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College Prep

Test-Optional College Admissions

Blog Type:  College Prep Date Posted:  Friday, November 12, 2021

By Janet Thibeau

SAT form

The Standardized Achievement Test (SAT) was created in 1926 as an intelligence test to help colleges and universities assess applicants. 

The test was adapted from an IQ test for army recruits and adopted by Harvard College to test the "scholastic aptitude" of admissions applicants from outside the normal channels to Harvard at the time. The history and validity of the SAT provokes a rich debate, but educators and parents of students with language-based learning disabilities (LBLD) are very familiar with the mismatch between our students and test scores, especially those that purport to measure intelligence.

Over the years, the test itself has changed and created a booming test-prep industry that exceeds $4 billion. 

What do standardized tests really measure?

Do standardized tests accurately measure a student’s potential? It depends on who you ask. 

For students who naturally do well on standardized tests, a good test score can be one of many strengths in their application, or it can help offset poor grades. For students who can afford to pay for private tutors, they may be able to improve their score and become a more attractive candidate at competitive colleges. 

What about students with dyslexia and other learning differences who don’t do well on standardized tests, and/or students whose family can’t afford to pay private tutors? What happens to their chances of attending college?

Even before COVID disrupted standardized test schedules, some colleges and universities were shifting away from basing admission on standardized test scores and shifting to test optional admissions.

Test blind vs test optional: what’s the difference?

Test-blind admissions mean that a college won’t consider or review a student’s test scores even if they submit them. Test-optional admissions mean that students can opt to submit or not submit their test scores. If they submit them, the school considers them. If they don’t, the school considers the other parts of their application.

Bottom line

If your student does well on standardized tests or you want to invest in a test tutor, your student should consider submitting their test scores. If your student doesn’t do well on standardized tests scores or you can’t afford a test tutor, your student should consider applying test optional. 

What colleges and universities are test optional?

There is a growing number of schools that offer test optional admission. FairTest maintains a list of test-optional schools.

Janet Thibeau is president of BTA Education, an advocacy and school consulting firm in Massachusetts. She also serves on the board of directors and is the branch council chair at the International Dyslexia Association and actively supports its vision of “structured literacy in every K–3 classroom for every child across the nation and around the world.” She and her husband have five children, four of whom have dyslexia.  They all applied and were accepted at test-optional schools.

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An Empty Seat at the Table

Blog Type:  College Prep Date Posted:  Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Submitted by Rick Lavoie, Author, Lecturer, Consultant

Preparing Your Child (and You) for Transition to College

For 30 years, I served as an administrator of residential schools for Special Needs students. One of my responsibilities was designing the Autumn Arrival Day…the day that parents dropped their kids off at school.

I shudder to think of the advice and directions that I gave to my colleagues as we prepared for the “big day”:

Get the parents back on-the-road as soon as possible after they arrive. Don’t let them linger. Don’t feed them. Don’t let them unpack. In and out. We need to make the separation quickly…so we can focus on the kids.

I thought that I was right. I knew I was. But I could not have been more wrong.

When did I recognize the error or my ways? The day my wife and I dropped our first born off at college.

For the first time, I realized the tremendous impact that residential programs have on the family. As I watched our son enter his college dorm among hundreds of strangers, I realized that our family was about to make a significant, life-changing transformation.  There would be an empty seat at the table. I wasn’t ready…and I could only hope that he was.

After that life altering experience, I totally redesigned our Arrival Days and created a welcoming, family-friendly environment that featured meals, seminars, and social events. If you are reading this, and you sent your child to my school early in my career…sorry!

Below are some Do’s and Don’ts as you prepare for this transition.

  •  DO anticipate a challenging summer. 

The parents’ goals for this pre-departure summer are diametrically opposed to the child’s. Mom and Dad want a final summer of family activities, togetherness, and group hugs. The kid’s goal is to have an amazing last summer with his buddies.

The result?  Conflict

The solution? Compromise

  •  DO anticipate moodiness.

As the student recognizes the finality and inevitability of the transition, she may become anxious and troubled.  This may manifest itself in refusal to pack, fill out forms, etc.

