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.
4. Be aware of your learning style: Shaywitz recommends talking to current undergrads or recent graduates to get a sense of how students are assessed. Helpful questions to ask include: Can meetings be set up one-on-one with a professor or teaching assistant to demonstrate your knowledge of a topic outside the high-stress classroom setting? Can students offer to write a report or do a project to demonstrate subject mastery?
Shaywitz notes that, even if you cannot find the answers to these questions in advance, schools that show themselves to have supportive environments in other ways often will have faculty members who are equally supportive and flexible.
5. Note the foreign language requirements: Although a few dyslexics may not have trouble learning a foreign language, most are as stymied trying to read Italian as they are English, says Katherine Schantz, head of the Lab School, an independent institution serving elementary through high school students with learning disabilities in Washington and Baltimore. One option is to apply to colleges with either no foreign language requirement or a process for waiving it.
6. Nail the interview: Meeting with an on-campus or alumni interviewer can help you showcase your accomplishments, Schantz says. "Time and again we have students who get into a competitive school because of their interview," she adds, explaining that interviewers are particularly impressed by students who are insightful about their learning disabilities and how they have compensated for them.
7. Decide whether to disclose: The decision whether to discuss one's dyslexia on a college application must be handled individually, says Vise, who, along with Schantz, voices concern that some admissions officers still erroneously believe the disability tracks with intelligence. But when colleges have a history of supporting learning-disabled students, they say, applicants should feel comfortable raising it.
Megan Diffey was one applicant who wanted colleges to really understand who she is. Diffey wrote about her disability on her application essay. "The dedication and extra time I put into my work is a big part of my character," she says. The University of Central Florida apparently agreed. Not only did the school accept her, but it admitted Diffey to its highly competitive honors college.
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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.