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How to Access Accommodations in College

Four students with their backs to the camera walking towards a brick building.

Remember to take advantage of the services and accommodations that you’re offered, and don’t be afraid to ask for help when needed.

If you are a senior, you have recently made a big decision and placed a deposit at the college of your choice. Now it’s time to plan for your transition to college. If you have received support or accommodations during high school for a learning difference, or health or physical disability, here are the steps you should take:

  1. Visit the college website and find the page for academic support services or disability services. There you will find specific instructions for how to access accommodations and services. This typically involves completing a registration form on the site and returning it with your most recent neuropsychological or psychoeducational testing.
  2. Up-to-date testing. Most colleges require that your testing be no older than three years. There might be an exception made particularly if you have completed the cognitive testing on adult measures, for example, the WAIS (The Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale), but you should call the office to verify this. Please do not spend money on new testing before checking if your current testing is sufficient.
  3. Make an appointment. If you are planning to be on the campus during the summer for orientation, you may discover that the college has a designated session for students who need services and accommodations. However, if there is no planned session, contact the office in advance to make an online appointment to discuss your specific needs. Otherwise, make an appointment for your first day on campus in the fall. 
A student at her desk with an open laptop.

Some accommodations allow students to use a computer for writing examinations or students can listen to their textbooks through text-to-speech.

What to Expect from the Support Office

The professional staff will review your testing and notify you of the services and accommodations for which they believe you qualify. This may or may not be the same as the support that you received in high school. If the college does not provide you with the support you expect and feel that you require, make an appointment and be prepared in the following ways:

  • Understand what accommodations and services you seek and WHY you need them.
  • Be prepared to explain your difference or disability and how it affects you in plain language and be sure you understand the explanation.
  • Listen to the plan proposed and collaborate to find the best possible compromise.

The college office professionals will explain how to discuss your accommodation needs with your professors and will direct you to available tutoring, coaching and supplementary instruction.

The Biggest Mistake Students Make

You will be treated like an adult in college so no one will call or chase you down if you don’t take advantage of the services and accommodations you are offered. Unfortunately, many students arrive at college and want to put their learning difference or other disability in the past. All too often, they realize midway through the semester that they are struggling. Jake is one such student. He was a strong enough high school student to be admitted to one of the more selective Boston universities. He is now attending community college after being placed on academic probation after his freshman year. The university that he attended will let him return after he successfully completes a few courses elsewhere.

“I wanted to try to succeed in school without tutoring or using extended time,” said Jake. “I realized too late that I needed the extra support and that it was a big mistake to go without it.”

Jake learned the hard way that he needed to tap into his strengths but not ignore his weaknesses. He is now getting support, especially with time management and planning, and is doing well in school again.

Changing Legal Status

  • Be aware that your rights under the law change when you move from high school to college. For instance, a high school may change the nature or scope of a test or an assignment for a student or modify requirements, but a post-secondary institution (college, training program) is not required to do so. Therefore you may need to find support outside the college if they cannot accommodate your needs, assuming they are adhering to the law. For more information on your rights visit the US Department of Education Office of Civil Rights.

Typical Services and Accommodations Offered For Learning

While colleges are not required to provide accommodations such as personal aides, readers for personal use or study, or personal tutoring, you may find that the college offers more than your high school provided. However, do not assume you will get everything you request. Learning Disability Consultant Elizabeth Hamblet offers advice on what to expect and, you can read more advice in her book, 7 Steps to College Success: A Pathway for Student’s With Disabilities. Here are some of the more common accommodations:

  • Extended time on timed tests and quizzes
  • Distraction reduced testing environment
  • Use of a computer for writing examinations
  • Note-taking assistance
  • Ability to record lectures
  • Use of a calculator
  • Access to audio books
  • Access to text-to-speech software

For students with physical disabilities, Annie Tulkin of Accessible Services provides these tips.

If you are a student with a learning difference or disability and want some support with the transition to college, contact Ildi Szekely to learn more about our From High School to College: Skills Program for Graduating Seniors

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