What is Project STEPP?
Project STEPP is a comprehensive support program that serves college students with documented learning disabilities (LD). The program offers academic, social, and life-skills support to a select number of motivated and committed students who show the potential to succeed in college. Project STEPP provides intensive supports well beyond the services legally required at the university level.
Who can apply to Project STEPP?
Naturally, anyone can submit an application. However, applicants who do not meet the criteria below are not eligible for consideration.
The student must have a documented learning disability and be eligible for services under the category of Specific Learning Disability (LD) through ECU’s Department of Disability Support Services.
The student must be following a college preparatory academic track in high school. Students in the Occupational Course of Study (or other technical preparatory track) are not eligible to apply straight out of high school, although they may be eligible to transfer after completing at least one year at a community college.
Any student who meets these criteria is eligible to apply for Project STEPP. However, many factors are considered in the review process, and submitting an application does not guarantee that a student will be accepted. Please note that Project STEPP does not have an open-door admissions policy.
I have ADHD*. Am I eligible for Project STEPP?
It depends. Project STEPP serves only students with documented learning disabilities who are eligible for services under the category of Specific Learning Disability (LD) through ECU’s Department of Disability Support Services. ADHD does not fall under this category based on the official criteria we use at Project STEPP. Therefore, a student whose only diagnosis is ADHD will not be eligible to apply to the program. However, please keep in mind that some students may be diagnosed with ADHD in addition to a specific learning disability. In such a case, the student would most likely be eligible to apply to Project STEPP.
In most cases, a student who is eligible for Project STEPP will have a diagnosis that uses one of the following terms: Reading Disorder, Dyslexia, Disorder of Written Expression, Dysgraphia, Math Disorder, or Dyscalculia. Some students with a diagnosis of Auditory/Visual Processing Disorder or Nonverbal Learning Disability are also eligible. However, please note that having one of the diagnoses listed here does not automatically guarantee that a student will be eligible for Project STEPP. Furthermore, even students with clear-cut diagnoses of LD may or may not be a good fit with Project STEPP's supports. If you are uncertain whether you are eligible for Project STEPP, please contact us for further information. We will be happy to review a student's evaluation to make an eligibility determination at any time - even before s/he formally applies to the program.
*We most often get this question in regard to students with ADHD. Other disorders that we are commonly asked about include Autism, Asperger's, Anxiety Disorders, Deafness/Hearing Impairment, Cerebral Palsy, and various medical diagnoses. Please note that the same answer applies to all disorders/diagnoses other than Specific Learning Disability.
Does Project STEPP accept out-of-state students?
Yes, Project STEPP welcomes applications from out-of-state students. We do not currently have any restrictions on our ratio of in-state to out-of-state students, so our admission decisions are made on the basis of a student's fit with the program, not their residency.
Thus far, approximately 24% of our accepted students have hailed from out-of-state. Students from Florida, Georgia, Virginia, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Delaware, and the District of Columbia have enrolled in the program.
Am I still eligible to apply to Project STEPP if I have answered “yes” to any of the Campus Safety questions on the application?
Yes. As the form indicates, answering “yes” to any of the Campus Safety questions will not necessarily preclude a student’s admission to Project STEPP or East Carolina University. Project STEPP works with the Admissions Office and the Dean of Students Office to determine what impact, if any, the incident(s) listed will have upon the student’s application. Students applying to Project STEPP are subject to the same Campus Safety Review guidelines and procedures as students applying through the traditional admissions process. It is very important to note that although answering “yes” to the Campus Safety questions may or may not have a negative effect on a student’s application, answering these questions inaccurately or failing to report related incidents will result in the student’s application being denied or withdrawn or dismissal from the university.
Does Project STEPP offer both fall and spring semester admission?
Project STEPP does not offer spring semester admission. All students who are accepted to the program must enter ECU in the fall semester. This schedule enables us to provide a full year of transition support following a student's acceptance. In addition, it ensures that all students in Project STEPP enter ECU along with a full cohort of other first-year students who will be enrolled in several classes together.
Can I enter Project STEPP if I am already a student at ECU?
Students must apply to Project STEPP and participate in the program's transition supports before entering ECU. If you are a student with a learning disability who is currently attending ECU and needs additional support, we recommend contacting the ECU Department for Disability Support Services for guidance.
What are the admissions criteria?
