, using an assignment pad, etc.) often prove ineffective in college.

2.      Students need to undergo new psychoeducational testing within three years of entering college. Since most high schools don’t test anymore, parents need to find a private educational psychologist.  The high school may offer to “update” old documentation or encourage you to bring your IEP to college, but neither of these are acceptable forms of documentation on the postsecondary level.

3.      Your decision of whether or not you disclose may be the one on which your fate hinges.  If you’re not disclosing to shed the LD “label”, know that disclosure in college is anonymous. Those who fail to disclose, however, forfeit their rights under Section 504 of the Americans with Disabilities Act.  These students are unable to receive accommodations and services to which they may have been accustomed in high school.

4.      However much academic support you received in high school, you’ll need twice that in college.

5.      Many students incorrectly assume that intelligence is the key factor in college success. It’s determination.

6.      The next most significant factor in college success is probably “best fit”.  Does the college provide what you need?

7.      Many students with learning disabilities begin at community college because they consider it “low cost/low risk”.  The fact that community colleges offer little in the way of specialized academic assistance makes them extremely high risk for students who learn differently.

8.      Consider beginning with a reduced course load.  It is better to take on less and succeed than feel overwhelmed and fail.  You are not in a race --quality trumps speed.

9.      Count on two to three hours of outside work for every hour you spend in class.

10.  The most common misconception that sets students on a downward spiral is the belief that they have much more “free” time in college.  This time is hardly free.  More accurately, it is “unstructured”, and it’s the time students should be getting their work done.

At this juncture, students are transitioning from a system in which parents were their advocates and IEPs their protection, to one in which IEPs are non-existent, and they must now assume responsibility for getting their own needs met.  In addition to college being more academically rigorous, all the rules of the game change. Students who have advance knowledge of the unique challenges that await and know how to navigate the college system appropriately are most likely to meet with success.


Joan M. Azarva, Ms.ED, an expert college Learning Specialist with 35 years of experience, has focused exclusively on the critical high school-to-college transition for students with learning disabilities since 1993.  She is the author of two courses, Conquer College with LD/ADD and College Study Skills, and runs a list serve for parents of high school teens who learn differently. Parents of teens may subscribe at CONQUER COLLEGE WITH LD/ADD. You may contact Joan at and read more about her here:  JOAN AZARVA (click on “VIEW FULL PROFILE” on the right side of the screen.)