College represents a major life transition for young adults and coincides with a period of profound cognitive and developmental changes. Because of this compounding of internal and external disruption, many young people who enter college encounter difficulties that they are ill-equipped to deal with and permanently withdraw prior to graduation.
Currently, statistics for college failure hover at close to 50% nationally. Adjustment difficulties are further compounded when a college entrant has a history of emotional struggles such as depression, anxiety, personality disorders, or substance abuse.
As a preliminary step in preparing an emotionally vulnerable student for college, psychological and academic testing is a good idea. Testing not only alerts the student and other stakeholders to possible vulnerabilities, but also helps the student qualify for college accommodations such as untimed testing, special classroom seating, note-taking services, and etcetera. Always check with the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) counselor at a college before enrolling a student to assess the robustness of the school’s support and accommodations.
College choice is another important question to consider as early as possible in the young person’s journey toward adulthood. The following considerations should play into college choices for those who may be emotionally or behaviorally at risk:
- Size: Smaller colleges tend to be more manageable, less externally stressful, and more supportive than larger schools. Students are less likely to be anonymous in a smaller setting, so issues are more likely to be noticed and addressed by peers and staff.
- Addiction Support: More colleges are providing sober dorms, on-campus 12-step groups, and other recovery support for students with a history of addiction or substance abuse.
- Counseling Services: Colleges vary widely in terms of both the quality and availability of counseling services.
- Consider a Community College: Community colleges can provide a high level of academic stimulation and easily transferable credit without the social pressures of a four-year college. Since most towns and virtually all cities have a community college nearby, they can give students an opportunity to live at home initially and ease into college life and independence.
- Attrition Rates: The proof is in the pudding, so check a school for attrition rates. Some colleges work very successfully to retain students while others may have a statistical revolving door of enrollments and attritions.
- Availability of ADA Counselor and Tutoring Services: Call and email the ADA counselor, as well as other pertinent support departments, and pay attention to their responsiveness. How quickly and thoroughly they answer your inquiries is a good indicator of their availability to students.
An educational consultant with a special-needs background can help expedite this and other research, and can make specific college recommendations based on an individual student’s profile. It’s critical to put the young person in the driver’s seat when selecting a school in order to maximize their engagement in the process. Parents and professionals should view themselves as advisers and facilitators.