Top Five Tips to Prepare your Child for the College Application Process
by Tanya A. Alvarado, Esquire
McAndrews Law Offices, P.C.
As you prepare to brave the elements of AP exams, swirl in the whirlpool of ACT and/or SAT college admissions and subject tests, traverse the canyons of application deadline options, and stand knee deep in college application essays, you must also prepare to ensure a continuation of your child’s reasonable accommodations (“academic adjustments”) and auxiliary aids and services in college. While this process may appear daunting, the following tips can help make navigating it smoother.
The federal law IDEA requires that school districts involve the student in their transition to their post-secondary setting beginning at the age of sixteen, although Pennsylvania law requires that this process begin at the age of fourteen. Therefore, your child’s IEP team should begin planning for your child’s departure to college as early as eighth grade. Your child’s special education teacher or guidance counselor are good resources to secure the following:
- During 9th grade, apply for test-taking accommodations. Securing test-taking accommodations from The College Board for the PSAT, SAT, ACT and Advanced Placement tests, can take up to seven weeks, and could double if more documentation about your child’s needs is necessary. If your child is planning to sit for an exam scheduled in August, you should begin securing accommodations in the Spring prior to the test, while the school staff is available to help. Once approved, the approval will typically remain in effect through your child’s high school years, but this should be confirmed with The College Board, as each child’s needs can vary. Therefore, getting approval for test-taking accommodations during your child’s ninth grade school year will avoid the added stress of scrambling for additional documentation of your child’s needs while the date of the test is looming near.
Bear in mind that receiving test-taking accommodations in an IEP does not automatically qualify you for receiving the same accommodations for these standardized tests. The College Board must be contacted directly, preferably through your school counselor, who can complete the application requesting accommodations. School counselors can submit these applications through an online portal, which may be the easiest vehicle to securing test-taking accommodations. If the school counselor is unable to help, parents can submit the application directly to The College Board. Be prepared to provide documentation of the need for the specific accommodation requested, which may include documentation of your child’s disability and an explanation as to why the requested accommodation is necessary on the basis of the identified disability. Providing The College Board your child’s Reevaluation Report and IEP is helpful, but additional information will likely be necessary.
The College Board offers a variety of accommodations, so long as the student can document a need for the accommodation requested. Some accommodations include: Braille, large-print exams, large block answer sheet, a reader, a scribe, use of a calculator, use of a computer for essays, using a different answer format if the bubble sheet poses a problem, a private room, tape recorded responses, and extra breaks. However, accommodations are not limited, and College Board will consider any accommodation so long as there is a well documented need.
- Obtain an updated evaluation from your public school. Colleges and other post-secondary educational institutions will require that the student provide “current” documentation of the student’s disability and their need for academic adjustments (reasonable accommodations) and auxiliary aids and services. Although each institution of higher learning should be contacted directly to identify the specific documentation they require, typically an evaluation within the most recent three years is considered “current”. Therefore, parents should ask the public school to conduct the evaluation as part of the student’s transition planning, as the school district’s duty to provide a free appropriate public education (FAPE) encompasses the responsibility to provide, at no cost to the parents, an evaluation of suspected areas of disability and need for accommodations and related services. Requesting this evaluation at least one year before the student’s final year of high school as part of the student’s transition planning is a good idea. After the student has accepted the high school diploma, the expense of obtaining this type of evaluation will fall on the student and their family, unless the student qualifies for such services through the Office of Vocational Rehabilitation.
- Contact and Register with the Office for Vocational Rehabilitation (“OVR”). OVR should be contacted and invited to your child’s IEP meeting during the latter half of their high school years. OVR provides a variety of services to students with special needs, primarily offered after the student has accepted their high school diploma. Some of these services include: helping to obtain a current evaluation to secure academic adjustments and auxiliary aids and services; diagnostic services (medical, psychological, audiological examinations and tests used to better understand the disability and need for specific types of services); vocational evaluation; vocational counseling; training (education to prepare you for a job, including basic academic, vocational/technical, college, on-the-job training, independent living skills, and personal and work adjustment training); restoration services (medical services and equipment such as physical and occupational therapy, wheelchairs, and automobile hand controls to enable employment); placement assistance (counseling, job-seeking programs, job clubs, and job development to increase your ability to get a job); and assistive technology. For more information, visit OVR’s website at: http://www.portal.state.pa.us/portal/server.pt/community/vocational_rehabilitation/10356
- Investigate the accommodations available at various colleges. All colleges are required to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Amendments Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act in providing reasonable accommodations to the student’s disability. The college’s academic assistance or ADA accommodation office will have additional information. In addition, online research may unveil some articles about colleges that parents or students have regarded as “special needs-friendly,” like Best Colleges Online – 20 Incredible Colleges for Students with Special Needs (http://www.bestcollegesonline.com/blog/2011/09/21/20-incredible-colleges-for-special-needs-students/); Colleges for Students with Asperger’s: The Very Friendly Ones ( http://www.bestcollegesonline.com/blog/2011/09/21/20-incredible-colleges-for-special-needs-students/); and Colleges with a Physically Disabled-Friendly Environment (http://www.collegexpress.com/lists/list/colleges-with-a-physically-disabled-friendly-environment/403/). In addition, meeting with the campus personnel and advisors would give the family additional information about their particular college of interest.
- Scholarships for students with special needs. As every parent of a future high school graduate knows, the cost of higher education is daunting. However, there are scholarship opportunities available specifically for students with special needs, which can be found online (on websites like FinAid! and CollegeXpress) and by asking the public school’s guidance counselor. Transition counselors generally advise students to apply for as many scholarships as possible, since the smaller grants will add up. So, apply early and apply often!
Below are a few examples of available scholarships:
Marion Huber Learning Through Listening Award, sponsored by Learning Ally (up to $6,000)
The Jake Jones Memorial Scholarship for the Learning Disabled, sponsored by the National Center for Learning Disabilities ($500)
Krawitz Scholarship, sponsored by East Stroudsburg University of Pennsylvania ($500)
Hy and Greta Berkowitz Scholarship for Students with Disabilities, sponsored by Aquinas College ($500)
Linda Cowden Memorial Scholarship, sponsored by Hearing Bridges ($1,000)
National Federation of the Blind Scholarship, sponsored by the National Federation of the Blind (up to $7,000)
AmeriGlide Achiever Scholarship, sponsored by AmeriGlide, Inc. ($500)
Anne Ford Scholarship ($10,000) awarded by the National Center for Learning Disabilities to a high school senior with a learning disability who can act as a role model for others who are faced with learning disabilities.
P. Buckley Moss Society Harbison Scholarship. awarded to high school seniors with language-related learning disabilities for college education.
Recording for the Blind/Learning through Listening. Three scholarships $3,000 each for high school seniors who are learning disabled.
Shire ADHD Scholarship Program 50 scholarships for students who have been diagnosed with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).
Smart Kids with Learning Disabilities Youth Achievement Award ($1,000) Awarded to students with a learning disability or ADHD age 19 or younger who have demonstrated initiative, talent and determination resulting in a notable accomplishment in any field, including art, music, academics, athletics and community service.