• William Giacchi

5 Colleges Students with Learning Differences Should Consider Applying To


I have to admit that I do overthink things sometimes. Many times, actually. I’m reminded of this trait every time I over-analyze the options on a restaurant menu to determine exactly what combination of ingredients will create the most blissful gastronomic experience, or when I scroll through the songs on my music app trying to pick the perfect sound to match the moment, always feeling like I’m settling when I finally do make a choice.


Anyone who has used entertainment streaming services like Netflix or Amazon Prime can attest to the phenomenon of spending hours scrolling through options, trying to figure out what to watch, eventually falling asleep without ever having made a selection. Ok, maybe the falling asleep part is just me, getting old. But the point is, sometimes there are just too many choices, and it’s not helpful. I’ve heard this concept described as “choice paralysis” or “decision paralysis,” but I think my favorite is “analysis paralysis” (just has a nice ring to it!).


This may seem like an odd lead-in to a post about colleges with strong support for students with learning differences, but are you aware of the sheer number of options students have to choose from when it comes to applying to colleges? The full list of colleges that students can potentially apply to makes the Cheesecake Factory’s 21-page novella of a menu look like In-n-Out’s monument to simplicity. To cut through the analysis paralysis that college searching can cause, I’m excited to present profiles of five schools that provide exemplary services to students with learning and attention challenges. For each of the colleges listed, I will share an overview of its LD support services, an explanation of its strengths in general, and links for further reading. Click on the links below to jump directly to a college profile.


University of Arizona


University of Denver


Hofstra University


Landmark College


Rochester Institute of Technology

University of Arizona (Tucson, Arizona)


How does the University of Arizona support students with learning differences?


The University of Arizona features one of the most renowned support programs for students with learning differences and attention disorders, the Strategic Alternative Learning Techniques (SALT) Center. The services provided through SALT include weekly meetings with a student support specialist, tutoring sessions with specially-trained, ITTPC-certified tutors, workshops, use of educational technology, and psychological counseling/support. Overall, participation in this program can serve as a form of mentorship for students who experience learning challenges, going above and beyond the support services offered at a typical college or university. In addition to the services offered through the SALT Center, which do require an additional fee, the University of Arizona provides accommodations to students with learning or physical disabilities through its Disability Resource Center, without any additional costs. The University as a whole is committed to principles of Universal Design, a concept that originated in the field of architecture/design, but which extends to the use of technology and the design of curriculum and teaching in addition to the design of the campus itself. Universal Design is intended to provide equal access to all people without provisions for special accommodations. In other words, if you design something with the needs of all people in mind in the first place, it shouldn’t be necessary to make additional modifications later. This commitment to UD further underscores that the University of Arizona prioritizes its students with learning differences, making it an excellent learning environment for all.


Why should I consider this school in general?


The University of Arizona is easy to recommend to any student interested in attending a large public university in the western states. It features a beautiful campus in a great location with an inviting climate, strong academic programs in many fields (including public health, sciences/engineering, business, and more), school spirit and Greek life opportunities, and a diverse student body. The University accepts a high percentage of applicants (84%) and makes the application and notification process relatively easy. As with any large public university, it is possible for students to be overwhelmed and get lost in the sheer size of the school and its student body, but the SALT Center provides the perfect resource for students with learning challenges to navigate those obstacles.


I’m intrigued, where can I find out more?

  1. SALT Website

  2. “Day in the Life” video of a SALT Center student

  3. Schedule a virtual visit

  4. “Preparing for College” (Four learning modules designed to help students with learning differences prepare for the college transition)


University of Denver (Denver, Colorado)


How does the University of Denver support students with learning differences?


The University’s Learning Effectiveness Program (LEP) provides individualized support to students with learning and attention challenges. As with the SALT Center, the LEP is distinct from the University of Denver’s Disability Services Program, which assists students with classroom accommodations and other tasks more typical of a disability services office you can find on any university campus. Instead, it offers more comprehensive services to students, including weekly 1-on-1 academic counseling, tutoring, executive functioning support (skill-building in organization and time management), social skill-building resources and events, and peer mentoring. In addition to those services, LEP curates the Journey to Empowerment Through Transition (JETT) experience, an orientation event for new students in the program. Students who enroll in LEP are also able to participate in the Delta Alpha Pi International Honor Society, an organization made up of students with disabilities. But perhaps the most intriguing feature of LEP is Eye-to-Eye, a mentorship program that invites LEP members to become mentors for elementary and middle school students with learning differences. The opportunity for college students to serve as role models to younger students facing similar challenges to their own is a large part of what makes LEP such a positive force in the lives of the roughly 300 University of Denver students who participate. Like the SALT Center, LEP is a program that does require additional student fees to participate, but its value for students with learning and attention challenges is unquestionable.