The result? Dawdling, unresponsiveness, oppositional behavior.

The solution? Kids need love most when they deserve it least.

  •  DO make, maintain, and keep a schedule.

With the child, make a list of all the chores and activities that need to be done (shopping, packing, summer reading assignments) and create a calendar together.  In this way, the schedule (not mom or dad) can do the nagging.

The problem?  Overwhelmed

The solution? Organization and structure

  •  DO conduct some crash courses.

Hold lessons in basic laundry, cooking, ironing, and finances in order to prepare her for independence.

The problem? Lack of basic skills

The solution? Knowledge

  •  DO embrace your new role as his “coach”.

Remember: a coach never goes on the field or kicks the field goal or gets up at bat. A good coach teaches the fundamentals and then stays on the sidelines offering guidance, advice, comfort, and encouragement.

The reality? He is “on his own”.

The solution? Attitude adjustment (yours and his!)

  •  DON’T burden her with your sadness.

Let her know that she will be greatly missed, but don’t make her feel guilty by sharing your grief over this transition.

The problem? Parental grief results in increased homesickness.

The solution? Call your best friend and cry with her!

  •  DON’T make a “bail out” deal.

By saying, “If you don’t like the school by October first, we can talk about you coming home...”, the child will have no reason to commit to “making it work”.

The problem? Anxiety

The solution? Encouragement

  •  DO encourage him to discuss his concerns and anxieties with older siblings or cousins.

They can offer advice and reassurance because of their recent college experiences.

The problem?  The child needs assurance.

The solution? Your tales of your 1980’s college days, Tom Petty concerts, and Pac Man tournaments won’t work.

A Final Word

The “empty nest” has positive and negative aspects. A wise person once counseled that the parent should find a constructive use of the “kid time” that is now “free time”. Invest that time in yourself by resurrecting some old dreams.

"It is not through care giving that a woman looks for replenishment of purpose in the second half of her life. It is through cultivating talents left half-finished, permitting ambitions once shelved…becoming an aggressor in the service of her own convictions rather than a passive/aggressive party to someone else’s." Anonymous

Sound advice!

Learn more about Rick Lavoie's work through his website.

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Accessing Learning Disability Services in College

Blog Type:  College Prep Date Posted:  Friday, December 15, 2017

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By Grace Daley

When you make the transition from high school to college, many parts of life will change. Maybe you’ll go to school in a new county, province, state, or country. Certainly, your schedule will be different than anything you've experienced. You’ll make new friends. Your teachers will be called “Professor.” You’ll likely have more homework.

Despite these changes, you, the student, will still be you. If you had a hard time waking up in high school, the same will be true in college. If you loved to read before bed, you will want to do the same as a freshman at university. And if you have a language-based learning disability (LBLD) and academic accommodations helped you in high school, they will certainly help you in college as your disability will remain with you. The difference is, in college, your disability becomes solely your responsibility.

Accommodations Offered at the College Level

You should ask yourself: What accommodations are available and how do I access them? All schools have slightly different accommodations; those available for students with LBLD often include the following:

  • Extended time on exams
  • A distraction-reduced environment for exams
  • A notetaker
  • Permission to audio-record lectures
  • Texts in audio format
  • Executive functioning coaching

All colleges have slightly different processes for requesting accommodations, but they all require students to provide documentation of their disability. As you’re thinking about beginning your college career, there are some proactive steps you can take to make sure you receive the help you need as soon as you start class.

Have updated documentation. The disability services office at a college or university must base its determination of accommodations on recent documentation of a significant need from a licensed professional. Many colleges won’t accept an IEP or 504 plan alone as documentation of a disability. Neuropsychological or psycho educational testing within three years is acceptable, but testing in a student's senior year of high school is best. Check with the colleges or universities you are applying to about their preference.

Familiarize yourself with your school’s process. The college or university's disability website is a great place to start. Send them an email or give them a call if you’re still unsure of the steps. Ask how soon you can begin receiving accommodations once you start.