The main criteria that Project STEPP considers as part of the application process include: high school courses and grades, psychological / psychoeducational evaluation, IEP (or 504 Plan), SAT or ACT scores, personal essay, teacher recommendations, and personal interview. We consider each application individually and consider the overall strength of each student’s application within the context of the program’s supports and the demands of a university education. Because some of our students are admitted on a special talents waiver, we do have a bit of flexibility with ECU’s admissions criteria. However, to be a strong candidate, a student will need to meet most of ECU’s traditional criteria.
How competitive is the admissions process?
Project STEPP accepts 10 new students per year. We generally receive significantly more applications than the number of spaces we have available. The Project STEPP Advisory Board considers each application on a case-by-case basis and looks at a number of factors beyond the criteria used in traditional college admissions. Although Project STEPP does accept some students who are not traditionally eligible for admission to East Carolina University, a student’s grades, SAT or ACT scores, and high school curriculum do still carry weight in our deliberations. Students who are invited to participate in the program are typically dedicated and motivated individuals who come fairly close to meeting ECU’s admissions criteria but fall a bit short in one or two areas.
What can I expect the admissions process to be like?
Once we receive all of a student’s application materials, s/he is added to our list of applicants. After the application deadline has passed, our admissions committee completes an initial screening of each student, taking into account all of the application materials. Based on that information, we decide which students will move on to the second phase of the application process, which is an on-campus personal interview. After the on-campus interviews are completed, the committee meets to conduct an in-depth review of the candidates. After this meeting, students may be asked to submit additional information (via mail, email, or phone conversation) or to participate in a second interview. Then, final decisions are made about which students will be invited to participate in the program. Students who are invited will be notified by mail and will be given a deadline to decide whether they want to commit to participating in Project STEPP. Once a student has committed to participate, s/he must then submit an official ECU application through the Admissions Office. This step must be completed before a student can officially be accepted to ECU. Project STEPP also establishes a waiting list of students who are a good match for the program but who are not invited to participate. If an invited student does not commit to participate, a student on the waiting list can then be invited to take his/her place.
When is the best time to apply to Project STEPP?
The application deadline for students planning to attend college directly after high school is May 15th of the student’s junior year of high school. We recommend that students submit all of their application materials during March or early April of their junior year of high school. Following this timeline ensures that the student’s records are as up-to-date as possible and allows enough time to submit any additional materials we may request before the May 15th deadline.
How recent does my psychological evaluation have to be?
Generally, students will need to submit a psychological / psychoeducational evaluation from within the past three years. Click here for a detailed description of the criteria for an acceptable evaluation (from ECU's Department for Disability Support Services).
What if I don’t have a psychological evaluation from within the last three years?
Students whose psychological / psychoeducational evaluations are more than three years old are advised to send in their most recent documentation available. Project STEPP will review the evaluation that is sent; however, students should be aware that final admission decisions generally cannot be made without a current evaluation. If your evaluation is more than three years old, we recommend that you speak with your case manager or school psychologist as soon as possible regarding your options for reevaluation. Please contact Project STEPP if you have any questions about your evaluation.
Who are the best people to ask to write recommendations for me?
This will depend a great deal on your individual experiences. However, here are a few tips and guidelines that can help you decide. First, the two required teacher recommendations must come from high school teachers who have taught you in a core academic class within the past three years and who are very familiar with your academic abilities. Examples of core academic classes include math, science, English, foreign language, social studies, and curriculum assistance. The Advisory Board likes to see a broader range of subject areas in recommendations, so we caution against submitting two recommendations from the same subject area (e.g., both your Biology teacher and your Chemistry teacher). If you have a teacher who has taught you in more than one course or who has worked with you in both a classroom setting and an extracurricular setting, s/he may be able to provide a more in-depth recommendation for you, which may be beneficial. Also, if you would like to ask someone who is not one of your core class teachers to write a recommendation, you are welcome to submit additional recommendations beyond the two that are required.
How long should my application essay be?
There is no length requirement for the essay. Most of the essays we receive are 2-4 pages double-spaced or 1-2 pages single-spaced, but there is no right or wrong length. Focus on the content of the essay, and take as much or as little space as you need to thoroughly address all the prompts listed on the Application Checklist.
I've submitted my application. Now what?
Once you have submitted an application, you can expect to hear back from us at key points in the process, such as when your application is complete and after we decide which students to invite for on-campus interviews. If we have received a partial application, we will attempt to notify you about any missing pieces. However, we can only do this if we have received your completed, legible Student Information Form with your contact information and notification preferences.
