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Choosing a College that Supports Students with Learning Differences

We enjoyed speaking with Deborah Cinquemani, Founder of Guide Us Educational Services, to learn more about her business especially her success with advising college-bound students who have learning difficulties. What should prospective families look for when visiting a college campus from a support standpoint? What questions should they ask during a college visit and who should they contact?  As families prepare for their college visits this spring, be prepared and make sure to take advantage of the college visit opportunity to learn more about how that particular college will support your student. Debbie provides some guidelines and tips to help navigate the college search process especially for students with learning difficulties.



There is a school for every student, no matter how they learn. That motivating principle has led me to help many students to, not only navigate the college admissions process, but to find the best place to support them academically, socially, and especially with the appropriate services and resources.

Choosing a college that supports a student with learning differences requires some additional information, a checklist to take on-campus tours, and, a network of experts to call upon if you need it. Each student has a unique way of learning, and choosing the right college is an important decision for a family. Students with special needs should investigate whether the school has the resources, programs, and trained staff dedicated to helping every student reach their potential goals while they are there.


Ascertain the specific needs of your student and list those requirements accordingly. Colleges don't have to provide the same level and support as high schools, but they must have accommodations in place for qualified students. Accommodations may vary at the college level so it is important to investigate the resources and services offered at the various colleges and to ensure there is a match for your students.

Regardless of where students are in their college journey ─ at the beginning of the search or perhaps in the middle of a frustrating experience ─ a brief understanding of the supportive services, programs, and procedures that are available for students will better enable them to make the best choice.

Support for Students at the College Level

Support at the college level is not the same as it was for students with learning differences in high school. The first thing you will be made aware of is that IEPs and 504 plans are no longer the governing force. In their places are various services and levels of support for eligible students.

Academic success is an individual journey and accomplishment. As a licensed guidance counselor, I was an advocate for my students at many IEP and 504 meetings. As a parent, I understand how confusing the special needs process, and its accompanying documents, can be. Clear and substantive interpretation of these documents is an essential tool in finding appropriate college placement and positive transitioning from high school to a higher institution of learning.

When visiting colleges, make an appointment to speak with the support services staff, so you can see firsthand how the college can help students with special needs. Utilize this information to identify the colleges that will be best for the student.

When setting up campus tours, preparing a checklist will help you assess the school's accommodations and determine if they fit the needs of the student.

College Checklist

Visiting a college is an essential first step in making a decision. While a virtual tour can give you a general impression, actually walking on the campus and meeting with key people can better enable you to make an informed decision. Prepare a checklist of desirable resources that will be available to students and ascertain if they are in fact offered at the school and ask how the college implements them.

Does the school offer the following types of assistance?

  • Modified course instruction
  • Alternative forms of testing or evaluations
  • Assistive technology
  • Support centers
  • Accommodations in the classroom

Several accommodations are generally available, like having extra time to take a test, using note-takers, making an audio recording of lectures, or taking exams in a distraction-free area. But depending on the student's needs, also search out schools that have the following:

  • On-campus learning specialists
  • Meetings with a counselor weekly
  • Extra tutoring
  • Reduced course load
  • Individualized instruction in time management or organizational skills
  • Transitional summer programs

Scheduling the Campus Tour

When registering for the campus visit, contact and schedule a meeting with the person who coordinates the services for students with learning differences. This way, the student will be introduced to the correct contact person and will be able to access the availability of support and where to go if questions or concerns arise.

Conduct research for each college, their eligibility requirements, and every college's disability access center services, then create a list of schools that fit your ideal criteria. Choosing the right college should be exciting, and, I believe, with the correct information and search criteria, it will be successful as well.


There is a college for everyone. Finding the right fit may seem daunting, but it is possible and there are experts who will help guide you as you navigate the college admissions journey.


If you would like to share your story or expertise with us, please send an email to



A licensed Guidance Counselor, Debbie holds a Master of Science Degree in Education with a concentration in counseling from Fordham University. Guide Us Educational Services was founded to help students navigate the college admissions process while fulfilling their goal of attending their dream school.