In February, the Justice Department reached a settlement with the National Board of Medical Examiners, which administers exams for medical licenses, that could provide a template for how testing agencies meet the ADA requirements. The settlement stipulates that the NBME must supply reasonable accommodations to test-takers with disabilities and make documentation less burdensome. But until all testing agencies adjust their policies, Vise suggests that students seek classroom accommodations as early as freshman year in high school in case additional testing or records are required.
Increasingly, colleges are assessing how standardized testing and their own admissions processes may be leading them to exclude talented dyslexic students. Greg Buckles, the dean of admissions at Middlebury College, says his school has long evaluated prospects "holistically"—that is, looking beyond exam scores and GPAs.
But after attending the conference for deans last year, Buckles says, he now feels better able to evaluate dyslexic students whose test scores may fall below the school's norms. If they demonstrate a flair for film or video or if they have developed "unusually strong leadership or consensus-building skills," he notes, "they can bring these attributes to our campus."
The kinds of ADA-mandated accommodations that dyslexic students generally get are equivalent to those for students with other disabilities. Besides extra time on tests, they might receive textbooks and other reading materials in audio formats and get permission to receive class notes from the instructor or a fellow student.
An understanding professor can also be key. "In my senior year at the University of Chicago, my thesis adviser kept looking at my drafts and saying, 'You have such great ideas, but you are messing up the grammar,'" recalls Allison Schwartz, who graduated in 2008 and received her master's degree in American studies from Columbia University this past spring. The professor showed Schwartz how to correct her errors, and a teaching assistant even wrote out a set of grammar rules for her to memorize.
[Read how one dyslexic student earned 11 college degrees.]
Still, not all colleges offer sufficient accommodations, laments Vise. For example, even schools that have the technology and staff to scan textbooks into computers often may not complete this task until weeks into the semester. Well-endowed, private colleges tend to offer more support, Vise says. But she adds that some public institutions, like University of Arizona and University of Vermont, and Marshall University in West Virginia, do have extensive resources.
Though there is no single model to guide dyslexic students applying to college, experts and those who have made it through the admissions process offer some useful tips:
1. Consider class size: Megan Diffey applied to the Burnett Honors College at the University of Central Florida because its classes are limited to 20 or fewer students. Similarly, Natalie Tamburello, now a senior at Whitman College, was attracted by the school's modest student population of about 1,500. "I knew my professors would understand me better at a smaller school, because they would have a chance to get to know me," says Tamburello, who currently posts a 4.0 GPA in her psychology major and is considering going on to medical school.
[Learn what it's like to attend Whitman College and others in the Pacific Northwest.] 2. Find a mentor in high school: Even colleges that don't require a letter of recommendation will be impressed by a glowing report from a teacher or guidance counselor describing how you advocate for your educational needs, says McGreggor Crowley, associate director of admissions at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, also a conference attendee. Colleges that offer resources want to be sure you know how to access them.
3. Visit disability offices: The difference between the promises on a school's website and the reality can be striking, asserts Vise, who says she spends a quarter of her work time visiting campuses. She looks for the location of a school's learning disability resource office—centrally located or so far away you'll never stop there?—and the number and helpfulness of the staffers.
Corrected on : Clarified on 10/3/2011: An earlier version of this story did not fully identify McGreggor Crowley, associate director of admissions at Massachusetts Institute of Technology.