Monday, July 11, 2011

Could a Disability be an Advantage When Applying to College?

While most people, including parents, would consider a disability of any kind a potential "deal-breaker" for colleges, a different perspective is encouraged.  Learning challenges caused by any disability should be viewed as a means to add diversity to a college campus.  David Montesano, a college admission strategist at College Match Educational Consultants, indicates that the clientele at his college admission practice includes students with special needs, and he has seen how learning challenges can actually benefit students during the application process.  Academically, colleges will often look at an applicant's grades and test scores in a new light if presented with evidence of a disability. For example, a learning disability may help put lower grades, class rankings, or standardized test scores in context.  In addition, a physical disability that has not limited a student's success in school shows tenacity, ability to adapt surroundings, perseverance, and a attitude about the candidate him/herself, that others without a disability cannot convey.

Rather than hide a disability, regardless of what it may be, an applicant should highlight the disability in college applications, which can increase their chances of admission and money.  In college applications, students should give details of their  disability under the appropriate section, usually called "additional information." Specify the name of the disability and its effects on learning and grades and/or standardized testing.   Applicants should share ways that they have compensated for this disability and give examples. Applicants should also not hesitate to discuss grades and test scores and how these have been impacted due to the disability.  Noting accommodations available in high school and the impact on grades and test scores as a result of  the accommodations they have received is also acceptable and suggested. 

Before applying to colleges, a thorough check should be done regarding the college's ability to serve the special needs of the applicant.  For example, the following questions may be helpful:
1. Has the school served a population with the same disability the applicant? If no, this should raise a yellow flag and more discussions must be held with admissions people. 
2. What accommodations does the college offer to help accommodate the applicant's disability?
3. Is there any discrepancy between the length of time for a non disabled student to graduate as compared to a disabled student (who have the same disability)?  Such a discrepancy could be for numerous reasons and may have nothing to do with the college.  This is simply good information to have.
4. Are there resource staff on the campus that can help students with disabilities?  If so, are these resource people graduate assistants, peer tutors, or trained professionals? If not, how do students receive support outside the classroom?
5. What types of support does the college offer faculty in terms of training in accommodating students with special needs? This is important for you to know if the professor is trained or flying solo regarding understanding how to serve students with special needs.

Source Cited:  O'Shaughnessy, Lynn.

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