Self-advocacy plays a vital role in being a successful college student. This is an important life skill that becomes a necessity when a student begins college. Students are now required to speak up for themselves and not rely on their parents as they once did in the educational setting. When a student needs clarification on an assignment, he or she needs to reach out to their professor. Mom and dad cannot take on this role anymore.
One of the most significant changes that students find in college is that there is less support than what they were used to. In high school, guidance counselors and teachers tracked their progress. Conversely, in college, all students must take primary responsibility for their own success. This can be especially difficult for students with learning differences as they transition away from the support network they were accustomed to and now have to advocate for themselves.
Regardless of the postsecondary educational path that a student chooses, every school is required to provide disability resource services for students who have a diagnosed learning disability. Before the first semester begins, students should reach out to the school’s disability services office by submitting an application on their website or calling to make an appointment.
After submitting the appropriate documentation, students should be prepared to meet with a disability services counselor to discuss their learning differences and what accommodations have (or have not) been helpful in the past. While students with learning differences are guaranteed access to disability services, it is still their responsibility to make sure they are receiving the necessary accommodations each semester. Students must be the ones to take the initiative.
Here are some ideas to help prepare students for a constructive meeting with a disability services counselor:
Prepare necessary documentation ahead of time.
Every school’s disability services office is different. To avoid going into a meeting unprepared, students should call the office ahead of time or do some research online to find out what documents are expected.
The following documents are commonly needed at the initial meeting:
A recent psychological/education evaluation from a licensed professional
A copy of an Individualized Education Program (IEP)
Report cards from the senior year of high school
Documentation from a medical professional confirming a disability.
Write down a list of questions before the meeting.
Students should prepare a list of questions before meeting with the disability services office. During the first meeting, students should ask which accommodations are offered on their campus.
Accommodations can include note-taking assistance, recorded lectures, testing relocation and/or assistive technology. Students should typically know by now how they best learn, so it is important that they be able to communicate to the disability services counselor how they can be supported academically.
Professors need to be made aware of any accommodations that students in their class are receiving. It may be helpful for students to ask for advice on how to communicate these accommodation requests to their professors. Some students may find that they have been the most successful in the past with preferential seating or additional time on exams. Students should talk to the disability services office about what the procedure is to translate these requests into the classroom.
Students should also inquire about tutoring centers or other places to get one-on-one support on campus. If possible, it is also important to establish a personal connection with at least one staff member in the disability services office to serve as the student’s primary contact.
What to expect after the first meeting.
It is important to note that while students with learning differences only need to submit documentation of their learning disability once, they will be required to request new accommodations at the beginning of each semester.
The disability services office will not reach out to students to renew their academic accommodations. Instead, students must take responsibility for themselves and make a new appointment before each semester begins.
Reach out to an academic support program.
Utilizing accommodations provided by disability services may not be enough. Academic support programs, like NorthBridge College Success Program, can help students with learning differences by providing more individualized and comprehensive support than disability services are able to provide.
Our team helps students prepare for each meeting with the disability services office. In addition to helping them gather and submit all the necessary documentation, NorthBridge assists students in communicating to their professors by phone or email. Our goal is to help alleviate any stress students with learning differences encounter by providing a comprehensive support system. NorthBridge students know that they have a team of professionals that they can rely on every step of the process and throughout their academic career.