October 19, 2023


The K&W Guide to Colleges for Students with Learning Differences, 16th Edition. By Marybeth Kravets and Imy F. Wax. Princeton Review/Penguin Random House. $35.99.

     Differences. They are differences, not limitations or difficulties or, heaven forbid, problems. Language matters, and it matters a lot to Marybeth Kravets and Imy F. Wax in the latest iteration of The K&W Guide to Colleges for Students with Learning Differences. The words “learning differences” appear in the title, the rather awkward subtitle (“350+ Schools with Programs or Services for Students with ADHD, ASD, or Learning Differences”), and on the back cover. This thoroughly establishes the bona fides of the authors.

     Words also mislead. There are many, many students with genuine “learning differences” that are not targeted in these carefully assembled 750+ pages: students who read super-quickly, get through semester-length courses in half a semester, write code and build apps in their non-school time, start businesses in their early teen years, and so on. The “learning differences” on which this book focuses are limitations, or potential limitations. This is spelled out a lot more carefully within the pages than on the covers: these differences include “learning disability” (yes, that is still a permissible phrase in the right place); “attention deficit hyperactive disorder (ADHD)” (the American Psychiatric Association says the H actually stands for “hyperactivity”); “autism spectrum disorder (ASD)” (the acronym dates to 2013 but is still not in common use); plus “disability” and “conditional admission.” The clear explanations of these terms, as used within The K&W Guide to Colleges for Students with Learning Differences, are welcome, and will be a solid foundation for families trying to negotiate the always-complex realities of higher education with students who require special programs, attention or services.

     A good way to use this book is to start with its explanation of terms (pages 8-10) and then turn to the very well-done “Alphabetical List of Colleges by Level of Support” (pages 748-756). Once families understand what those various levels are, this back-of-the-book list makes it easy to narrow down the possible choices of college based on the type and extent of support that a particular student requires.

     The next place to go, to maximize the benefit of the book, is its list of non-college options for the students at whom this material is directed. Called “Alternative Post-Secondary Options” and appearing on pages 736-743, this is an exceptionally helpful explanation of special programs designed for and around students requiring particular forms of assistance and guidance. The information, provided in compact form, is structured to be highly useful: each program is named, then described in a dozen or fewer lines in an “overview” box, and contact information (address, phone, email address, website) is then given. The value of this section is greater than ever at a time when students and families are increasingly questioning whether traditional college is the best route to take for success in life – especially right after high school. One possible alternative, for example, is Mitchell College Thames Academy, “a holistic college transition program for students…who would benefit from additional preparation to succeed in college.” Another possibility is Path to Independence, “an inclusive, two-year, non-degree certificate program offering a college experience to students with intellectual disabilities.” Still another is Aggie ACHIEVE at Texas A & M University, a program that “aligns coursework, internship opportunities, and extracurricular activities with each student’s academic interests and employment goals.” These arrangements and the others found on the “Alternative Post-Secondary Options” pages are creative solutions to the special problems faced by students who may not be ideally equipped – even with additional support – for the rigors of a traditional college education.

     It is best to turn to the body of the book, the 700+ pages that make up most of it, after digesting the material toward the front and the back. The vast majority of The K&W Guide to Colleges for Students with Learning Differences includes the sort of information in which Princeton Review guides specialize: two-page discussions of specific schools, focusing in this book on each one’s support level and the specific accommodations the school provides – while also offering crucial statistical data on admissions, academics, number of students, and financial realities. The material is very well tailored to the specific purpose of this book – for example, a box on each left-hand page starts with a list labeled “Accommodations,” indicating what is allowed in exams, what support services are provided, what those extra services cost, and much more. The colleges are gathered by state and, within each state, are listed alphabetically, making it easy to choose a particular geographical area if that is important to the student and family. And for every school, the book provides a box called “Requesting Services for Students with Learning Differences” that explains what documentation is required and where it must be sent – a real boon to families looking to simplify the arduous and often confusing task of choosing a good school that will take into account the particular needs of a student whose physical, intellectual, psychological or other characteristics may differ significantly from the norm.

     If there is no single school that is ideal for any student – and there isn’t – then there is certainly no ideal college for any student requiring various forms of special attention and assistance. It is heartening, though, to know that there are many possible schools for students facing challenges beyond those that the majority of the college-bound encounter. The K&W Guide to Colleges for Students with Learning Differences cannot pinpoint a specific ideal school for any student, but what it can do may be even more valuable: it can show that there are numerous schools, and a number of non-traditional alternative programs, that may fit a particular student’s needs, giving families a major boost in searching for viable alternatives.

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