Why should I consider this school in general?


In contrast to the University of Arizona, DU offers prospective students a midsize (roughly 5,500 undergraduates) private school environment. The University is located about eight miles from downtown Denver and about an hour away from some of the best ski resorts in the country, so both city dwellers and outdoors enthusiasts will feel at home. DU excels academically in many fields, with special praise going to its business school (especially hospitality management) and its music, political science, international studies, chemistry, and computer science programs. Experiential learning and interdisciplinary courses are key touchstones of the academic approach, well-suited for students who learn by doing and want to understand the deeper connections between subjects. Class sizes are small and professors have a reputation for being very supportive and open to indulging in lengthy academic discussions with students, so DU is a great home for any student seeking a more direct connection with educators than can be offered at a large public university.


I’m intrigued, where can I find out more?

  1. LEP Website

  2. Overview of how students participate in LEP

  3. Detailed descriptions of services

  4. Schedule a virtual visit


Hofstra University (Hempstead, New York)


How does Hofstra University support students with learning differences?


The Student Access Services department at Hofstra offers the Program for Academic Learning Skills (PALS) to students with learning and attention challenges. Students pay a one-time fee their freshman year, which covers all PALS services through graduation. Each PALS student is paired with a learning specialist, and SAS characterizes the support provided as an organic relationship that evolves over time to match the student’s individual growth trajectory. PALS actively seeks to help students with learning differences to reflect on and understand the process of learning, not just the content of lessons. This approach ensures that PALS students are learning skills for the workplace and adulthood in general, not merely receiving help in passing their classes. Participation in PALS includes weekly meetings with the learning specialist that focus on academic challenges, learning strategies, and executive functioning skills, among other topics. Students at Hofstra can also receive classroom accommodations by applying to the SAS office, and have access to subject tutoring through the Undergraduate Tutorial Program. Like DU, Hofstra features a chapter of the Delta Alpha Pi International Honor Society for high-achieving students with disabilities.


Why should I consider this school in general?


Like the University of Denver, Hofstra is a midsize private university, with roughly 6,300 undergraduate students. The suburban Hofstra campus could be described as a 244-acre park, with numerous trees and 100,000 tulips dotting the landscape and a mixture of old Dutch stone buildings and modern architecture. At the same time, Hofstra is not too far from New York City, about 25 miles, so students looking for urban adventure have access to that most American of cities. Academically, Hofstra is similar to DU in offering students small class sizes and a learning environment in which professors view their role as collaborative with students. Strong programs at the University include public health, business, engineering, film/TV/radio, and communication, and several dual-degree programs are available to students who want to continue their education and earn a higher degree through one of Hofstra’s graduate schools. On-campus student organizations and events are numerous, such as a Shakespeare Festival that earns rave reviews for its authentic performance stage and a music festival called Fall Fest. Overall, Hofstra is a compelling option for students who are relatively career-oriented and learn best in a supportive, friendly campus environment.


I’m intrigued, where can I find out more?

  1. PALS Website

  2. Brochure for PALS

  3. Brochure for Academic Coaching Program


Landmark College (Putney, Vermont)


How does Landmark College support students with learning differences?


Landmark is arguably the most unique school on this list, and one of the most unique colleges, full stop, in that it is entirely devoted to educating students with learning differences. The services offered to LC students are comprehensive and fully integrated into the curriculum. As with the other programs discussed in this article, students are supported through 1-on-1 sessions with advisers, but Landmark also offers unique benefits, such as therapy dogs and direct instruction and discussion about neurodiversity and learning styles. Students have access to career resources that are specifically designed to help with the difficult transition for individuals with learning or attention challenges, and the social environment allows those who may be self-conscious about their differences to feel a genuine sense of belonging to a community. Additionally, the work that Landmark does for students with learning differences extends beyond its direct, individualized support: LC’s Institute for Research and Training conducts extensive research into how to best serve students with learning and attention challenges, and it shares its findings through educator trainings.


