10 steps to a more organized college application process

Applying to college is a big job with many moving pieces. And projects that require multiple steps and deadlines can be difficult for kids with learning and thinking differences to tackle and break down.

Understanding the application process and staying organized can make this job more manageable for both you and your teen.

Decide how much you’re going to help.

Figure out in advance how much of the responsibility you’re willing to carry. Having that outlined ahead of time can help make the process constructive, rather than stressful. (If you’re unsure how much to help, see what an expert recommends.)

Remember the IEP.

If your child has an , he’s entitled to transition planning services. This can include help with college applications. Just make sure it’s one of your child’s transition goals.

Use trusted sources for research.

Learn more about your child’s options for college and how to help your child choose a college. And visit reliable sites, like the U.S. Department of Education’s College Scorecard.

Consider schools that don’t emphasize testing.

The number of colleges that do not require SAT or ACT scores for admission is growing. Fair Test lists roughly 950 colleges that have dropped or de-emphasized the SAT or ACT.

Start practicing.

Late in their junior year, teens may want to start practicing filling out the Common Application — the application many colleges use. Explore ways to make the essay process a little easier.

Manage time and energy.

Help your child create a realistic schedule to manage applications. Simple apps (like task-sharing apps) and low-tech solutions (like a white board) can help you and your child keep important deadlines front and center.

Encourage work blocks and breaks.

Suggest that your child set aside blocks of time for working on applications or even just reading about colleges he’s interested in. Kids can use their phone as a timer or to set an alarm for breaks to pace themselves through a to-do list.

Talk about your child disclosing learning and thinking differences.

Many students aren’t sure whether to disclose their learning and thinking differences in their college applications. It’s a personal choice. Talk with your child, the educational team, and others close to your child about the pros and cons. And read stories about people who “owned it” in their college essays.

Have documentation ready.

If your child has a documented disability, have the documentation ready. This is important whether kids choose to tell a college or not. It’s good to have it handy in case they change their mind or need it for any reason.

Visit the colleges your child likes best.

Schedule appointments to visit colleges and learn more about their programs. If your child has a learning disability (LD), reach out to the college’s LD program, if they have one. Set up a meeting with the disability services center, too.


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