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College After High School: More Than One Option

Updated: Mar 29, 2021

Entering a four-year college immediately upon graduation is not the only option for students who want to pursue a Bachelor’s Degree. There are several roads that can lead to success in college. This is true for students with or without LD. For some students, going directly to a four-year college after is a great choice. Other students may want to consider a “Gap Year” or a “Transition Year” to continue to build skills, discover potential interests in a major, or gain maturity. Others may want to take classes at a two-year college to test out the water. In the end, the goal is to find the best option that will allow the student to have the most successful transition to college.

I like to think of these post-secondary options as existing on a continuum; all the way on one end is direct entry to college with basic support, at the other end is a bridge program to college that allows the student to continue developing academic, social or independent living skills before entering college, with many possibilities in between. As with most school related issues, there is no one-size-fits-all post-secondary option. But students and their parents should start to learn about the many possibilities early in high school, and even during middle school, so they can prepare for the option that best fits the student’s individual needs.

The most common option is to apply to a 4-year college that offers basic support and accommodations, and to start in the Fall semester following high school graduation. This is absolutely a realistic option for many students with LD. If a student is considering this option, it is important to know that not all colleges offer the same levels and types of supports for students with LD. There is a minimum level of support, mandated by law, which provides students with basic testing and classroom accommodations. These may come in the form of extended time on exams, a distraction-free room for testing, note taking assistance, or priority registration. To receive these accommodations, the student needs to register with the college’s Disability Office and follow that office’s specific procedures. In this case, the student is responsible for initiating contact and following through with the process. There is a small group of colleges that offer much more comprehensive support, including academic counseling, weekly support meetings and coaching. In these types of programs, students may also receive more assistance in accessing their accommodations. There are also two colleges that only admit students with learning differences ; Beacon College in Leesburg, FL and Landmark College in Putney, VT. At these schools, students receive more robust and structured support as well as accommodations.

For a student who is not sure he is ready for a full-time four-year college program, or if he is not certain about what subject to study, starting with courses at a community college may be the best option following high school. This will allow the student not only to better understand the expectations and rigor of a college classroom, but also to try out courses in different subject areas. This may lead students to discover a passion for a particular field of study. This option will also help determine if the student needs to continue to develop academic skills. If a student chooses this option, he or she may complete an Associate’s Degree or Certificate Program, and then transfer to 4-year college to pursue a Bachelor’s Degree. Some community colleges also have agreements for direct credit transfer to nearby 4-year colleges.

Another option for a student who is uncertain about going to a 4-year college is to participate in a Gap Year program. Contrary to popular belief, a Gap Year is not a “year off”. In fact, a Gap Year is well structured and planned out, and can include a variety of activities such as internships, volunteering, or travel. Some Gap Year programs also focus on skill-building. These programs are an excellent way for the student to continue to grow and mature and arrive at college ready to learn. Another option is to register for a one-year Bridge or Transition Program that gives the student the opportunity to develop both academic and non-academic skills. Some private high schools offer post-graduate programs (also called "13th year"), and some college offer a year long pre-college program. The choice depends on the student's specific needs and the skills that need to be strengthened.

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