Why should I consider this school in general?


LC offers multiple options to students with varying goals, ranging from associate and bachelor’s degree programs to the “Bridge Experience,” summer programs, and online dual-enrollment courses for middle school, high school, and college students. Bachelor’s degrees are available in a limited number of majors that include Communication & Entrepreneurial Leadership, Liberal Studies, Psychology, Studio Art, Computer Science, and Life Science, while associate degrees can be earned in Business Studies, Liberal Studies, Computer Science, and Life Sciences. For students looking for a different field of study but wanting to benefit from Landmark’s unique advantages for students with learning differences, the Bridge Experience allows students to take one semester of LC courses that focus on the development of invaluable skills and perspectives for academic and professional success. Bridge Experience curriculum helps students to reflect on their own learning style and to develop skills in task management and self-advocacy, as well as assessing their own readiness to transfer to a larger school. For students who are interested in one of the majors offered at Landmark, the very small student body (about 330 undergraduates) means much more access to professors than the average school and a more tight-knit community of peers, all of whom share the common ground of persevering through learning challenges.


I’m intrigued, where can I find out more?

  1. Landmark College Website

  2. 10 ways Landmark differs from other LD support programs

  3. Comparison of Landmark to traditional colleges

  4. Institute for Research & Training

  5. Info about Bridge Experience


Rochester Institute of Technology (Rochester, New York)


How does the Rochester Institute of Technology support students with learning differences?


The Rochester Institute of Technology provides excellent support to students with learning and attention challenges through its Disability Services Office, including classroom accommodations and advising. Additionally, RIT’s Academic Success Center offers students academic coaching and 1-on-1 support in skills such as time management and study techniques, as well as subject-specific tutoring. These resources alone are very valuable tools to help guide students with learning differences through the challenges of college, but the particular reason for RIT’s inclusion on this list is actually its Spectrum Support Program, which is specifically designed to assist students with autism spectrum disorders. In the SSP program, each student is paired with a coach who supports the development of skills that can help students with ASDs thrive in the college environment. Students receive guidance on how to self-advocate with professors, manage residential life in a new setting, balance their academic responsibilities with social opportunities, and navigate the varied challenges that may arise. Additionally, the SSP provides students with career-oriented seminar courses, sponsored social events, and freshman transition events/resources. The program also collaborates with many other offices on campus to ensure equal access for students with autism spectrum disorders.


Why should I consider this school in general?


As might be expected from an institute of technology, RIT offers excellent programs in computer science, engineering, and many more STEM fields. These are not the only departments to recommend at RIT, however, as design, film and photography, business, and art are also among its strengths. There is a distinct emphasis on career orientation among RIT students and many options for co-op learning, which essentially allows students to learn on the job while getting paid for it. Academic majors at the Institute focus on immediately immersing students in their field of focus, which should appeal to students who know what they want to study, and want to get right to it rather than tackling two years of core requirements up front. While students often describe the course load at RIT as challenging, the pressure is alleviated somewhat by the laidback, quirky culture students claim to belong to. The surrounding area may not be the most active college town on this list, but downtown Rochester and nearby Buffalo and Syracuse offer plenty of opportunities for social events and exploration. Students who are interested in plenty of hands-on learning experiences and open to attending a relatively large private institution (about 12,500 undergraduates) might find RIT to be just the fit they’re looking for.


I’m intrigued, where can I find out more?

  1. SSP Website

  2. Disability Services Office

  3. Links to resources for students with ASD

  4. Excellent article about one student’s experience transferring to RIT


In summary:


These five schools are not the only colleges and universities out there that go above and beyond in supporting students with learning and attention differences, but it’s a good start. When continuing your search, I recommend specifically researching the support services available to students with LDs at a given college. If the Disability Services Office (or equivalent office) includes contact information on its website, try to set up a meeting with a representative who can answer your questions and share about the services offered to students. In addition to the virtual visit opportunities I linked above, many colleges already offer some sort of virtual info session or another way to engage directly with the office that supports students with LDs.


The more you can inform yourself about what to expect at that college or university as a student with a learning or attention challenge, the better chance you have of finding a school that is truly your best fit and will allow you to achieve your academic goals. Don’t overthink it, but do make sure that your college research is focused on the factors you really care the most about.


Good luck,


William


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