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Transitioning from High School to College

Accommodations from a K-12 setting, such as those listed in an IEP or 504 Plan, do not automatically carry over into college. Upon entering higher education all students, including those with disabilities, are expected to develop into their own self-advocate. For students with disabilities this also means they must now request any accommodations or services independently. This can be a new role for some young people. In addition, part of navigating the transition is understanding the difference under the law between the school’s responsibilities in K-12 education, and those of the higher education institution. In order to help prepare for this new stage in life, below please find a list of differences between accommodations and services received in high school and those available in higher education/college.

High School

The Law: Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)

In high school the school has responsibilities which include the following:

  • Identify students with disabilities
  • Provide assessment of learning disabilities
  • Classify disabilities according to specified diagnostic categories
  • Involve parents or guardians in placement decisions
  • Provide certain non-academic services
  • Structure a large part of the student’s weekly schedule
  • Place students in programs where they can benefit (in any way) by placement committee with parent participation and approval.
  • Modify educational programs
  • Prepare Individualized Education Plans (IEPs)

Higher Education

The Laws: Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act (ADAAA)

At the College level, institutional roles change as follows:

  • Protect a student’s right to privacy and confidentiality
  • Provide access to programs and services for persons with disabilities
  • Inform students of office location and procedures for requesting accommodations
  • Accept and evaluate verifying documentation
  • Determine that a mental or physical impairment causes a substantial limitation of a major life activity based on student-provided verifying documents
  • Determine whether a reasonable accommodation is available to students who are otherwise qualified for participation in the program or service
  • Provide reasonable access to program and service choices equal to those available to the general public
  • Assure that off-campus and contracted program facilities also comply with Section 504 and ADA
  • Inform students of their rights and responsibilities.

(Other differences may exist for higher education institutions that provide housing programs, health services, psychological counseling services, and extensive international programs.)

Student’s New Responsibilities in Higher Education/College

In college students have a responsibility to:

  • Act as independent adults, use appropriate self-advisory strategies
  • Arrange their own weekly schedules
  • Arrange for and obtain their own personal attendants, tutoring and individually fitted or designed assistive technologies.

College institutions are not required to:

  • Reduce or waive any of the essential requirements of a course or program
  • Conduct testing and assessment of learning, psychological or medical disabilities
  • Provide personal attendants
  • Provide personal or private tutors (but tutoring services normally available to persons without disabilities must be accessible to persons with disabilities who are otherwise qualified for those services)
  • Prepare “Individual Education Plans” (IEPs)


  • Students in colleges and universities are considered adults, with privacy and confidentiality protections. College staff cannot talk with parents and guardians about a student’s academic activities without the student’s permission.
  • Eligibility for special education services in high schools are diagnosis driven (i.e., the student must be diagnosed as having one of a number of specified conditions). Eligibility for reasonable accommodations in higher education institutions is driven by severity of impact on a major life activity.
  • College students must structure and plan their own study time; colleges do not arrange study periods or provide for time to do homework during classes.
  • Professors and classes may differ regarding attendance requirement, scheduling assignment due dates and exams. All college students must study each professor’s syllabus for each class.
  • Students with disabilities must identify their disabilities to The Center for Disability Resources (CDR), request accommodations for their disabilities (if accommodations may be necessary), and provide supporting medical and/or psycho-educational documentation. The documentation must verify the disability, describe the extent of the impairment and provide information which supports the need for specific accommodations.