Know what has worked in the past. Maybe using flashcards really helped you learn new vocabulary terms. Or perhaps it helped to make margin notes on your readings, tests, and quizzes in order to process the information. You have been given a whole toolkit of strategies that have helped you get the most out of your education. The ability to apply these strategies and advocate for help acquiring similar accommodations can make this challenging transition smoother.

Meet the people who can help you. When you arrive on campus for accepted students’ day or orientation, visit the disability services office. This can be a scary step for some, and sometimes it is easier if you go with your parents or a friend. Just remember, this office exists to support your learning needs and they want to help. Lots of aspects of your life will change in college, but you will be the constant. Know your strengths and weaknesses. Use strategies that you’ve learned and don’t be afraid to advocate for yourself. Grace Daley is the Student Services Coordinator at Boston University's Office of Disability Services.

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Tags:  Accommodations college accommodations language-based learning disability self-advocacy

Writing the College Essay

Blog Type:  College Prep Date Posted:  Tuesday, June 20, 2017 Byline:  By Suzanne Crossman

Read more posts about Navigating the College Admissions Process for Students with Learning Disabilities

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"Summer is a great time for students to begin the essay-writing process, when they aren't juggling academics, extracurriculars, and college applications."

Writing the college essay is a demanding and often overwhelming task for students. Summer is a great time for students to begin the essay-writing process, when they aren't juggling academics, extracurriculars, and college applications. Parents can help guide students through this process by providing some direct instruction.

What is the purpose of the essay?

  • Give students a chance to share their story
  • Allow colleges to get to know a student beyond the numbers of SATs and GPA

If the student has a learning disability should they write about it?

Students are not required to disclose their learning disability in their college application. However, for many students their learning disability is a significant part of their story. If students want to write about their educational journey, support them in this process. Encourage students to focus on what they have learned about themselves and the tools they have gained to help them succeed in the future. Facing and persevering with a learning disability demonstrates a level of resilience that colleges want to see.

What are the parameters of the essay?

The Common Application essay is the most widely used by students. This essay must be at least 350 words but no more than 650. Be sure to look at the Common Application essay prompts. In 2017, an "essay of your choice" has been added so there is flexibility on what a student can write.

How can I help my student get started?

A great activity will to be read some sample essays and critique them.

    • Discuss what works and what does not work.
    • How did the writer introduce the essay?
    • What anecdotes were used?
    • How did the anecdote connect to the theme of the essay?
    • How did the writer show versus tell?
    • What did you learn about the writer?

The following websites offer a variety of sample essays. Each site includes critiques from admissions professionals. Select a few of these to review prior to writing.

Some general suggestions for writing the essay

    • Think about the story you want to share with colleges. You can’t share your entire life story, so narrow your focus.
    • Find an opening that works well.  
    • Include one detailed personal anecdote and connect that to your larger theme.  
    • Be authentic, be honest, be don’t have to be perfect!
    • Unlike a formal academic essay, this is one of those times that you can have more flexibility with the structure.
    • Unlike a research paper, you can use “I.”  This is a personal essay.
    • Plan to write at least four drafts of the essay.
    • While length will be important, don’t focus too much on that during the draft phase. Get your ideas down. It is easier to shorten a long essay than to expand a short one!
    • Proofread, proofread, proofread!
    • Once you have proofread your essay, put it aside for a few weeks and then come back to it with fresh eyes. You will see changes you want to make that don’t appear when you look at it every day.
    • This should NOT be a narrative of your résumé. You will have other places to share that information. 

The Process

Step 1: Review the prompts

  • Think about them. Make sure you understand what they are asking. Talk about them.  

Step 2:  Do some free-writing

  • Try writing on several of the prompts and journal your ideas. See what comes to mind. Think about what topics you'd like to write about.

Step 3:  Select the prompt and outline your ideas.   

  • Decide what your theme will be.
  • Think about one specific anecdote/story you can use to highlight your theme.

