Updated: Apr 3
More and more students are entering college with symptoms of anxiety. If your son or daughter has an anxiety diagnosis, they are not alone. In fact, recent research shows that "during the 2020-2021 school year approximately 60% of college students met criteria for a mental health diagnosis." Similar to other disabilities, if your student received accommodations in high school that addressed their anxiety allowing them to be successful, your student may want to consider requesting accommodations in college too. Keep reading to learn about the accommodations request process and identify typical college accommodations for students with anxiety.
Differences Between High School and College
Students with anxiety in high school may utilize a 504 or IEP to receive support. The 504 or IEP is the "guiding document" which lists supports your student has been given by their high school team. In college, the 504 / IEP is not the guiding document. Instead, your student will receive an accommodation letter. This letter states that your student has registered with their campus Disability Support Office and has been found eligible to receive support, also known as accommodations. The accommodations your student will receive are listed on the accommodation letter.
Another difference between high school and college is that it is your student's responsibility to request this accommodation letter and, once it is received, to share it with professors.
It is important to note that accommodations for anxiety your student received in high school will not necessarily be the same accommodations they receive in college. You can submit documentation that shows accommodations your student received in high school (see section below), but colleges and universities have discretion to determine 'reasonable accommodations' once your student becomes a student on their campus.
How to Request Accommodations in College
If you are a student with a documented learning, physical or mental health disability you are entitled to receive accommodations in college. This process should begin as soon as you accept a college's offer of admission.
First, contact your campus' Office of Disability Support. You will be asked to complete a Registration Form that asks you to share your basic contact information, disability diagnosis, how your disability affects you in academic and social settings and accommodations that have been helpful for you in the past. The next step is to submit documentation and lastly you will have a conversation with a member of the Disability Office staff.
Typical College Accommodations For Anxiety
In my experience as an educator and executive functioning coach that has supported college students for over 20 years, these are common scenarios where students with anxiety may need support in college:
Needing a quiet space to decompress after class
Feeling overwhelmed by the demands of 5 courses per semester
Feeling overwhelmed when taking a test in a classroom of their peers
Missing parts of a class lecture due to anxiety about an upcoming assignment or general feelings of anxiety
If your student experiences any of these symptoms, here are 5 typical accommodations that can be helpful in college:
1. Single Dorm Room
Students that need space to decompress when feeling anxious or that need a quiet environment due to sensory issues can request a single dorm room. This can be called a "single room for medical reasons." Keep in mind that a single room can make it easier for your student to isolate and not socialize, but many students with anxiety would find the issues of navigating a roommate to be anxiety producing as well. Weigh the options for your student and decide if requesting a single room due to alleviate anxiety would be beneficial.
2. Distraction Free Environment for Tests
Sometimes the environment of the classroom coupled with test anxiety can be too much for students with anxiety to handle. Requesting a distraction free testing environment will allow your student to take their exam in an environment outside of the classroom most likely in the Disability Support Office. Again, consider if this is a beneficial option for your student as the professor won't be present in the separate testing location and won't be available to answer clarifying questions you student may have about the exam.
3. Copy of Class Notes
Anxiety can impair students' working memory making it difficult to remember and retain important content given in class. If your student also has fine motor skill difficulty or a learning disability, they may struggle to listen to a lecture while also taking notes. An accommodation of 'copy of class notes' can be helpful in this instance. But remember, it is up to your student to review and study the copy of class notes.
4. Recording Software for Class
Similar to tip #3, students who feel anxious may miss important class material even while participating and attending class. Professors that require active class participation, in-class group work or timed in-class writing assignments can create feelings of stress which impair a student's memory.
Assistive technology software such as Sonocent records class lectures and allows students to listen to the recording after class at their own pace. Sonocent is a program that is installed on your student's computer and is not noticeable to others in a classroom as a recording device placed on a desk would be. Some Accessibility Offices purchase a a set number of licenses for assistive technology software programs such as Sonocent and will load the program on your student's computer. This is a first-come-first-serve policy so, if your student would benefit from a free/low cost assistive tech program, be sure to ask your college disability support office.
5. Reduced Course load
If your student often feels overwhelmed by large amounts of assignments you should consider a reduced course load as an accommodation. Most colleges require students to carry a full-time course load of 12 credits in order to live on campus, be eligible for financial aid, etc. Your student with anxiety can apply for a reduced course load through the Accessibility Office. This may allow them to take 9 credits, 3 courses, and still be considered a full-time student.
If you have any questions about these 5 accommodations, feel free to contact us. We are experts in helping students and families navigate the accommodations process in college and are happy to assist you in determining the most appropriate accommodations for your college student.