Helping Students with Disabilities Make Good College Choices

Julia Frost, M.S., NCSP, director of Jones Learning Center at the University of the Ozarks

Julia Frost, M.S., NCSP, director of Jones Learning Center at the University of the Ozarks

When high school students get ready to think about postsecondary options, some of them find an almost limitless field of undergraduate choices. These are the students with grades, test scores, and/or athletic ability that make them prime candidates for generous scholarships from a wide array of institutions. Other students may not have these accomplishments to qualify for such scholarships. Sometimes an even greater challenge can be adding a disability to this mix that could limit them even more in the search for their best postsecondary options. However, many of these students are quite capable of college success if they and their families choose the right college.

So, what are these students and their families to do?
Most importantly, begin planning early. This is a process, not a quick decision. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) requires that an individualized transition plan be in effect by age 16. The plan should be regularly reviewed over the next few years to determine which goals are realistic for the student, what skills need to be mastered in order to reach these goals, and what accommodations or support services will be needed to reach those goals. Then, it will be necessary to find postsecondary options that provide this support.

Ensure that the student receives the same accommodations on the ACT or SAT that they receive on tests at school. Students with disabilities often cannot show colleges their potential through these high stakes tests if they are required to take them in exactly the same manner as all other students. However, in order to get these accommodations, there is paperwork to complete and guidelines to follow. The results, though, can be astounding. These scores can potentially open doors for them to colleges that might not have been open to them previously.

What resources can help parents transition their students successfully?
Websites of national organizations that specialize in the type of disability the young adult has are helpful by suggesting ways to navigate the transition process. Also, consider carefully a variety of schools with the type of support program that can provide the services the young adult will need, review their websites and talk to someone involved in each support program. Schedule visits with the schools, making sure that your child meets with another student who utilizes the support of that program to determine firsthand exactly how the program works. Encourage students to find the program that provides the support they need at a college they feel could be their home for several years. If this task appears too complex, reaching out to an independent educational consultant, a professional with training and expertise in this area, may be helpful.

Don’t big name schools offer better support?
In my work, I have seen many instances where parents or students themselves insisted that they attend the parents’ alma mater or a large university with athletic teams they loved without considering the academic support provided. These college experiences most often ended in failure, leaving the student with a deflated self-esteem and a low GPA, trying to determine the next step and doubting their ability to complete college. In actuality, this student may certainly have had the intellectual ability to attend and succeed in college if the right college choice had been made, a choice that provided the student with the academic support to help him/her learn and the tools to compensate for the disability. Without a doubt, taking the time to help students with disabilities make the right college choice can positively change their lives.

Jones Learning Center
The Jones Learning Center (JLC) at the University of the Ozarks in Clarksville is one of those comprehensive, fee-based programs for students with learning disabilities, attention deficit disorder or autism spectrum disorder that can positively change lives. Students come to the JLC from around the country to access the services that include a 1:5 staff to student ratio, daily coaching sessions with academic support coordinators, testing accommodations, class notes, individual peer tutoring for all classes, audio texts, text-to-speech and speech-to-text technology, and professional writing assistants. For many college students this is the right choice, and positive life changes happen. Visit for more information.

Provided by Julia Frost, M.S., NCSP
Director, Jones Learning Center
University of the Ozarks

Resources by disability:

Learning Disabilities Association of America
National Center for Learning Disabilities
 Understood (for learning and attention issues)
College Autism Spectrum
Autism Society of Los Angeles
United Cerebral Palsy
American Speech-Language-Hearing Association
Perkins Scout (for visual impairments)

Resources for all students with disabilities:
Transition planning

Kravets, Marybeth and Imy F. Wax, The K&W Guide to College for Students with Learning  Differences, 12th Edition. The Princeton Review, 2014. Print.

Independent Educational Consultants
HEATH Resource Center