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College 101

Diagnosed Learning Difficulties
Article Type: Quick and Dirty

School isn’t easy. We know… we’ve done it. We’ve been beaten up (with a name like “Shmoop,” you’re bound to get targeted by bullies), struggled to keep up our GPA, and had panic attacks in anticipation of taking the SAT. We may be a website, but we’re only human.

So yeah… school is hard. And if you’re someone who’s had to deal with a learning difficulty on top of it… we feel your pain.

We’re talking about stuff that’s even more challenging than resisting the urge to take a nap during Algebra class. We’re talking about diagnosed struggles – ranging from Attention Deficit Disorder to Dyslexia to Dysgraphia to Executive Functioning Difficulties. Stuff that’s actually recognized and treated by doctors. As far as we know, no doctor has diagnosed anyone with Acute Algebraic Sleepiness Syndrome. Although there’s a first time for everything.

If you have seen a doctor or clinical psychatrist who diagnosed you with a learning difficulty, chances are you already went through high school with some… accommodations. In other words, specific steps were taken to minimize the effects of your difficulty. 

Maybe it was a 504 Plan or an Individual Education plan… something that gave you a helping hand by extending time on tests, putting you in small-group settings, printing instructions for projects, or giving you preferential seating in the classroom. Like that seat front and center, where it’s darn near impossible to avoid your teacher’s spit when they really get going. That’s some prime real estate right there.

But now… college. College is just plain harder than high school.

Top 10 Ways College is Harder than High School

1.     Textbooks are heavier

2.     Instead of labyrinthine high school hallways, an actual labyrinth you must go through to get to each class

3.     Chalkboards are chalkier

4.     You have to audition for school plays rather than just be related to the drama teacher

5.     You have to live with someone who makes you wish you were back home still bunking with your sister

6.     Calls home are now long distance

7.     They make you hold your pen the right way there

8.     Pet jungle cat no longer allowed to accompany you to your classes

9.     “College” is trickier to spell

10.  You might want to sit down for this one… no recess or study hall.

But while the process in college is definitely different, there are tons of programs designed to help students with diagnosed learning difficulties knock the cover off the ball in college. The major difference is that no college is going to create a plan for you. The responsibility at this point shifts from your school and your parents onto your shoulders. Since you’re not physically growing any taller, they now consider you a “grown-up.” It’s a tough cross to bear, we know.

"To keep things in perspective, this guy is also considered a “grown-up."


But as long as you get a jump-start while still in high school, you shouldn’t have to do too much… jumping… once you actually get to college. As you begin Generating Your List of Schools, be aware that there are a boatload of schools across the nation that have developed excellent programs for students just like you. Everything from small liberal-arts colleges to the big, bad state universities. Some, like Landmark College and Beacon College, are specifically designed to support students with disabilities such as ADHD.

Those standardized tests can be beasts… but fortunately, there’s also an opportunity to apply for accommodations for the SAT and ACT before graduating from mini-college (high school). Depending on your diagnosis, you might be eligible for stuff like small-group settings, additional or extended breaks, or the use of a computer to write your essay. With spell check turned off, of course.

Okay, you got that precious piece of correspondence in the mail – you’ve been accepted at a college! And you didn’t even have to lie about your extracurricular activities! (You had a feeling they’d never buy “President of Hacky Sack Club” anyway.) So… now what?

First you’ll need to register with the student support center in order to continue receiving accommodations. They ain’t mind-readers. Let ‘em know you’re there and raring to go.

Make an appointment with the center, and bring anything you think they might want to get their grubby little mitts on, like your testing and diagnosis history, your high school 504 plans (or Individual Education Plans), any accommodations received on the SAT or ACT, letters of introduction from high school principals or teachers – anything that documents a history of need. They just don’t want somebody pulling a fast one on them.

Finally, while you are enrolled, make the most of it. College is the place to stretch yourself (especially before long workouts at the university gym), so use your resources and practice strong self-advocacy.

Most colleges and universities have drop-in tutoring centers, especially in writing and math. Know where they are and how to access the services. Also, be aware that some professors might not take accommodations seriously, believing that their way of teaching and testing is the only way. This is what’s known as a “teaching disability.” So… have patience with them. But do speak up for yourself, and let both your professors and your student support counselor know your needs. You’re not making it up, so don’t let them make you feel as if you are.

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