Regardless of whether or not you have a learning disability, succeeding academically in college is tough, especially for freshmen. Increased academic pressure, new distractions, combined with less routine and support it isn’t exactly a recipe for success. Just as soon as you think you have a good handle on things one semester, another arrives with a new set of challenges, tools, and opportunities for you to deal with.
As someone who does have a learning disability, I can appreciate the added barriers and expectations that come with an IEP or 504 Plan. In high school, you’ve grown up with people who know you, and asking to leave the room for a test isn’t awkward. Furthermore, there’s usually someone appointed to you who checks-in about how things are going and proactively offers help.
In college, no one knows you or reaches out to you offering help. Instead, your academic success relies heavily on your ability to be proactive, and reach out for help. So much so, it often starts before you even get to campus. If you’re hoping to apply to accommodations when classes start, you might want to think again and follow these steps for coordinating services:
Prior to school starting, go to the disability services page of your college or university and see if there a procedure listed out to receive accommodations.
There is often a form you need to have a doctor sign, but occasionally an established IEP or 504 plan will be enough.
If your existing IEP or 504 plan is not enough, you have changes you would like to make to it, or have never had a plan, schedule an appointment with your prescriber. Be sure to clarify what accommodations you need for school, such as extra testing time or testing in a separate room.
If you cannot get into your prescriber prior to leaving for school, ask if your doctor will complete the form via fax.
When you have the form completed, return it and other specified materials to the disability services office. This often needs to be done prior to the commencement of the semester, even for incoming freshmen.
Tell your professors at the start of each semester about your accommodations, and remind them in advance of any times you might need to utilize them.
Once you’re on campus, there are a few other things you can do to stay on top of things:
Utilize the calendar function on your phone! Practice breaking down long-term assignments, syncing your syllabi on the first day, planning around social events, such as football games and parent visits.
Find a study group in each class. It doesn’t have to be a big group, but at least one person you feel comfortable getting missed notes from, or asking clarifying questions to.
Find a spot no one else knows about to study in. A pocket of the library, a library off-campus, or on the other side of the city that you won’t run into anyone at so you can actually focus.
See if there are any audiobooks available via Libby or Overdrive (for free) that match with your assigned texts for when you’re too tired or burnt out to read.
Learn to set boundaries with your technology. Can you turn on a do-not-disturb function on your phone? Can you get away from your TV?
Back up your computer! Or at least major assignments. There is nothing more stressful than having extended time on an assignment already, then having your computer stolen, break, or the document otherwise disappearing the last day you can possibly turn the assignment in.
Struggling in a class? See what free services the college offers for you. If they do not work, or do not offer assistance in a subject you are taking, see what apps like coursera, babbel, or udemy have to supplement your learning.
Build self-care into your routine. You don’t want to burn out trying to keep up academically, physically, financially, socially, or emotionally with others.
Apply for jobs and internships with flex time or telecommuting options so that you can balance work around midterms and finals more easily.
Get to know your professors. If they know you and genuinely believe you’re trying, they’re going to want to give you the benefit of the doubt.
I have seen former math-letes fail out, reformed jocks get straight A’s, and people who have graduated magna cum laude without attending a single day of classes. All of which is to say that college is a great opportunity to learn what works best for you, while it works for you, for as long as it works for you. Knowing the ways in which you learn best, practicing proactivity, and knowing when to ask for help, are all skills that will translate to every aspect of your life.