When coaching new college students with learning disabilities, I am often surprised to hear students say "I don't think I can do college" or "My high school didn't prepare me. I don't think I belong here." Students sometimes have an image in their mind of what college students look like - not what they physically look like, but what "real" college students can do, their intellectual ability, whether they struggle or not, etc. Students tell me that if they struggle in college it's because they don't belong in college because 'normal' college students don't struggle. We know this isn't true. So what can parents and educators do about it?
What to Say When You Hear "I Don't Belong in College"
The first concept that I tell struggling students is that everyone struggles. Yes, everyone. They struggle, I struggle and their parents and friends struggle. Struggling is NOT a sign that they don't belong in college. Struggling means that something isn't working, but together we can identify what isn't working. Struggling is not a sign that students should give up.
I also ask students if they know if any of their friends on campus have a disability and often they don't. I find this can be helpful for students to "see themselves" in another student with a disability. I recommend that students also ask if their campus Accessibility Office has support groups or other ways for students with disabilities to connect as certain disabilities can inherently make social connections difficult.
Lastly, I encourage students by telling them no matter what their abilities, strengths or weaknesses in school they are capable of college whether it's full-time, part-time or one class at a time. Demystify the idea of what a college student looks like. College students look just like them!