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How to Succeed in College

By Dria Fearne

As a disabled student with Attention Deficit Disorder and Mild Dyslexia, I was a little nervous about going to college. I thought that it would be too difficult. Fortunately, college is not as scary as guidance counselors and teachers make it out to be, but rather feels like the next logical step after high school. You will not fail in college if you put in the effort, especially if you take advantage of the following tips.

Disabilities Services Office

Each university has an office dedicated to assisting students with disabilities. These offices will assign you a counselor who can help you get the accommodations you need to meet your class requirements.

Visit your Disabilities Services Office before you choose which college to attend.

This allows you to see what each school offers, and lets you know if you will get the services you need. Visiting UCLA's Office for Students with Disabilities (OSD) was very important in helping me choose the school, because I knew the specialists were dedicated to helping every student succeed, and I've had a very positive experience with them.

Take care of your paperwork (documentation) ASAP.

It is important to have documentation to verify your disability. There are no IEP's in college, so it is your responsibility to go into your disability services office to sign up for services if you need them. Nobody is going to track you down to provide you with the accommodations you need. If you are learning disabled,your documentation is only good for five years. So, make sure you have an updated copy, otherwise you may not be eligible for services. I recommend renewing documentation during your senior year of high school, because most universities won't pay for it. Some schools do pay for it (Cal State Fullerton for example), but Learning Disability testing is a long process, and you may not have it done before exams start popping up. If this happens, it may be difficult to get the accommodations you need. Also, make sure your documentation states everything you may need (e.g. tape recorder for lectures, computer for exams, a notetaker, etc.) even if you haven't needed those services previously.

Services Offered

Many schools offer lots of different services for students with disabilities, including: test proctoring (which allows for extended time on exams, as well as providing you with a private room and a computer), notetaking services, tutoring, adaptive equipment, books on tape (for people who are blind or dyslexic), sign language interpreters, real-time captioning, and van service. Services are only given if it is needed due to the individual's specific disability.

Getting Classes

Priority Enrollment

Priority enrollment allows students with disabilities to enroll in their classes before the rest of the student population. If you require a certain type of class schedule (mornings only -- afternoons only) due to your disability, you will want to take full advantage of this opportunity. Lots of schools have priority enrollment for students with disabilities. Use it!

Your Class Is Full

If you don't get a class you want (or are placed on a waiting list), it is still recommended to show up on the first day of class. A lot of people don't show up on the first day and you may still get in. If it's a course you absolutely need to take (to graduate, etc.) professors will sometimes allow you to enroll in the class even if it is full.

How to Get the "A"

Get to Know Your Instructors

Use your professor or teaching assistant's (T.A.) Office Hours (a time set aside each week for students to wander in and ask questions about the course), because it's an opportunity to be more than a face in the crowd. This allows you to get extra help in the class, and you can ask your instructor about what might be on the exam (you can cut your study time in half!). Talk to your T.A. about any upcoming papers and give them a draft to look over. You can also ask them to give you input on class lectures. It's the T.A. that gives you your grade, so if you know what they are looking for in your assignment, you can probably get a better grade. If you're in a larger class, you also need to talk to the professor to set up your accommodations (your Disability Services Office should give you a letter for your professor to break the ice). A professor who knows you personally is much more likely to provide you with the accommodations you need.

Study Environment/Style

Where do you study most effectively? Maybe in your room with music on, or in the library with absolute silence. Make sure you know where you study best and stick to it. I go by myself to the most quiet library on campus (not the main one, which is really social), so I have no distractions. Also, can you cram for exams the night before, or do you need to study a week ahead of time? I, like many students with learning disabilities, cannot cram for an exam the night before and retain any information; So, instead I study for a week or so before the exam for an hour a night.

Learning Style

How do you learn? Do you learn best by auditory, visual, or kinesthetic (or tactile) learning styles. Auditory means you learn best by hearing, visual by seeing, and kinesthetic by doing. Teaching styles tend to be more geared toward auditory and visual learners, making it more difficult for kinesthetic learners to succeed. Coincidentally most LD students are kinesthetic learners. For kinesthetic learners I recommend taking a little non-distracting object to class for your non-writing hand (especially if you're a compulsive pen clicker), such as a koosh ball or silly putty, to channel the excess energy. I have to say that my disability has played a positive role in the transition from high school to college. Yes, I said "positive," because many of the people that I have met in college skated through their entire high school career, while I always had to go that extra mile for the grade, and it is that determination that has made a world of difference for me in this academic environment.

Word to the wise: I do recommend going into your respective disability services office with documentation in hand (if applicable) and a smile on your face, because you are going to see a lot of those people over the next four years.

Dria has Attention Deficit Disorder, dysgraphia, and a specific learning disability affecting language acquisition. Her plans are to attend law school after finishing her undergraduate degree. Dria is a third year political science major at UCLA, where she is heavily involved in both the Office of Residential Life and the Office for Students with Disabilities. Feel free to e-mail her with any questions, comments, or suggestions at dria@ucla.edu

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