Step 4: Write a first draft

Step 5: First proof

  • Focus on structure
    • Does your essay respond to the prompt?
    • Is there a clear theme that you communicate?
    • Do you have a strong introduction and conclusion?
    • Do you have appropriate transitions?
    • Do your paragraphs support your theme?
    • Do you have examples?
    • Did you show and not tell?
    • Is the tone appropriate to the setting?

Step 6: Second draft/proof

  • Focus on paragraphs
    • Is there any repetition or extraneous details that need to be eliminated?
    • Are your sentences strong and specific?
    • Do you include detail?

Step 7 Third draft/proof

  • Focus on sentences
    • Is the word choice appropriate?
    • Is the language strong?
    • Do you use a variety of sentences?
    • Are the sentences complete?

Step 8: Final Draft and Proof

  • Focus on grammar, spelling and punctuation
    • Double check word count (no more than 650!)
    • Double check spelling. DO NOT rely solely on spell check
    • Read the essay backwards to check sentence structure


​About the Author:

Suzanne Crossman

​ Suzanne Crossman is head of the Guidance Department at Landmark School.

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Tags:  college admissions college essay education learning disability

Making the Most of Your Summer

Blog Type:  College Prep Date Posted:  Tuesday, May 16, 2017 Byline:  By Kerri Coen

Read more posts about Navigating the College Admissions Process for Students with Learning Disabilities. 

girl and mom working

Tips for Rising Seniors & Their Parents

Rising seniors will be busy this fall exploring many different post-secondary options. Students and parents can work together over the summer to prepare for this process—and make it less stressful once school starts. Take a look at these tips that will give your student a jump-start on post-graduation planning.

"Post-secondary education and transition should be a conversation, but not the only conversation!"


Set aside time to talk:

  • Make a plan to talk more in depth about the post-secondary planning process each week to make sure everyone is on the same page. Try to avoid discussing the topic up on a daily basis. Post-secondary education and transition should be a conversation, but not the only conversation!
  • Talk openly about your student’s interests, wants, and needs after high school. 

Set parameters that will help narrow the search:

  • ​​​​Is there a distance that the student and family are comfortable with?
  • Does the student prefer an urban, suburban, or rural environment?
  • How will school be financed? Does this influence the options?

Visit a variety of schools (size, geography):

  • Together, come up with a list of questions that are important for the student.
  • Make sure to visit the office of disability services. Most likely, this will not be a stop on the official tour. Students should arrange to visit or set up a separate meeting with the office.

Encourage your student to work on a draft of a personal essay if they have not yet started one:

  • Look at the Common Application prompts and see what one seems to fit. Try to return to school with a draft done so that you can begin the editing process.

Decide if ACT or SAT prep is right for the summer:

  • Are you applying to mostly test-optional schools?
  • Will test prep get in the way of other important opportunities?
  • Khan Academy is a great online resource that you can use for test prep on your own time.

Think about scheduling cognitive and achievement testing:

  • This needs to be done within three years of post-secondary enrollment in order for students to get accommodations in higher education.

Students should reach out to non-school personnel to ask for letters of recommendations. 

  • Summer Program teacher or a former supervisor are options. The letters will be easier to get now as opposed to waiting until the fall.

Make sure to have a summer activity:

  • Whether it's taking an art class, playing a sport, working, or traveling, students should spend some of their time in an activity that allows them to gain more independence and real-world experience.

Support your students through the process, but let them take the driver's seat.  This is great practice for the transition from high school to post-secondary education.

The world of college admissions

Looking to make your application stand out in a creative way? Check out Zeemee. Students can create their own personal profiles with pictures, videos, and bios. Some colleges will allow students to turn in their profiles with their applications.  


Check out Raise Me: Students can earn micro-scholarships to certain schools based on their everyday activities. These are optional components to applying to schools and are not for everyone.  If students want to pursue these options it will be up to them to manage them. For more resources, please check out Landmark School’s Office of Guidance and Transition’s page on the Landmark website.


About the Author:

kerri coen

Kerri Coen is a guidance counselor at Landmark High School.

