transitioning to college

Transition from K-12 to College

For all students, the transition from high school to college can be a challenge. For disabled students, understanding the differences between accommodations in high school is another important layer. There are differences in laws that apply and college is a very different environment. A student may find that services they received in high school are not appropriate for the college setting. They may also find support that they did not have in the past. The following table outlines some of the key differences between the K-12 system and college. Another great resource in understanding the transition for students with disabilities see Students with Disabilities Preparing for Postsecondary Education: Know Your Rights and Responsibilities published by the Office of Civil Rights.

Above all, the most important skill a student can have is self-advocacy. This starts with the student having an understanding of their disability and how it affects them. 

Applicable Laws

Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) and its amendments
Section 504, Rehabilitation Act of 1973Section 504, Rehabilitation Act of 1973
Focus is on SUCCESSFocus is on ACCESS

Required Documentation

K-12 College
Individualized Education Plan (IEP) or 504 PlanHigh School IEP and 504 plans are not sufficient.
School provides evaluation at no cost to studentStudent must get evaluation at own expense
Documentation focuses on determining whether student is eligible for services based on specific disability categories in IDEACurrent Documentation must provide information on specific nature of condition or disability, functional limitations, and demonstrate the need for specific accommodations


Student is identified by the school and is supported by parents and teachersStudent must self-identify to the Disability and Accessibility Support Services office
Primary responsibility for arranging accommodations belongs to the schoolPrimary responsibility for self-advocacy and arranging accommodations belongs to the student.
Teachers approach you if they believe you need assistanceProfessors are usually open and helpful, but most expect you to initiate contact if you need assistance

Parental Role

Parent has access to student records and can participate in the accommodation processParent does not have access to student records without student’s written consent
Parent advocates for studentStudent advocates for self


Teachers may modify curriculum and/or alter pace of assignmentsProfessors are not required to modify curriculum design or alter assignment deadlines
Students are expected to read short assignments that are then discussed, and often re-taught, in classStudents are assigned substantial amounts of reading and writing which may not be directly addressed in class
Students seldom need to read anything more than once, and sometimes listening in class is enoughStudents need to review class notes and text material regularly

Study Responsibilities

Tutoring and study support may be a service provided as part of an IEP or 504 planTutoring DOES NOT fall under Disability Services and is not considered an academic adjustment on accommodation. Students with disabilities must seek out tutoring resources as they are available to all students.
Student’s time and assignments are structured by othersStudents manage your own time and complete assignments independently
Students may study outside of class as little as 0 to 2 hours a week, and this may be mostly last-minute test preparationStudents need to study at least 2 to 3 hours outside of class for each hour in class

Adapted from AHEAD Guidelines 2010