Q: My granddaughter, Rena, a senior, wants to attend college. She is a champion tennis player, but has struggled academically because of ADHD. Her ACT score and GPA are low. She was rejected by her college choices. Her counselor offers no encouragement except, "Go to a local community college to get ready for college work." But the schools don't have tennis. She has a great personality and wants to teach. Any suggestions?
A: The counselor's advice is discouraging, but there's no reason that Rena shouldn't be able to graduate college if she's motivated and you put the right plan in place.
Many two- and four-year colleges have highly successful programs for students managing ADHD. You just need to find them. A good place to start is "The K&W Guide to Colleges for Students With Learning Differences, 12th Edition" (The Princeton Review, 2014). It offers profiles of 350 colleges with the best programs for students with ADHD and information on 1,000 others with support services.
The authors, college counselor Marybeth Kravets and psychotherapist Imy Wax, offer tips on how to put that plan in place -- even this late in the game.
First, schedule a meeting with the counselor. Press for more specific support and make sure you get all the information in Rena's complete education file (documentation for establishing ADHD, Individualized Educational Program, results of psycho-educational testing, and so on). Rena will need these when applying for support services at college.
Next, identify some "best match" colleges and visit them. Prepare for the interview: Rena should be able to demonstrate self-awareness by articulating her goals, strengths and weaknesses and describing what accommodations she thinks she needs. She should prepare a list of questions for the interviewer, too.
During campus visits, in addition to taking a guided tour, attending a class, eating a meal, talking with students, etc., make sure to schedule a comprehensive meeting with the college's director of support services.
Have a list of questions ready for the director about everything Rena will need to succeed: Is there flexibility in admissions requirements? Are there remedial or developmental courses to help her make progress in weak areas? What accommodations and supports are available for class, as well as testing and tutoring? Is there an extra fee? Who would Rena be working with and what are their qualifications? What is the success rate and what are the career paths of the program's graduates?
Go ahead and ask about tennis, but don't let Rena use the school's lack of a team as a deal-breaker. "The most important thing for Rena is to get on sound academic footing to realize her goals," says Debbie Perrielli, a Florida youth tennis coach. "In most any college setting she can find players to keep her challenged, or opportunities to coach informally. Her skills won't get rusty."
Rena is fortunate to have you as her champion. Keep encouraging her. "No children choose to be born with learning disabilities or ADHD," write Kravets and Wax. "However, if they hold fast to their dreams and aspirations and look beyond the imperfections and hidden handicaps, they can make things happen for themselves."
(Do you have a question about your child's education? Email it to Leanna@aplusadvice.com. Leanna Landsmann is an education writer who began her career as a classroom teacher. She has served on education commissions, visited classrooms in 49 states to observe best practices, and founded Principal for a Day in New York City.)