Learning Disabilities Can Offer College Admission Edge

Learning challenges can actually benefit students during the application process, an expert says.

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Can having a learning disability be an advantage when applying to college?

This probably sounds like a strange question, since most families no doubt assume that a learning disability is a negative when it comes to getting into colleges.

But that assumption is wrong, insists David Montesano, a college admission strategist at College Match Educational Consultants, which has offices on the East and West coasts. The clientele at his college admission practice includes learning disabled students and he has seen how learning challenges can actually benefit students during the application process.

[Read more about applying to college.]

Colleges are looking for diversity, Montesano explains, and having a learning disability represents a form of diversity. Colleges will often look at an applicant's grades and test scores in a new light if presented with evidence of a learning disability. A learning disability may help put lower grades, class rankings, or standardized test scores in context.

Here's an example: A student ranked in the top half of his high school class is up against an applicant pool with a majority of students from the top 25 percent of their classes. Showcasing a learning disability can help bridge this significant gap in grades. A learning disabled student with an average GPA of 3.4 may be competitive against an applicant pool that mostly includes students with a 3.7 GPA.

Many families try to hide learning disabilities from admission offices. Montesano, however, says teens should highlight their disabilities in college applications, which can increase their chances of admission and money.

In college applications, students should give details of their learning disabilities under the "additional information" section. Specify the name of the learning disability and its effects on learning and grades and/or standardized testing.

Also in this section of the application, teenagers should discuss grades and test scores and their impact from this disability. Applicants should share ways that they have compensated for this disability and give examples. In addition, students should also discuss all the accommodations that they received in high school.

Students should also mention how their grades and test scores have risen based on the accommodations they have received as well as their extra efforts to compensate for their disability.

Before applying to colleges, parents should make sure schools can accommodate to their children's disability. To help determine this, parents should contact a learning disability specialist at each college and ask these sorts of questions:

1. Does the school have experience working with students having similar disabilities and if so how many?

2. What are the usual accommodations given these students including software tools or processes that are used.

3. What is the retention rate of LD students?

4. How long does it take LD students to complete their required courses?

5. How involved is the LD resource staff in helping each student?

6. What is the ratio of students with disabilities to LD specialists?

7. What types of support does the institution offer faculty in terms of training in accommodating students with special needs?

8. Is support in the program offered by interns, graduate students, peer tutors or trained professionals?

[Get more tips on how to find the right school.]

During a conversation with the learning specialist, review what kind of expected LD accommodations your child might experience and gauge the staffer's level of enthusiasm and/or helpfulness.