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Articles / Applying to College / College Advice for Wheelchair User With Honors Classes but No AP's

College Advice for Wheelchair User With Honors Classes but No AP's

Sally Rubenstone
Written by Sally Rubenstone | Nov. 8, 2012

Question: Due to other circumstances, I'm not currently taking any APs this year in 11th grade (but all our courses are honors). I know I blew my chances at some really good schools, but I'm extremely dedicated and a hard worker as I attain a 3.9 GPA and I have participated in numerous extracurriculars and opportunities. Have I ruined my chances of attending a prestigious or Ivy League college when I apply next year?

Also, I'm in a wheelchair, do you know any colleges that have accessible enough campuses for those who are disabled, specifically in Pennsylvania?

The most selective colleges do look for students who have challenged themselves academically, but if you are in all honors courses now, you haven't "blown your chances" at any college just yet. However, you might want to sign up for one or more AP classes in your strongest subject(s) as a senior next fall.

Colleges also look for students who have challenged themselves in other ways, and navigating high school life from a wheel chair certainly qualifies. While the Ivies and other “elite" colleges won't hold you to a lower academic standard because of your disability, admission officials will certainly be interested in the determination you have shown by being successful in your schoolwork and extracurricular endeavors and for the “diversity" that you will bring to campus.

So my advice would be to take the most rigorous course load you can handle next year, and try to include some Advanced Placement options on the roster. Note, too, that test scores can play a big role in elite-college admission. They tend to count more than most admission officials will tell you that they do.

Regarding college suggestions: I assume you want Pennsylvania because it is close to home and perhaps close to your medical team. However, you might also want to consider a college in a snow-free climate. Although many colleges are good about keeping campus paths and roadways clear right after winter storms, there are definitely advantages to being in a region where it's warm year-round (whether you're in a wheelchair or not! ;-))

Here is a Web site that you can check out that offers a list of “Disability Friendly" colleges as well as tips for students who are navigating the college process from a wheelchair: http://www.disabilityfriendlycolleges.com/

If you're focusing your search on the Keystone State, Edinboro University is a medium-size public college in Northwest PA that gets very high marks for accessibility. It's not as selective as the schools you are aspiring to but perhaps worth a close look for its accessible environment (though the location gets low marks from me! It's certainly not a snow-free climate!)

You'll find another list of disability-friendly colleges here: http://www.newmobility.com/articleView.cfm?id=122 along with more advice for your college search.

The University of Florida ranks high on this list, and you won't find any snow down there! (It is, however, a very large university, and you may be interested in a smaller school.)

When queried about options for mobility-impaired students several years ago, members of the National Association for College Admission Counseling compiled this list below. (Edinboro was mentioned several times; Carnegie Mellon University is on this list and is in PA, too. It would fit your desire for a very selective institution. Neighboring U. of Pittsburgh made the list, as well. U. of Delaware is ALMOST in PA and has a good honors program)


Edinboro University of PA and Hofstra University (Long Island) were the two schools that were suggested repeatedly

Others include:

Adrian College (MI)

University of Alabama

Ball State

UC Berkeley (specific housing dedicated to mobility & access issues)


Carnegie Mellon


U of Delaware



Univ. of FL

Fordham (Rose Hill and Lincoln Center campuses)

George Washington

Guilford College

Holy Cross

U of Houston

University of Illinois-Urbana-Champaign

Kent State

Lynn University

Marist College

University of Maryland

U of Miami

Occidental College


U of Oregon

Univ. of Pittsburgh

Radford U

College of St Rose

St. Andrews (NC)

Southern Connecticut State

Southern Illinois U- Carbondale

Southwest Missouri State U

SUNY Albany

Univ of the South


Wake Forest

Western Connecticut State

Willamette U.

Wright State of Ohio

But from my own experience, I must warn you that you need to take these NACAC recommendations with a block of salt! Be sure to research listed colleges on your own and also be open to places that aren't mentioned. (The University of AZ, for instance, has landed on other wheelchair-accessible, disability-friendly lists I've seen, but somehow isn't included on this one.)

You can also check out scholarships for wheelchair users here:


(I don't have any personal experience with these scholarships so I can't provide any guidance beyond offering the link.)

Finally, keep in mind that starting college is challenging for everyone, but you will also face special challenges that the typical freshman does not. You are wise, as a junior, to look down the road to your senior year and to the college process ahead. With good grades and extracurriculars you will have many options. While the Ivy and other elite colleges can be alluring, make sure that your focus is on the place that is the best fit for you.

Best wishes on your continued success.

(posted 11/8/2012)

Written by

Sally Rubenstone

Sally Rubenstone

Sally Rubenstone knows the competitive and often convoluted college admission process inside out: From the first time the topic of college comes up at the dinner table until the last duffel bag is unloaded on a dorm room floor. She is the co-author of Panicked Parents' Guide to College Admissions; The Transfer Student's Guide to Changing Colleges and The International Student's Guide to Going to College in America. Sally has appeared on NBC's Today program and has been quoted in countless publications, including The New York Times, The Washington Post, USA Weekend, USA Today, U.S. News & World Report, Newsweek, People and Seventeen. Sally has viewed the admissions world from many angles: As a Smith College admission counselor for 15 years, an independent college counselor serving students from a wide range of backgrounds and the author of College Confidential's "Ask the Dean" column. She also taught language arts, social studies, study skills and test preparation in 10 schools, including American international schools in London, Paris, Geneva, Athens and Tel Aviv. As senior advisor to College Confidential since 2002, Sally has helped hundreds of students and parents navigate the college admissions maze. In 2008, she co-founded College Karma, a private college consulting firm, with her College Confidential colleague Dave Berry, and she continues to serve as a College Confidential advisor. Sally and her husband, Chris Petrides, became first-time parents in 1997 at the ripe-old age of 45. So Sally was nearly an official senior citizen when her son Jack began the college selection process, and when she was finally able to practice what she had preached for more than three decades.

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