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Tags:  college admissions college advice college readiness education transition to college

Important Things to Do Before Going to College

Blog Type:  College Prep Date Posted:  Friday, July 20, 2018

Read more posts about Navigating the College Admissions Process for Students with Learning Disabilities

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Now that you've decided what college you will attend, there are several things you need to do and consider to ensure a smooth transition process.

Learning Disability Support

  • Make sure the Disability Services Office has your current testing and all paperwork is completed.
  • Contact support services faculty and introduce yourself.

Sign Up for Classes

  • Think about taking a reduced course load, at least for the first semester.
  • Balance your course load. Be aware of the amount of reading and writing that will be required.

Think About Money

  • You will need access to cash at school. Make a plan. Is there a local ATM you can use? Will you set up an account at a local bank?
  • Discuss a budget and spending plan with your family.
  • Discuss financial responsibility with family and agree on who will pay for which expenses. (Who pays for weekend entertainment? Who pays for books? Who pays for gas?)

Medical Needs

  • Will you need regular medications at school? Develop a plan of how you will renew and fill any prescriptions.
  • Develop a plan to make sure you will remember to take your medications. Practice the plan over the summer.
  • Will you need medical specialists while at school? Talk to the school Health Center to make sure they have connections to local specialist that you will need.

Counseling Support

  • Will you need counseling support?
  • Discuss this with your current counselor and ask for their help in locating a local counselor.
  • Talk with the school about the counseling services on campus.


  • Decide which technology you will use and how you will use it.
  • Practice using any new technology.
  • Think about how you will organize your technology and documents.

Set Up a Reference Notebook

Collect key reference and "How To" sheets and templates and organize into a Reference Notebook. This can include:

  • How to write a note card
  • Steps to a research paper
  • Format of a thesis
  • Essay templates
  • Study guide sheets
  • Graphic organizers

Update Your Contacts

  • Make sure you have contact information for important people at home. This can include grandparents, former teachers, employers, and others.
  • Make sure the Guidance Office is on your contact list.
  • A hand-written thank you note still makes an impression. Purchase a pack of notes and stationery and use them often!

Don’t Forget

  • Make a list of key people.
  • Develop a list of important dates, such as parents, grandparents, and sibling birthdays, and get in the habit of sending a card and making a call on those days!
  • Life will get busy. Schedule a weekly time when you and your parents will talk.

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Tips to Help You Make Your Final College Decision

Blog Type:  College Prep Date Posted:  Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Read more posts about Navigating the College Admissions Process for Students with Learning Disabilities

college decision making lists

You've been accepted to several schools. The next step is deciding which to attend. Use these tips and suggestions to help you make the final decision. Download this worksheet to keep track of the main features of the schools you are considering.

Compare Support Programs

Download the College Comparison worksheet.
  • Make a list of the supports and accommodations that are essential for your success. Decide which school provides you with the best set of services.
  • Contact the support faculty at your top two or three schools. Evaluate your ability to develop a positive working relationship with the support staff.
  • Talk to students at the schools who currently access the support.

Compare Financial Aid Packages

  • Examine the award packages that you were given from each school.
  • Talk to your parents to discuss which is the best package for your family.

Tap into Alumni

  • Contact alumni you know who have attended schools on your list and ask about their transition.
  • If you need help contacting alumni, ask your Guidance Office to facilitate this process for you.

Attend Accepted Student Days

  • Select your top two or three school and attend accepted students events.
  • Visit classes and talk with students.
  • Try to explore the school “off the beaten path.”
  • Pay attention to the life of the campus…read posters and announcements, go to sporting events, visit on a weekend to get a sense of campus life.
  • Stay overnight and visit classes if at all possible.

Examine Major and Requirements

  • Spend some time getting a detailed look at the requirements for your intended major.
  • Is there a need to seek a foreign language waiver or substitution? Begin that discussion now. (This may not be possible for all majors so find that out prior to enrolling!)
  • Compare courses and opportunities for internships.
  • Compare career placement statistics.

Consider Family and Extra-Curricular Options

  • Think about how frequently you will be able to travel home.
  • Compare the ease of travel to each of the various campus (how close to airports, train stations, etc.).
  • Compare the extra-curricular opportunities at each school.

