Lacey Avery, 17, is a high-school junior at a special school for dyslexia in Dallas. John Bell, 18, is a senior in a local high school in Honolulu. They're both college bound. For students like Lacey and John, leaving K-12 and moving on to bigger and better things it's exciting and a little bit scary. For their parents, like most parents, though, it's the scariest. There are so many daunting questions. "Where will he /she get into college?" "How does College Admissions view students with a learning difference?" "Where do we even start with the college search process?" It's also the end of a passage and the beginning of a new one. Change and uncertainty are often uncomfortable.

During the college-search, the emphasis is on the PROCESS, not on the actual placement results (anyone can grab the K&W Guide to Colleges for the Learning Disabled or Peterson's: Colleges with Programs for Students with Learning Disabilities and gather information). I do, however, list colleges and pointers for the College Search process. Paramount, though, is reading the dozen or so parent interviews, identifying with their strategies, disputing or agreeing with them, and then formulating -- with your son/daughter --your own plan of action.

In interviews with 25 parents, I wanted to see how the college-search process affects family members. Is the student willingly part of the process or does he/she leave it up to the parent to do the research, or does he/she do it independently with a college counselor? And, do previous sibling placements influence college choices. I wanted to see if specific criteria were in place, if geographic location was an issue, if a strong LD program is paramount and if exemption from specific courses even surfaces.

The results lead me to conclude that attitudes are dependent on the confidence or security level of the student and/or parent. Maturity and the severity of the learning disability are secondary. From talking with parents, the interviews fell into two groups: Strategic Planners and Sure Footed.

Strategic Planners
1 those with definitive criteria
2 those targeting colleges that have no math or foreign-language requirement

Here, parents and 12th graders formulate specific plans for the college search and try to remain focused throughout the daunting task. I say daunting because the amount of data out there -- mainly college guides -- can be overwhelming. And now, with college web sites producing more information, I strongly suggest setting up criteria early in the process. In this way, the search is more manageable.

1 geographically close and culturally like environments
2 LD programs with a track record

Parents and 12th graders, here, look for a comfort zone, a security blanket. They feel being close to family or having an in-place learning support system are more important than experiencing a new culture, new surroundings, new beaches or new mountains. Being sure-footed, they feel, is nice 'n comfortable.

The following interviews should show you how families across America handle this search process and all its subjectivity. While LD college reference books list names and statistics, the process of your search, the elimination of certain criteria and the strategies you decide to include, will result in an even richer college placement for your student.

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