College 101: Freshman Smarts

By Joan M. Azarva, Ms.ED


Students with LD may find the transition to college daunting • Greater independence coupled with more rigorous coursework may result in serious consequences that can be hard to recover from • Avoid early missteps by planning carefully for your freshman year and taking advantage of Disability Services

2.10.9-Freshman-SmartsAs exciting as going off to college is, freshman year can also be challenging—especially for students with learning disabilities who have relied on school and parental support to help them navigate K-12. By taking time before summer ends to strategize on ways to avoid some of the common pitfalls, you’ll be ahead of the game when school begins. Following is a list of key items to consider as you plan your freshman year.


Registration Smarts
  1. Consider taking a reduced course load, at least your first semester. Set yourself up for success until you are sure you can manage the new demands. Your health insurance will not be in jeopardy—the disability coordinator can write a letter to your insurance company indicating you are a full-time student with fewer credits due to a disability.
  2. Utilize the Disability Services Office. The Disability Services Office is there to give you advice regarding all academic decisions. Use it. It is preferable to register through Disability Services where your classes can be hand selected by someone who knows your learning style and how many courses you can reasonably handle. Also, register as early as possible each semester. Some schools give priority registration to students with LD. Early registration provides the most choices.
  3. If a Freshman Seminar is required, take it your first semester. You will learn the ropes, and it will make subsequent semesters easier.
  4. Schedule school according to your biological clock. In other words, take classes when you are most alert and know you can get there on time.
  5. Keep your schedule balanced with challenging classes offset by easier ones. If possible, take more difficult classes on Monday/Wednesday/Friday (60 minutes/class) and easier classes on Tuesday/Thursday (90 minutes/class). Even though your weekly time in class is the same, it is easier to maintain attention for the shorter M/W/F classes.
  6. Schedule classes five days a week. Being in school every day serves as a reminder that education is your full-time job. It also allows you to take part in extracurricular activities that increase your connection with school.
  7. Listen to students’ recommendations for professors and courses. If they match your learning style, ask your Learning Specialist or advisor about them.
  8. It is advisable to take summer courses only for easier electives or in areas in which you excel. While it is natural to want to pick up additional credits in the summer, know that summer semesters are short, and the work comes on with the speed of a runaway freight train. Most importantly, if you failed a course in a 15-week semester, DO NOT retake it in a summer session. How likely are you to understand the information when it’s coming at you twice as fast?
  9. Online courses carry their own risks. Generally, they are for the extremely disciplined student who doesn’t need the structure and interaction of traditional classes. Also, for students accustomed to using tone and facial expression to augment comprehension, online classes will put you at a distinct disadvantage.
  10. Do not worry about choosing a major for your first 48 credits. Use that time to sample classes in various disciplines. You may want to take an online career inventory that demonstrates how your abilities and interests align.

Joan M. Azarva runs Conquer College with LD, a website for parents of college-bound students with learning differences. She also provides consulting to families on making the transition to college and succeeding in higher education.

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