Five Things Dyslexic Students Need to Know Before Applying to College

There are many lists of colleges that are reputed to provide adequate accommodations to students frustrated by dyslexia and other “learning disabilities” or “learning differences” including ADHD, dysgraphia, and ASD. One of the most comprehensive can be found at Dyslexic Advantages website.

If you’re dyslexic, applying to college can be an anxiety-filled and time-consuming process.

Yet even among the “dyslexia-friendly” colleges that appear on these lists, there is a lot of variation, school to school, in how the need for accommodations is interpreted and how accommodations are implemented.  In addition, there are many colleges, including Skidmore College, that are reputed to provide adequate accommodations but whose names do not appear on most lists of “dyslexia-friendly” colleges. And, of course, there are also all the colleges you want to apply to whose names don’t appear on any “dyslexia-friendly” college lists.

So how do you know where to apply?

Here are five tips that will help you navigate the college admissions process:

1. First, like every other college applicant in the world, “LD” or not, you should make a list of the colleges to which you want to apply. Don’t bother with a “dyslexia-friendly” college list. Remember, many colleges that don’t make lists are able to provide adequate accommodations. So first, figure out where you want to go.

2. Once you’ve got your list in place, if you anticipate utilizing services while at college, it is critical that you talk to someone in the Office of Disability Services (ODS) prior to applying. The information gathered in that conversation will help you determine whether or not the school will be able to provide you with what you need to succeed and in a way that is not unduly burdensome. For example, in my son’s case, there were colleges he considered but chose not to apply to based on the information gathered during the initial phone call. Some of these phone calls were made to colleges that regularly appear on lists of “dyslexia-friendly” colleges.

3. During your initial and subsequent calls, I strongly suggest that you do not divulge too many specific details about your learning needs prior to being admitted. Instead, ask more general questions such as “What is the process for accessing your services and getting approval for accommodations?” and “How does your department accommodate students who require extra time, etc.”

Typically, ODS officers cannot comment on or commit to providing particular services to a student until they review a student’s documentation so getting into too much personal information is of little value at best and may be counterproductive at worst.

Once you’re admitted, asking specific questions becomes critical. Accommodations are too important for students who need them (and college is too expensive!) to leave things to chance and hope that all will work out in the end. While federal law requires colleges to provide reasonable accommodations to all students with disabilities, there is tremendous variability in the interpretation of the law and the implementation of accommodations.5. Finally, I also recommend that you contact the admissions office prior to applying if you have a particular concern about a void in your high school transcript. For example, my son only took one year of a foreign language in high school. Yet many colleges he explored required applicants to have taken at least two years of a foreign language. When a quick phone call to ODS confirmed the information found on the website concerning high school foreign language requirements, that college was taken off the list.

Also, because many dyslexic students have difficulty with foreign languages, I also encourage you to ask the admissions office about graduation requirements up front. If the college requires you to take a foreign language in college, there’s no sense in applying to that school.


If you are dyslexic or are frustrated by other “LDs”, applying to college can be anxiety producing and time-consuming. However, as you move forward in the application process, always remember that the world will be a better place when we are given an opportunity to benefit from your intelligence and the unique contributions you can make to the world.

If you’re dyslexic or in some way “learning disabled” and want help navigating and strategizing the college admissions process, let me know. I’m always ready to help you! Call me.

Dr. Osborn works with students from all over the world to help them reach their independent, college, and graduate school goals. Through a personal, one-on-one approach, Dr. Osborn creates an individualized plan for each student based on the student’s strengths, passions, and career aspirations. Her holistic approach helps students perform well in school and secure admission to top colleges.  

About The Author

Susan Osborn, Ph.D., has spent 30 years in higher education, in admissions at Vassar College, in the English department and Writing Program at Rutgers University, in the lab at The New Jersey Center for Research on Writing, and as a private tutor. Dr. Osborn is also an award-winning writer and scholar and she brings both her education smarts and her writing smarts to every student relationship.