Need Accommodations? Get Self-Advocacy.

Self-advocacy is the key to getting accommodations in college. In high school, most students with learning differences are accustomed to having services come to them, in fact this approach in mandated by law. In college, this model is flipped on its head. Students are on their own. The U.S. Depart of Education spells it out this way, “Students in institutions of postsecondary education are responsible for notifying institution staff of their disability should they need academic adjustments. High schools, in contrast, have an obligation to identify students within their jurisdiction who have a disability and who may be entitled to services.”[1]

Right from day one, new college students must stand up for themselves. If they need accommodations, they must make their needs known to their professors. This is a requirement, and yet self-advocacy is rarely taught in high school; few students even know what it means. While it is different for each student, there are the following commonalities:

  • Knowing your rights and speaking up for them
  • Making good decisions
  • Knowing your goals and your strengths
  • Acknowledging any shortcomings you may have
  • Taking agency in the decisions that are being made about your life

Self-advocacy boils down to the ability to ask for help when you need it. Most adults have a difficult time doing this, imagine how difficult it can be for a new college student on the first day in an entirely new environment. Just because a student has been accepted to college does not mean they automatically have the skills they need to succeed in college. Their learning differences do not suddenly vanish during the first semester of postsecondary education, instead the way they self-manage their abilities must change to fit within the context of the larger educational system. Self-advocacy is part of what makes that change possible.

In the Focus Collegiate admissions process, we often ask students, “How comfortable are you asking for help?” and “How comfortable will you be asking each of your professors for the accommodations you need?” The response we usually get is wide-eyed disbelief. Asking for help does not come naturally to young adults who are taking their first tentative steps toward independence and life away from home and family. The work we do with college students is focused on the long-term predictors of college success. Primary among them is self-advocacy. It is one of the core competencies that impacts independent living.

In a recent report entitled “Agents of Their Own Success: Self-Advocacy Skills and Self-Determination for Students With Disabilities in the Era of Personalized Learning,” the National Center for Learning Disabilities writes, “When students advocate for themselves, they apply skills to understand their rights, needs and interests, and then communicate their understanding to teachers or other decision-makers. Self-advocacy skills require awareness – of personal strengths, needs and goals. They require the ability to express what is important. They also entail abilities to initiate and maintain constructive relationships, engage in groups and work collaboratively toward common goals. Self-advocacy skills enable students to participate actively in their learning and that of others.”[2]

In other words, college students who learn self-advocacy skills find early and repeatable successes. Their academic potential is enhanced, they demonstrate engagement and are more likely to get better grades, they build confidence and self-acceptance, and they tend to have more robust social lives.

Self-advocacy skills take time to develop. Like resiliency, self-advocacy is experiential. We are dedicated to making that experience as positive and life-affirming as it can be.

Space is limited, but we are still enrolling students for the fall – in person and virtually. Contact us right away to save your spot.



Photo by Kyle Gregory Devaras on Unsplash

Our program is now available Virtually and in-person in the greater Boston area!

Focus Collegiate provides innovative hands-on coaching for college students with learning differences, on campus and Virtually across the country.

College-bound with questions?