Information for Parents

Students with disabilities must be prepared for college studies if they are to succeed in postsecondary education. Parents play a pivotal role in the promotion of preparedness and inclusion in postsecondary education. The information in this section is designed to aid in the understanding of the issues that impact students and disabilities, the disability services process and the resources that may assist these students. 

About College

College life poses different challenges for students with disabilities. When students enroll in college, they are considered responsible adults by faculty and staff. The expectations are that they will assume responsibilities for meeting their class requirements.  This added responsibility is coupled with a change in environment. Whereas the high school was a very structured environment with a set schedule, college schedules can vary dramatically. Many students may have considerable time between classes and frequently do not use this time wisely. Students must manage their own attendance and prepare to realize the personal consequences if they choose not to attend class.

  • Is my child ready to assume these responsibilities?
  • If not, how will she/he learn these responsibilities?

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Another student responsibility is that of self-advocacy. Students must become adept at realistically assessing and understanding their strengths, weaknesses, needs and preferences. Also, they must become experts at communicating this information to other adults, including instructors and service providers. Although services will be available to them through an office specializing in services for students with disabilities, often called the Disability Support Services (DSS) office, students will be responsible for seeking these services and supports. Good communication skills and knowledge about oneself become crucial to success in college.

  • How well does my child describe disability information?
  • How well does my child self-advocate?
  • High school and college are very different. Consider the differences, listed in the next column, and their importance to your child.

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Comparison of Services

High School College
Services are delivered to the student Student must seek out services
Services are based on an agreed upon time allotment and menu of choices Services are based on situational/individual needs
Case manager acts as advocate Student acts as advocate
Annual review & IEP No annual review or IEP
Regular parent contact No parent contact
Entitlement law (IDEA) Anti-discrimination law (ADA)
Educational and psychological testing is provided Educational and psychological testing is not automatically provided

Preparing for successful a college experience begins early in school. Nationally, only about 9% of students with disabilities pursue a postsecondary education and of those, only a small percentage graduate. If your child is going to beat these statistics, you have to plan and support the decisions that lead to college success.

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Help Plan for College

  • You must plant the idea that college is important; that you expect your child to go to college and that you will help your child prepare. These messages need to be shared repeatedly with your child and shared through a number of different activities.
  • Preparation for college needs to start early in your child's high school years. At an IEP meeting, ask the high school staff for their suggestion on which postsecondary option (e.g., technical school, community college, 4-year college or university) would be best for your child.
  • Work with your child's high school teachers and support staff, including the counselor, school psychologist, vocational and career counselor, transition coordinator, and vocational rehabilitation counselor. At an IEP meeting, ask about transition activities that would prepare your child for college.
  • Contact the admissions office of several colleges, even if the college is not a likely choice. Ask the college staff for information that describes the admissions process for students with disabilities, how students must document their disability, and what services that the college offers to students with disabilities. At this stage, you and your child want to compare what is offered and what is required.
  • Ensure that your child will have the necessary recent testing that a college needs to document a disability. This testing can be done during the senior year of high school but schedule it early. Have these reports, and copies of your child's IEP and transition plan available for college staff.
  • Have your child referred to vocational rehabilitation services to determine if he or she meets the rehabilitation services disability guidelines. Rehabilitation services can provide financial and equipment support for students with disabilities.
  • Contact the Social Security Administration and see if your child meets their guidelines for services.
  • If your child's college requires entrance test results such as the ACT or SAT, learn the process for requesting reasonable accommodations on standarized tests. If your child needs testing modifications, the need must be documented, which can be supported by school staff and reports.
  • Ensure that your child learns to use appropriate, reasonable accommodations in areas which may be challenging in college, such as test taking, note taking, registration, writing, reading, working in groups, meeting deadlines, staying organized, using interpreters, and using computers.
  • Visit a few colleges. