Use Your Self Advocacy Skills to Help Make the Right Selection


As college acceptance notices begin arriving, high school seniors must decide which school they will attend. This task can be especially challenging for learning disabled students, who may need more information than others to make good decisions. We know that colleges have flexibility in determining the support services they will provide to students who have disclosed their disability. So, how can students self advocate to help decide which school is best for them?

Many colleges have disability services offices (DSOs) to help coordinate services for students with disabilities. Information from the DSO can help students refine their college choice. Here are some strategies for using self advocacy when talking with the DSO. Keep in mind that schools may not be able to provide definitive answers until you enroll and your documentation has been reviewed.

1. Carefully prepare for this discussion. Have a list of questions that you need to make your decision. You may already have gathered important information such as building accessibility, documentation requirements and transitional services. Now is the time to get any other data you need to find the right “fit.” For example, you might want to know more about the number of learning disabled students in attendance, and their graduation rates. You might want to find out how you can meet with some of those students to learn about daily campus life. You might want to get information about accommodations that have been made available in the past.

2. Effectively communicate your needs. Be able to explain your disability and how it has affected your learning. Give examples of accommodations that have worked for you in the past, and ask if the school is receptive to accommodations that you believe would be effective for you in college. Practice discussing these points with a teacher, parent, or coach.

3. Be ready for some give and take. Remember that the college must provide an effective accommodation, but is not required to provide the specific accommodation that you request. Be open to considering accommodations that the school proposes and be ready to discuss the pros and cons of various proposals. Again, specific answers may not be available at this point, but you can begin to gauge how accommodation requests are handled.

4. Use good listening skills. During the conversation, listen carefully. Ask others to repeat what they’ve said, or paraphrase what’s been said to make sure that your understanding is correct. Also, take notes as an aid to helping compare information from different schools. After the meeting, debrief by reviewing your notes. Write down your impressions. 

You will weigh many factors to find the right college. There are the basics (such as location, cost, and size) as well as those that are relevant to your individual situation. Using your self advocacy skills helps you make an informed college selection decision.