As a parent of a teenager with learning disabilities, you may wonder when the right time is to start preparing your child for college.
The Sooner - The Better!
Preparing for the transition to college involves more than just academic readiness. It also entails equipping your child with self-awareness, self-advocacy skills, executive function skills, and communication skills that will help them succeed in college. High school is an excellent time to start practicing these skills, so it is never too early to begin preparing!
As early as ninth grade, it is a good time to start considering college readiness. If your student has an Individualized Education Program (IEP), transition planning should start no later than age 16, but ideally even sooner, to ensure the development of necessary skills before graduating. When it comes to academics, class selection and placement should be considered, taking into account the student's interests and goals. Inclusion in general education is generally a predictor of success in college, so this should be discussed with case managers. If possible, the student may be able to take higher-level classes with accommodations, while keeping in mind that some of the accommodations available in high school may not be available in college. Freshman year is also a time to become familiar with the typical college admissions requirements. Many schools require four years of math, and many have a foreign language requirement. If the student receives waivers from the high school course requirements, they should be aware that this may reduce their eligibility for admission at some colleges. High school is also the time to work on building the overall academic skills needed to succeed in college and to develop study and organizational skills that will help manage the workload.
For students with IEPs or 504 Plans, meetings related to these plans are an excellent opportunity to start practicing self-advocacy. It is important for students to become aware of their difficulties and the accommodations they receive and rely on, as they will be responsible for communicating this directly to the disability office once in college. This can be challenging for a young high school student, but if approached during freshman and sophomore years, the student can gradually build self-awareness and confidence. Now is also a good time to practice self-advocacy skills in social situations, such as participating in group activities or clubs that encourage self-expression, and working with counselors or therapists to build confidence.
The role of parents is greatly reduced in college, and students are now responsible for communicating independently with professors, administrators, and disability offices. High school provides many opportunities to practice communication skills, both written and verbal. Parents can help their teens build these skills by coaching them through upcoming meetings, appointments, or interactions. This can be done through role-playing, writing out scripts, or reviewing emails. Always remember to encourage and support your teen, providing them with supportive and positive feedback.
If your teen is planning to live on a college campus away from home, developing the skills to manage all aspects of independent living should start during freshman and sophomore years. Crucial skills for succeeding as a college student on campus include being able to wake up on their own in the morning, completing and submitting homework on time, taking medications and ordering refills, filling out forms, doing laundry, cleaning up after themselves, planning for meals, and managing money. These skills take time to build, and it is natural for parents to help manage these skills for their children. However, high school is the time to gradually reduce support and give the student the opportunity to take over the responsibility. It is important to give them the gift of failure and the opportunity to learn from their mistakes and to figure out what to do differently next time!
Applying to College
It is never too early to start exploring what type of college your teen likes, whether urban, rural, large, small, liberal arts or science focused etc. During junior year it is time to take the SAT or ACT and to visit some schools in person if possible to get a better idea of preferences. It is also the time to talk about costs and expectations! By the end of junior year, it is a good idea to have the beginning of a varied college list, taking all your requirements into consideration and to start writing the college essay. That leaves the summer before senior year and the fall to finalize applications!
To sum it up, it is never too early!
For students with learning disabilities, starting freshman or sophomore year to build college readiness skills is optimal!