Please note that the responsibility to check on application status lies with the student. Contact us if you have not received acknowledgement of your application within approximately 3 weeks after submitting a completed application packet. Please be aware that we are a small office and receive a large volume of mail, email, and calls during application season; your patience is appreciated as we work to process each application and notify students of their application status.
We always make a good-faith effort to contact students, but we cannot be responsible if a student does not take the initiative to check on his/her application status in a timely manner. To minimize this concern, please ensure that both your postal address and email address are clearly written on your application. In addition, ensure that your email account will accept emails with PDF attachments from @ecu.edu email addresses and add the Project STEPP staff's email addresses to your "safe senders" list. Although we directly contact anyone whose email bounces back to us, emails routed to a junk/spam folder generally do not result in a bounceback or notification on our end.
What if I’m not invited to participate in the cohort I applied for?
Students who are not invited to participate in Project STEPP have many other options available to them.
Students who wish to reapply to Project STEPP for the following year’s cohort may do so. Please keep in mind that the reasons for which a student was denied may determine whether reapplication is a viable option for that student. For example, a student whose application was denied because s/he does not have a Learning Disability (as defined by the ECU guidelines) should not reapply unless also submitting an updated psychoeducational evaluation with a different diagnosis. However, a student whose application was denied due to low SAT/ACT scores, grades, and/or lack of appropriate coursework may consider reapplying after successfully completing at least one semester at a community college or other university. All reapplications from eligible students will be considered; however, students who are reapplying are not given any preferential status over first-time applicants and are not guaranteed to be accepted the second time around. Please also note that it is not possible to reapply for the same cohort after having been denied admission; students can only reapply for a later cohort.
Students who are not accepted to Project STEPP may still apply to East Carolina University through the regular admissions process. Being denied by Project STEPP does not necessarily mean that a student is not admissible to the university, as the two admissions processes are separate. In addition, if a student is accepted to ECU through the regular admissions process, s/he may be eligible to receive disability accommodations and support through the Department of Disability Support Services.
Other programs that support students with learning disabilities are available at the college level. We have compiled a list of other college programs that we know of which serve students with disabilities. (Please click here to download this list in PDF format
.) Please note that these are not recommendations, but rather a partial list of alternatives that students who are not accepted to Project STEPP may choose to consider.
What if I'm wait listed by Project STEPP?
In the process of making admissions decisions, Project STEPP sometimes establishes a list of students who are a good match for the program but are not invited to participate. Our "wait list" is actually more of a "wait pool" because we generally do not create a numbered list. If a vacancy arises in the upcoming cohort, Project STEPP re-reviews the applications of all students on the wait list. In addition, the committee also reviews any new applications that were received after the initial round of admissions decisions were made. Students being reconsidered may be asked to submit additional or updated information or even to participate in a second interview before the committee makes a final decision.
Please note that the Project STEPP wait list generally expires on May 1st of the student's intended year of entry to ECU. After that date, it is usually not possible for us to add students to a cohort. If you are wait listed and have not received further notifications from us by May 1st, you can assume either that no vacancies arose in the cohort you applied to or that you were not selected for any vacancies that did arise. You are welcome to reapply for the following year's cohort by the May 15th deadline; if you choose to reapply, please contact us to find out which of your old application materials will roll over to your new application and which will need to be resubmitted.
How much does it cost to participate in Project STEPP?
Students enrolled in Project STEPP pay regular ECU tuition and fees, including fees for housing and meal plans, but there is no additional cost to participate in Project STEPP. The program is endowment-supported and funded through private donations in addition to some temporary grant support. We continue to work to build our endowment in an effort to fund all our operating expenses in the long term. If you are interested in financially supporting Project STEPP, please visit our endowment page to learn more.
Does Project STEPP offer any scholarships?
Not at the moment, although we hope to offer scholarships in the future. Project STEPP students can apply for other scholarships through the Financial Aid office in the same way as students who are not in Project STEPP.
Will other people know that I’m in a special program?
Project STEPP students are regular ECU students in every way. We rarely do anything to single our students out as different (no neon t-shirts saying “I’m in Project STEPP!”), so unless a student discloses this information, a student's peers are unlikely to know. However, certain ECU employees who interact with Project STEPP will be aware of which students are in our program and the fact that these students have documented learning disabilities.
