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6 Tips for Applying to College-Based Transition Programs

Points to consider when researching and applying to post-secondary college options designed for students with diverse learning needs.

Graduating from high school is an exciting moment in a young person's life, and equally exciting for their parents. Now it's time to figure out what the next chapter will look like. Here are a few points parents might want to consider when their student is researching and applying to post-secondary transition programs.

1. Do your homework. 

No one knows your student more than you. As a family, discuss what your student wants and support they'll need. Then, consider what kind of program model would be best. Comparing their needs with a specific model will narrow the field of options.

2. Understand what is required from each program and why.

Each program may have different application requirements. For example, all programs require letters of recommendation; however, most programs require applicants to complete the recommendations on a specific form. This is because the program's admissions team may need to ask questions that are relevant to their program model. That way, they can better understand the areas in which an applicant may struggle, or if the applicant would benefit from their particular program model.

Letters written by educators, guidance counselors, and employment supervisors are most helpful in this regard. Letters from lifelong family friends or family members are not as helpful; although they're complimentary, they don't provide the kind of information program staff need to make such an important decision regarding your student.

3. Prepare to interview the interviewer.

Interviews are thought to be for the benefit of the interviewer—to help them decide if a candidate is a match. Applicants should also interview the program to help them decide if the program is right for them. Help your student make a list of questions they have about the program. Review the program's website to get ideas.

4. Begin the application process early.

Most post-secondary transition programs require specific evaluations to determine whether the program can meet your student's educational and clinical needs.

Although the evaluations are not too time consuming, writing the reports could be.

Typical tests required include:

  • Academic Achievement Test. This type of test provides information about where your student falls academically for reading comprehension, rate and fluency, or math calculation, for example. These are all skills they'll need, in varying degrees, depending on the program.
  • Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale (WAIS). This is an IQ test designed to measure cognitive ability in older adolescents and adults.
  • Vineland Adaptive Behavior Rating Scale (VABS). This assessment determines if your student has the independent living skills necessary to function in the post-secondary structure the program provides.

With many tests and evaluations, the overall scores are like examining the cover of a book. They're not enough. You have to read the entire book and narrative to understand the full picture of one’s true abilities.

Programs want to make sure that each candidate has the emotional maturity to live on a college campus with minimal supervision. They're seeking students who are motivated and are likely to meet expectations; for example, attending all of their classes and internships, following university rules, and being a positive and contributing member of the community.

It's equally important that students can manage personal hygiene, free time, laundry, and self-administering their medication. Much of this kind of information is reflected within the narrative portions of the evaluations and letters of recommendation.

5. Make sure everyone is on board.

Although you may have identified colleges for your student, it's important to their success that they are also in agreement. As parents, we recognize when our children are apprehensive, particularly when it involves a big transition. Although they may be nervous about the next chapter in their lives, it's important that they are motivated to take this next step.

6. Honesty is the best policy.

It's the admissions team's job to determine whether their program model can meet the needs of the applicant. They make that decision by examining some of the requirements we've highlighted.

It's in the best interest of the student for parents (and the student) to be open and honest throughout the application and interview process. If there's a past or current issue, or reason the parent may question their student's potential for success in the program, they should discuss it with the program's admissions team.

Despite all of required pieces of an application packet, the most important information is oftentimes what is not shared with the admissions team. For example, behavior needs or recent events—which were not disclosed during the admission process—that could dramatically impact your student's success. 

Failing to provide this information—and the behavior that the student may exhibit after they're enrolled—may be grounds for dismissal. Even if an applicant has had a recent struggle or event, it doesn't necessarily mean that they won't qualify for acceptance into the program. However, it does mean that the program must be made aware so they can put measures into place to ensure your student's success.

Learn More

The Threshold Program is a college-based post-secondary transition program located in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The program helps young adults with diverse learning needs transition into the world of work and independent living.