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Accommodations for Anxiety in College

Updated: Nov 18, 2023


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. This short animated video explains what an accommodation letter is and how to share this important document with professors.


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


We have written many blog articles here and here about the accommodation request process. We've also created this short animated video to help new college students and families understand how to request accommodations. We are experts in helping students and families navigate learning supports 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 can record class lectures and allow students to listen to the recording after class at their own pace. These note taking programs are installed on your student's computer and are not noticeable to others in a classroom or lecture hall. Some Accessibility Offices purchase a a set number of licenses for assistive technology software programs and will load the program on your student's computer on a first-come, first-serve basis. Although some colleges may provide a license to this software, they are not required to train your student on how to use it. If the college Accessibility Office does have a technology specialist on staff, it will be your student's responsibility to schedule appointments and ask questions about their assistive technology.


Good news... Fast Forward College Coaching can fill the technology gaps!

We offer assessment and training on a variety of note taking software and can work with your student 1:1 to help them become comfortable using their note taking program and learn how to use their notes to study for exams. Remember, it's important for students to be trained and practice with their note taking technology BEFORE they arrive in college. For more info about our assistive technology services, click here.


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 (which may be necessary for your student to continue receiving financial aid or scholarships).


 

If you have any questions about these accommodations in college, please contact us. We are experts in helping students and families navigate the accommodations process in college and support new and struggling college students through 1:1 virtual coaching.

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