Next Steps

Six graduates determinedly looking forward.

High school graduates with learning disabilities who are contemplating the next chapter in their academic careers should start learning about and preparing for that transition as early as possible. Programs like the CUSP Program can help.

There is in many ways a “disconnect” between high school and university which can make the transition to post-secondary that much harder. The secondary and post-secondary education systems are two very different systems that have evolved in very different ways, which means that students are often surprised by and unprepared for many aspects of the brave new world they finds themselves in after they leave high school. Beyond that, students with disabilities will discover differences in how their disability needs to be documented, how their accommodations are accessed, and in the expectation that they will take on a more active role in their own accommodation.

A number of previous LDAWE blog posts have discussed some of the obvious differences between these two education systems, and their impact on the transition process. Tammy Wilcox offered a parent’s perspective on this process in her article “Transitioning to University or College”. And in “Smooth Moves: Transitioning to University” and “Transition: Smooth Moves, Part 2”, I talk about some of these differences, and offer a bit of advice about preparing for them.

The reality is that educators and advisors in each of these systems are well aware of this apparent “disconnect”, and working hard to close this gap so that transitioning from high school to university or college can be a little more seamless (and a little less daunting) for our students. An example of this can be seen in the CUSP (College and University Success Preparation) Program, which is offered annually at the University of Windsor.

CUSP was created in collaboration with the Greater Essex County District School Board (GECDSB) (with help from our friends at St. Clair College and from the Learning Disabilities Association), to make sure that high school students who have a learning disability and/or ADHD get information they need well in advance in order to make informed choices about the academic path that’s right for them, whether that’s university or college. Students and their parents spend the morning with us learning about some of the differences between high school and college/university, as well as about the variety of services that are potentially available, how to access those services, and how to access funding for assessments and technology. They also have the opportunity to hear first-hand from a panel of students with LD/ADHD who have managed to transition smoothly from high school and are “getting it done” at a post-secondary level with great success.

High school students in Grade 11 or 12 who have a learning disability and/or ADHD and would like to start gathering information that can empower them to have a smoother transition to college or university can learn more on the CUSP webpage. Students affiliated with the GECDSB can also learn more from their Learning Support Teachers. Students from private or separate school board high schools are also welcome to join us, and are requested to contact us directly for registration. The link for that can be found on the CUSP webpage.

It has been said that the future belongs to those who prepare for it today.   So students, think about the kind of future you’d like to create for yourself, and start planning for it now. If you think there might be a place in that future for university or college, then consider joining us for the CUSP Program as an initial step in gathering the information you need to start creating the future you want.

Smooth Moves: Transitioning to University

Banner that says "TRANSITION 101"

“The future belongs to those who prepare for it today”.
Malcolm X

Conventional thinking suggests that the transition from high school to university or college is daunting and intimidating for the students making it, but a recent study in the U.S suggests that the students themselves are relatively comfortable with it, perhaps inappropriately so.  The data suggests that many students are entering university or college without realistic expectations and without necessary non-academic skills  (self-control, independence, goal-setting, and discipline). According to the report, nearly half of students in grades 7 through 12 expressed that they do not believe that university will be difficult. The report identifies lack of awareness by students of the personal and academic challenges awaiting them as an important reason for academic failure.

The fact is that students pursuing higher education will be faced with a variety of new experiences and challenges that most are unprepared for. Greater levels of freedom and independence, vastly different teaching approaches and academic expectations, and much larger class sizes with greater anonymity are the just a few of the differences students will find.  And if they are leaving home to do it in a new community, they will quickly realize that they also left behind a vital support structure (parents, teachers, friends) which contributed in significant ways to their high school success.

My experience with students who have learning disabilities suggests that in some ways many of them may be better prepared for this transition than their counterparts.  In general, they have needed to work harder than their peers to arrive at the same place. They have probably needed to develop a unique set of skills in time management, planning/organization, and study strategies, just to stay afloat. They have needed to work longer, and harder, and smarter, so that by the time they arrive at university they are harbouring no illusions about it being easy.  If anything, they appear to have more realistic expectations about what it will take to graduate, and fully expect to be appropriately challenged by it.

Having said that, it is also true that students don’t always know what they don’t know. At the University of Windsor we offer a transition program for students with learning disabilities who are coming to us from high school. The BUILD Program (Bridge to University for Individuals with Learning Disabilities), is a week long program designed to provide students with the information and skills they will need to have a smooth transition to their post-secondary careers.  In order to assess the effectiveness of the program, we have students complete pre and post-program surveys.  At the beginning of the program, students generally feel that they already have all the tools they will need to have success.  By the end of the program though, after a week of exploring tools and technologies and supports and services that they hardly knew existed, students are expressing a recognition that there is still much they can learn, and indicate a desire and willingness to explore additional ways to make themselves more effective students.

The Ontario Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities (MTCU), has long recognized that students with disabilities face a unique set of challenges when considering post-secondary education.  That is why they specifically fund offices for students with disabilities at every college and university in Ontario, and why they provide funding for The BUILD Program and programs like it across the province.  It is also why they funded the creation of a website loaded with information for students with disabilities who want to go to college or university. The Transition Resource Guide for Students with Disabilities is a great place to start if you are a high school student considering post-secondary options.  Arming yourself with as much information as you can will allow you to make the best possible choices for yourself, ensuring that you arrive at university/college appropriately excited and perhaps a little bit nervous, but confident that you are fully prepared to succeed into the future you have planned.

Image of a chart describing some differences between high school and university/college for students with disabilities

This chart summarizes some differences between high school and university/college for students with disabilities