Students in Project STEPP vary significantly in how comfortable they feel discussing their learning disabilities with others. Although many students in the program are quite open and readily self-identify to peers, some others prefer only to share this information as necessary. However, in order to be successful within Project STEPP, a student must be willing and able to talk openly about his/her learning challenges with the faculty, staff, and student employees who support his/her academic success, as well as with the other students in Project STEPP. Students who are not willing to acknowledge their need for additional support and/or take the initiative to fully utilize the program's resources are highly unlikely to experience success within this program.
How does being in Project STEPP affect participation in extracurricular activities?
We strongly encourage our students to participate in the full college experience, including extracurricular activities. East Carolina University has over 300 campus organizations, so there truly is something for everyone. However, we also emphasize to our students that they should not over-commit themselves, especially during their first year. We encourage students to start out slowly by getting involved in a couple of low-key activities their first year. We currently have a policy requiring that students take two full semesters to settle in and adjust before committing to any time-consuming extracurricular activities (e.g., Greek Life, employment over 20 hours/week, leadership positions, club sports, etc.). In addition, Project STEPP students cannot participate in official ECU athletics. This policy exists due to a time conflict between athletic requirements and Project STEPP commitments as well as duplication of services between these two organizations. However, participation in intramural and club sports is allowed.
Will I still graduate in four years?
Probably not, but it is possible. The way Project STEPP is designed, it takes most students 5 years to graduate. This is because our students start out taking only the minimum course load of 12 semester hours and take additional Project STEPP courses during their first few semesters. After freshman year, students who have experienced academic success may start taking a heavier load of courses if they choose. Please keep in mind that although some students will be able to successfully handle a heavier course load, others may need to continue taking the minimum load in order to keep their grades up. Students who would like to earn additional credits may also take summer classes. Project STEPP does offer academic support during the summer sessions; however, participation in summer school is not required.
If I do well my freshman year can I earn my way out of Project STEPP requirements?
No. Students who enroll in Project STEPP commit to participating in the program for the duration of their undergraduate education at ECU. As students progress through their college years, the requirements become more individualized. In addition, for most students, Project STEPP's supports are most intense during the first three semesters on campus, after which a natural fading of supports may gradually occur. However, several services, supports, and requirements do continue through graduation. We emphasize to our students that their goal should not necessarily be to use fewer supports, but rather to succeed in college, regardless of the extent of support services. Students who are unwilling to take the initiative to fully utilize the program's resources and supports are highly unlikely to experience success within Project STEPP.
If I’m coming to Boot Camp, can I skip Orientation?
No. All students in Project STEPP must attend both an orientation session and Boot Camp. Different information will be provided in Boot Camp than is given during Orientation, so neither one can substitute for the other. Students in Project STEPP will attend exactly the same Orientation events as students who are not in Project STEPP, with only one exception. Because our students are registered for fall classes during the spring and advised by a staff member within our program, they come to the Project STEPP office to discuss their fall schedules instead of attending general registration.
If I’m coming to Orientation, can I skip Boot Camp?
No. Boot Camp is mandatory for all first-year students in Project STEPP. Students must plan to attend all four days of Boot Camp in their entirety. Please also note that each student is required to have a parent or guardian attend the first two days of Boot Camp.
Can I live off campus if I am in Project STEPP?
All first-year students in Project STEPP are required to live in a designated residence hall. Since 2011, the assigned dorm for Project STEPP has been Fletcher Hall in the West neighborhood; however, that may change for future cohorts.
After the first year, students may choose to move off campus if they prefer. We recommend that students live on campus during both their first and second years at ECU.
I’ve heard something about your program that’s different from what your website/staff members have said. Why is that, and which one is correct?
As Project STEPP grows, we use the feedback and data that we gather from each cohort to improve the program. Therefore, the services, supports, and requirements do sometimes change from year to year. If you have heard different information from a student who is currently in the program, please keep in mind that the requirements that apply to his/her cohort may differ from the requirements that apply to the cohort for which you are applying. Feel free to contact one of our staff members anytime to get the most updated information.
How can I learn more about Project STEPP?
Come visit us! We welcome visits from prospective students and their families throughout the year. To schedule an individual meeting, please contact our Associate Director/Transition Specialist, Emily Johnson, at 252.737.2275 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Or, if you’re planning to attend an ECU Open House (offered twice each year – check our News and Events page for details), you can visit the Project STEPP information booth at the Student Affairs Fair and attend an information session that same afternoon. Call or email us anytime for more information!