Receiving Accommodations in College
The transition from high school to college, while exciting, can have its share of challenges. These challenges are often magnified if you are a student with a learning disability and/or ADHD. The good news is that, as in high school, you have legal protections and will likely be eligible for accommodations to aid your academic achievement. The accommodations process works differently than in K-12 schools, however, so it’s important to know your rights and responsibilities.
In college, you decide whether to disclose your disability or not. College allows all students a fresh start. Even if you received accommodations throughout high school and/or on the SAT or ACT, your college professors won’t know it. If you don’t tell anyone you need accommodations, you won’t get them. This is fine if you honestly don’t need them, but it may be better to have the option at least during your first year, as your classes may be trickier than you expect.
If you want to receive accommodations, you must register with the Disability Support Services Office (sometimes called Student Support Services or another name) and provide appropriate documentation of your disability. Keep in mind that what worked as “appropriate documentation” in high school, or what was accepted by the College Board or ACT, might not be considered acceptable in college. A copy of your high school IEP or 504 plan, for example, will likely not be enough to qualify you for similar accommodations in college, unless it’s accompanied by supporting documentation. Specifically, most schools require “current” testing that shows a disability, while some K-12 systems allow years to go by without a formal re-assessment. Look at the requirements for the school you’re planning to attend, as each one might interpret the law in a slightly different way. Because colleges require “current” testing, you should try to get re-assessed during your final year or two of high school to avoid paying for a private assessment.
After registering with the school, you must disclose your need for accommodations to your professors. It’s up to you when you do this, but the beginning of the school year, before everyone’s schedules become too hectic, is probably best. Some professors have open office hours, while others ask you to make an appointment. You might only need your accommodations in certain classes, so you don’t have to disclose them to everyone. Once you disclose your disability, you have a legal right to receive your accommodations, provided you meet your responsibilities as a student. For example, you may need to alert the professor 2-3 weeks in advance of tests in order to receive extended time or test outside of the regular class setting. If you announce your need for extended time five minutes before the professor passes out the test, the professor is not obligated to accommodate you.
If you find yourself falling behind, don’t be afraid to seek out help. Many DSS offices can connect you with a tutor and other resources to help you be successful. Most colleges also offer general support services, such as a Writing Center, to anyone who asks for help. If you seek help too late in the term, however, the school may not be able to offer help.
The college accommodations process, like college in general, requires the student to take the lead. This is similar to the process of receiving workplace protections under the ADA, when workers who choose to disclose their disabilities are legally entitled to reasonable accommodations from their employers. While applying for accommodations may seem like one more hurdle in the college admissions process, the process of advocating for oneself is a valuable learning experience.