Seek Input from Teachers

  • While teachers and parents can’t make the decision for you, it is wise to sit with them to seek their opinion.
  • Your academic advisers, guidance counselor, and other teachers can give you some good points to consider as you evaluate your options.

Trust Your Gut

  • If you visit a school and “something” does not feel right…trust that instinct.

Make a Pro/Con List

  • It helps to put your thoughts in writing.
  • Your guidance counselor will help you with this process as well.

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Questions to Ask Students Who Access College Support Services

Blog Type:  College Prep Date Posted:  Friday, July 13, 2018

Read more posts about Navigating the College Admissions Process for Students with Learning Disabilities

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Many colleges offer students with learning disabilities accommodations and services through the Disability Services Office. When you visit colleges, it's important to meet with a representative from the office. It's also very helpful to talk to students who receive services from the office. Ask the Disability Services Office if you can meet with one of these students, or make conversation with a student who's in the office during your visit.

Bring this list of questions to the college visit.

  • Can you compare the types of support you received in high school to the services you have now?
  • Is the disability office responsive to your needs?
  • How supportive and open have professors been to your requests for accommodations?
  • Have you faced any challenges in securing the accommodations?
  • Have you used tutorial support? How effective has it been?
  • What advice would you give to new freshmen starting college?

Learn more about the range of post-secondary options.

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Tags:  college accommodations college advice college interview learning disabilities student services

The College Visit: Questions to Ask the Disability Support Services Office

Blog Type:  College Prep Date Posted:  Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Read more posts about Navigating the College Admissions Process for Students with Learning Disabilities

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Most colleges have a support service office to help students with learning disabilities access the resources they need to succeed. Students with learning disabilities should make an appointment to meet with a representative from the support service office during their college visits.

Questions to Ask When Meeting with the Support Services Office

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Download our College Support Services Comparison form.
  • How many professionals are providing services for students with disabilities? What is their background and experience?
  • How many students with disabilities do you serve?
  • Do you have a specific program for students with learning disabilities? Is there a unique application process for the program?
  • If there is a program, please describe the types of support that are built into the program.
  • Is there a fee for the program?
  • Would you please comment on the following accommodations and talk about the process for securing each? Select those that are appropriate for you or your child.Priority registration
    • Reduced course load
    • Extended time on tests
    • Assistive technology
    • Foreign language waiver or substitution
    • Note takers
  • Is tutoring available? How is it scheduled? Is tutoring one-on-one or small group? Who conducts tutorials (peers, professionals, learning disabilities specialist)? How often can a student see a tutor?
  • What is the school retention rate for students with learning disabilities?

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Academic Support Services at the College Level for Students with Learning Disabilities

Blog Type:  College Prep Date Posted:  Friday, June 29, 2018

Read more posts about Navigating the College Admissions Process for Students with Learning Disabilities

college-services student teacher

Most colleges have a support service office to help students with learning disabilities access the resources they need to succeed. The services are outlined below.

Level of Support


Basic Accommodations and Services

  • Provides accommodations as required under ADA and Section 504.
  • Students must disclose and provide documentation.
  • Accommodations may include:
    • Extended time on tests
    • Note takers
    • Priority registration
    • Assistive technology
    • Reduced course load
  • Access to writing center provided for all students.

Coordinated Services

  • Provides all accommodations as required by law.
  • Students must disclose and provide documentation.
  • Specialized instruction in study skills and organizational skills may be available.
  • Might offer some content tutorial support with a upperclassman or graduate student.
  • Often have a learning center with professional with specific experience teaching students with LD.

Intensive Support Services and Support Programs

  • Students must apply to specific support program as well as to the college (coordinated admissions).
  • Specific support sessions are built into the student’s schedule.
  • May have an summer program to facilitate the transition to college.
  • Students pay tuition for classes and for participate in the program.
  • Program has specific staff specializing in LBLD.

Check out Landmark School’s Transition and Guidance page to learn more about the transition to college and other post-secondary options.

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Tags:  college college accommodations college admissions college advice college essay learning disabilities learning disability transition to college


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