A guide to college success for people with learning disabilities

You’ve just graduated high school, your summer consists of going to graduation parties, saying goodbye to all of your old friends and moving into a new chapter of your life.

Then all of a sudden, it hits you, you’re getting ready to head off to college. I can remember the crazy thoughts and ideas that were running through my head before I started my freshman year at St. Cloud State. Am I going to meet a lot of new friends? What clubs should I get involved in? Will I end up switching my major?

However, the biggest fear I had about coming to college was how my learning disability would effect my ability to handle all of the stress and pressure college throws at people.

That’s right, I have a learning disability.

I was diagnosed with attention deficit disorder (ADD) when I was in first grade. For years, I struggled with academics, social situations and life in general. I grew out of the social part of it as I got older, but the academic part stayed with me through most of my career in the Bloomington Public School system.

I was constantly distracted in class, I always forgot to turn in my homework and I would always have mental breakdowns before it was time to take a test. My teachers always liked me, but it was very difficult to keep up on the homework and understand the concepts that were being taught in class.

I got decent grades in high school, but continued to struggle throughout certain course subjects. Mostly math and science classes. I was only admitted to college because I got multiple letters of recommendation from teachers who thought I had the potential to succeed.

As I ended my first year at St. Cloud State, I had gotten mostly A’s and B’s in all of my classes and had found a multitude of extra curricular activities that helped me grow and learn as a person.

For those that have ever thought that their learning disability could keep them from being successful in their secondary education career, you might want to think again. While college may be difficult, it is not impossible. I have compiled a top 10 list on how to succeed in college with ADD and other learning disabilities.

  1. Find Your School’s Student Disability Center

St. Cloud State’s Student Disability Services (SDS) office is located on the second floor of Centennial. If you have an Independent Education Plan (IEP) or a 504 Plan that transferred from your high school, you can use it in the SDS center in order to get certain accommodations that can help you succeed in your classes.

If you have test anxiety, they have special rooms in the back where you can take your exams, without the distractions and loud noises that occur inside a regular classroom or in lecture halls.

You can also request note takers for classes where there is no slideshow to copy off of during lectures. You can also order electronic textbooks, so you don’t have to carry around what feels like a 500-pound brick in your backpack.

  1. Develop Working Relationships With Your Professors

Now, I know what some of you probably think all professors are mean and scary and if you don’t understand the information, they don’t care.

That is not entirely true. Professors are a resource for you to use, and they want to help you succeed. Going to your professors office hours and asking questions about the lectures is a great way for them to get to know you and show that you care about their class. That way they will be more willing to work with your accommodations and help you succeed.

  1. Managing Test Anxiety and Preparing for Exams 

Tests are a big deal in college, since most professors don’t hand out actual homework, they just expect you to read the book and study for the exam.

One of the biggest pieces of advice I can give you is keep up with the reading and make sure you understand what is going on in class before the test rolls along.

Studying for three hours outside of class, for each class every week will help keep the information fresh in your head. When the time comes, you’ll ace the exam no problem.

  1. Learning Time Management Skills

One of the most difficult parts about college for just about everyone is time management. When you have class, a job, extra curricular activities, homework and a social life, it can be hard to keep everything in check.

Getting a calendar and creating a weekly schedule can help you stay organized, so that you can get everything done on time. Once you get into a routine, everything will come so much more naturally to you and you’ll be able to handle all of the curve balls that college throws at you.

  1. Finding Tutoring and Academic Support

While you’re still taking some of your generals, you might come across a few classes that you really struggle with. Maybe you’re not a strong writer and always struggled in english class throughout high school. Or maybe you had difficult endeavors with math and science based classes, like me. Luckily for you, there are tutor centers on campus to help you with whatever you might be struggling with.

If you are having a difficult time with math, there are multiple tutoring centers for all levels of mathematics you might have to take throughout your college career. If you are someone who struggles with writing, there are multiple writing tutoring centers that you can go to. Where other students can grade your papers and tell you how you can improve your writing skills in order to be successful in your English classes.

  1. Developing Effective Study Routines

Along with time management, study routines are very important when it comes to your success in college. In comparison to high school, college involves a lot more reading and research to gain knowledge and be successful in class. Make sure you set aside time each week for all of your classes to study and get any papers or projects done.

  1. Finding Other Forms of LD Support

While academics are very important to the success of each student, physical and mental health is just as important. Finding a therapist in Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) is a great opportunity to meet one on one with a professional to help plan out your future without breaking down or stressing out in the process.

  1. Selecting a Major

While some of you probably came to college knowing exactly what you want to do, others might not have a clue what they want their career to be. A good way to pinpoint what job you would enjoy and what your skills are, is by evaluating your strengths and weaknesses and talking to your advisor about what kind of majors and careers apply to your skill set.

  1. Finding a Learning Style that Works for You

College is one of the best ways to find out how you learn and what makes you grow as a person. It also helps a lot when it comes to your academics. Finding the best way for you to study will help you keep up with your courses, while filling your brain with all kinds of new and exciting knowledge.

Whether you are a better visual, audio or kinesthetic learner, find what best suits you. It is also very important to master all three styles of learning, because different classes will provide a number of ways that you may need to review for an exam.

  1. Defeating Procrastination

One of the biggest obstacles that college students, and a good percent of the American population face, is procrastination. Putting things off until the last minute and then worrying about it right before it is due.

You may have heard numerous horror stories of college students staying up all night cramming for a test they didn’t study for, or writing a paper that they put off until the night before it was due. However, it is very easy to avoid this once you are able to plan out a study schedule and refrain yourself from potential distractions until you get the project done.

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