Join us for our virtual empowerment campaign to celebrate our vibrant community!

Register Here!
by Beth McGaw
by Beth McGaw


 Beth McGaws SonEmbarking on the college search can be an intense yet exciting time for any parent with a junior or senior in high school.  For the typical teen, a list is made; college tours are scheduled, tests taken, applications completed and choices made once the acceptances roll in.  For a parent who has a teen with a learning or attention issue, it can also be exciting but it can also be difficult, confusing, painful and at times, heartbreaking.  Our journey to find the “right fit” for our son has brought a myriad of emotions and we haven’t even submitted any applications yet!


There are many paths to consider after graduating from high school, which include two-year community college, four-year college, technical school, gap year, and independent living programs to name just a few.  My youngest son’s goal has always been to go to a four year college.  He has two older brothers that graduated from large state colleges; both had no trouble getting accepted and graduated on time with decent grades.  My son would like to follow in their footsteps.  However, this is where reality takes over.

  • Reality check #1.   My son has attention issues.  Large colleges offer many distractions.  Even a typical student has issues dealing with these distractions.  So, the type of college environment will be important to his success.
  • Reality check #2:  My son has received support for his learning and attention issues throughout his Pre-K-12 years.  If the college doesn’t have the support system, it isn’t going to be a good fit for him.  Period.
  • Reality check #3:  My son is not a good test taker.  If a school requires a minimum ACT/SAT test score, it may be more difficult for him to be accepted.  Accommodations for testing in his college classes will also be very important.

 Here is some advice from a parent in the thick of the college application process on how to get through it and hoping to come out of it in one piece excited about the selection made:

 Advice for parents of college-bound teens:

  1. It doesn’t hurt to look.  Why not dream a little?  Even if you think your teen may not be able to get accepted, if your teen has always wanted to attend that school, why not let them go on the tour or even apply?
  2. If your child is motivated, give them the opportunity to explore. Exploring all the options will help to give a broader perspective on the available choices that are out there.  Throw in a few obscure colleges because you never know it may be the one.
  3. Stretch schools vs. Support Schools.  As you are evaluating schools understand the difference between a stretch school and a support school – which ones may have a smaller chance of being accepted and which ones understand how to support their learning and attention issues providing some flexibility in admission requirements.
  4. Not all support programs are created equal.  Do your homework.  All colleges have to offer disability services under the federal law, ADA.  However, the level of support is different at each school.  Does the school offer once a week tutoring or does it offer an academic coach that helps follow the student through all their courses?  There is a wide range of options and no two schools are alike.
  5. Visit and ask lots of questions.  It is very important that you visit each campus and meet current students, experience the campus environment and talk with the disability services administrators about the specific accommodations offered.
  6. Start early.  As I stated before, the college application process can be a difficult one even for the typical student, but procrastinating because you aren’t sure your teen can “make it” is not fair to your teen and frankly to you also.  By searching the Internet, asking other parents and students, attending college visits either at your child’s school or college expos you gather information and can learn a lot about the choices available.  You may want to work with an Independent Educational Consultant to help you organize your search.
  7. Teach self-advocacy skills.  It is very important that your teen understand his learning and attention issues and feel comfortable self-disclosing to the faculty.  Students cannot receive the support if they do not ask for it.

 Advice for college-bound teens:

  1. Where you start isn’t necessarily where you will finish.  A student may try a larger school and find out that a smaller school is better suited for them or visa versa.  Or they may need the support in the beginning with core classes and find that they may not need it for a major they are interested in and can transfer to a school to pursue that path.
  2. Support cannot be stressed enough.  Make sure the school provides the support needed to be successful.  Accommodations cannot be overlooked.
  3. Self-advocacy will be your best friend.  Do not hesitate to talk to your teachers and let them know what you need.  If you have paperwork filed with the school documenting your disability, the teachers have to offer you the accommodations that you need to help you succeed.
  4. Have fun.  Ok, not too much fun.  But college is a time to grow and mature into a responsible adult.  Find the balance between fun and getting your work done to stay in college and fulfill your dream.

Good luck to all who are searching.  There really is no one answer because all kids are different and have different goals, but hopefully, with preparation we can help them find that right fit and succeed in college. 


Beth McGaw, M.Ed is the mother of three boys, two who graduated from the University of Georgia and one who is a senior at a Dallas, Texas high school in the final stretch of the college decision process.   She is the founder of Kids Enabled, Inc. and currently serves on the board of Kids Enabled and the Learning Disabilities Association of America. Beth also is an Independent Educational Consultant specializing in LD/ADHD/Autism Post secondary Transitions.
Retrieved from This article originally appeared in Kids Enabled and is reprinted here with permission.
Return to LDA Today, Vol.1 No.6- Home Page