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Transitioning from High School to College

The transition from high school to college for students with disabilities is not difficult as long as you understand the differences and prepare for the new challenges that you will face.

This tutorial is designed to help you understand the differences between the support services you received in high school and those that you can expect in college and to help you prepare for the challenges of college.

The laws differ: IDEA and the ADA

As a student with a disability, you were provided support services in high school under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). This law required your high school to ensure that you were provided a free, appropriate public education.

Your high school was responsible for identifying your need, providing appropriate assessment and working with your parents to decide upon the support services that were needed. With your hard work and their support, success was guaranteed. 

Accommodations in high school

In high school you may have received any of the following accommodations:

  • Open book exams
  • Modified tests
  • Oral testing
  • Paraphrasing test questions
  • Tutoring
  • Modified textbooks (lower reading level)
  • Unlimited excused absences
  • Use of word banks on tests
  • Classroom aide/personal care attendant
  • Tailored homework assignments
  • Course waivers
  • Weekly parent call/note

Colleges and the ADA

Universities and colleges, like PHSC, are not under the IDEA but are required to abide by a different set of laws. These include The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. These laws require that universities not discriminate against an otherwise qualified person with a disability. Typically, most of the accommodations mentioned on the previous page would not be provided in a college setting. In college, students with disabilities are expected to be more independent than in high school but you can succeed with support and determination.

Accommodations in college

We don't leave you hanging all by yourself. While you are expected to be more independent and more of a self-starter, we do provide accommodations that are designed to give you equal access to our learning environment. The challenge is there—and so is the support.

While success cannot be guaranteed, we do give you the support you need to do your best. We develop an individualized plan of accommodations based upon your unique needs.

Not everyone needs all accommodations, but typical accommodations are:

  • Sign language interpreters
  • Peer note taker
  • Reduced distraction exam room
  • Extended exam time
  • Reader/scribes for exams
  • Extended time for class work
  • Adapted test format
  • Use of tape recorder
  • Large print handouts
  • Reduced course load
  • Use of word processor/laptop
  • Preferential seating/modified furniture
  • Lecture outlines
  • Use of calculator

Getting ready to meet the challenges of college

By planning ahead you can be ready to succeed as you face the challenges of college. You need to:

  • Document your disability
  • Develop good study skills
  • Learn self-advocacy

Documentation of your disability

In order to receive support services in college you will need to have current documentation of your disability. Typically, documentation needs to be no more than three years old. It needs to be comprehensive and establish that you have "a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities". This is the ADA definition of a disability. Ideally, you should see if your high school can conduct a comprehensive evaluation during your senior year.

Documentation guidelines at PHSC

PHSC uses nationally recognized guidelines for documenting disabilities. Follow these links to see what your documentation should include:

Study skills and college success

Success in college depends on hard work, persistence and the development of strong study skills. As a student with a disability you not only have to face the normal demands of college but you also face the unique demands of managing your disability. Pick up a good book on study skills for college. Also, start developing good time management skills now. It will serve you well throughout college. For more information, see "How to Succeed in College."

Self-advocacy: An essential college skill

Self-advocacy is not the ability to win arguments or fight for your rights. Rather, it is the ability to effectively articulate your talents and abilities as well as what you need to succeed. You should:

  • Know yourself and your disability,
  • Be able to explain your disability to others
  • Be able to explain your needed compensatory strategies
  • Take initiative and communicate

The next step

For more on transitioning to college see the PHSC catalog.

If PHSC is where you want to be, stop by the Admissions and Student Records office at a campus near you.

If you have disability related questions, or plan to attend PHSC, contact Disabilities Services.

Working with students with disabilities can be uniquely challenging but is always rewarding. By understanding the challenges that students with disabilities face and their unique talents and insights we can more effectively teach and serve the needs of these students.

As we seek to understand students with disabilities we should remember:

“Disability is not a ‘brave struggle’ or ‘courage in the face of adversity’…disability is an art. It’s an ingenious way to live.”

—Neil Marcus, 1993