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Hope for the Future - 2e College Options


“Help, I am freaking out! Will my child ever get into, let alone graduate, from college?”


When our 2-e kids are little, we put a lot of effort into finding the best-fit school for them, and we are not afraid to change if the fit isn’t right. In many ways, we need to approach college in the same way. The good news is there are many more options for college-bound students than elementary and secondary school students; for the right college, students can potentially go anywhere in the country or even the world. Additionally, college-aged kids have a lot more agency. They can assert their preferences more vocally, exercise autonomy in decision-making, and actively engage in their own perseverance and achievement.


“That sounds great, but all I hear is that college is ridiculously hard to get into.”


There is a lot of noise around college admissions, which can be scary. If you listen to the news or social media, you may think that students need straight As, perfect SAT/ACTs, and many extracurriculars, including volunteering and sports or band, etc., to get into a “good” college.


One may think, wait a minute, my child is brilliant but still gets Bs and even Cs, or my child doesn’t have the energy for extracurriculars, they still need to take mental health days, they will never sit for a standardized test, my child only wants to study (______) fill in the blank, or even my child never remembers to take their meds, and still struggles to make friends, etc. How can my child possibly succeed in this world?

Let’s look at the college landscape. There are over 4,000 2-year and 4-year colleges in the US.

  • Of the 2,500+ 4-year schools, only about 115 have a less than 30% admit rate.

  • Fewer than 10% have an admit rate of less than 50% 

  • Almost 20% have an admit rate greater than 90%


Closer to home in California, we have an excellent and expansive 3-tier public higher education system, including nine undergraduate University of California institutions (UCs ), the state’s primary academic research institutions, and 23 California State Universities (CSUs).  Selectivity, programming, support, and campus culture vary significantly across the system. In addition, there are more than one hundred California Community Colleges with excellent transfer programs to both the UCs and CSUs. The UC system has a system-wide commitment of a 2-1 freshman-to-transfer ratio, and  ~95% of UC transfers come from California Community Colleges. California is also home to another 150 or so private non-profit colleges and universities.

 

“Well, it sounds like there are options, but that still leaves the question: can my child succeed in college? What types of supports are available?”

 

Success in college largely depends on finding the right fit – this is true for neurotypical as well as neurodiverse learners. What most people may not know, especially those looking at colleges for the first time, is that there is a vast range of options available.

 

Let’s talk about accommodations and campus support. The laws covering post-secondary education differ from those covering K-12 education, so the level and type of support can vary. Colleges accepting federal money must adhere to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Rehabilitation Act, Section 504 E, and offer basic accommodations to create “access” to the curriculum, housing, and campus activities, but not necessarily student “success.” At some colleges, students may have access to many of the same accommodations they had in high school; however, many high school accommodations will not carry over. Each campus's Office of Disability/Accessibility Services will make these decisions. (Note: students will not be eligible for curriculum modifications in college.)


If we think about a continuum of support,  at one end, we have campuses offering basic accommodations.


Examples of Common College Accommodations

Classroom Accommodations

  • Extended time on exams

  • Breaks during tests

  • Alternate (reduced distraction) testing sites

  • Use of laptops for tests/exams and note-taking

  • Use of calculators for tests and exams

  • Use of spell checker

  • Note-taking accommodations (permission to record lectures, have note taker)

  • Access to assistive technology (audiobooks, text-to-speech, voice recognition software


 Additional Accommodations

  • Priority registration for courses

  • Reduced course load 

  • Course substitutions (especially in math and foreign languages)

  • Housing accommodations (e.g., a single room or in a specific location)

  • Service and assistance animals

At the other end of the spectrum, we have schools with very specific structured programs to support students one-on-one with LDs or ASD. Often, there is a fee for these more comprehensive programs. The University of Arizona SALT Program is one of the most well-known; nearby, we also have the UCAM program at Southern Oregon University. If you are open to looking farther away, there are many other programs nationwide. Programs can vary from college to college in terms of their focus (ADHD, autism, dyslexia, etc.), level of support, and cost. Landmark College in Vermont and Beacon College in Florida are two colleges dedicated to exclusively serving students with learning differences; at these two colleges, comprehensive support is intentionally designed into their academic and residential programs.


Structured Support Program Offerings

  • One-one coaching one or more times a week

  • Specialized tutoring beyond what is offered to the general student body

  • Small group programming (academic, social, and vocational skill building)

  • Social supports

  • Peer Mentors/Campus Allies

  • Behavior modeling

  • Specialized social events

  • Special housing (students may live together/co-adjacent)

  • Pre-orientation programming

Between basic support and structured support programs, a third cluster of colleges and universities offer more comprehensive support and programming than the basic, but not to the level of the structured support programs. There is a lot of gradation in terms of the level of support across these schools.

 

“Let’s cycle back to the colleges for a minute. Beyond accommodations, is there anything we should look for?”

 

Absolutely!  As for any college-bound student, 2-E students should be looking at the whole range of characteristics of fit, such as academic programs, campus size and location, social and extracurricular opportunities, etc.  2-E kiddos are much more than their disabilities. The mission, culture, and academic and social programming can all make a difference.


A school may not offer structured or comprehensive support but may still be a great fit. For example, there are what I like to call the “warm hug” schools. These are schools that offer a supportive environment to all students. These tend to be the smaller liberal arts schools that offer smaller class sizes, robust advising, and accessible and engaged professors. The 2-E student may be less likely to get lost in this environment. The Colleges that Change Lives (CTCL) website is a good starting point for looking at these schools.


Another consideration could include the emphasis and flexibility of the curriculum and general education requirements; can students focus on the subjects that interest them? Can they minimize the requirements in areas that might be impacted by their disability, such as math or world language? Some students may look for programs emphasizing experiential or hands-on learning and/or co-op programs, while others seek research opportunities or discussion-based classes. The structure of the academic calendar can also be influential; students may prefer a semester or quarter-based system or even a block schedule where, depending on the school, students take 1-3 classes at a time in a condensed time frame. Finally, the campus culture and extracurriculars can play an important role for 2-E students; students will thrive in an environment where they can find their people and engage in extracurricular activities that are important to them.

 

“Wow, we have covered a lot of information! Is there anything else you would like to add?”

 

There are many opportunities for kids who want to go to college and whose mental health is in a good place; it is important to know that there is no one model or way of doing things. Like our kids, the college programs are not one size fits all. Help your student figure out what they need to be successful, help them learn to advocate for their needs, and then look for schools whose programs and supports align with these needs. 


Don’t be discouraged if your student’s path is not straight or if your student needs to take a year off before or during college; you are playing the long game, and a year or two isn’t going to matter. The world is changing, maybe not as fast as we would like, but it is changing. More schools are recognizing and supporting neurodiverse students and students with learning differences.


About the author

 

Helen Amick was born, raised, and educated primarily on the East Coast; she moved to California after business school to begin a career in strategy consulting almost 30 years ago. Helen is now a committed Californian but has strived to raise her three kids to be “bicoastal.” She has two kids in college (one on the East Coast and the other in the Mid-Atlantic region), and her third is a senior in high school, winding down his college search. Helen completed the UC-Irvine Independent Educational Consultant certificate program and is launching her career as an Independent Educational Consultant; she is passionate about helping all students, including those with ASD or LDs, find their best-fit college. She can be reached at helen_amick@yahoo.com.

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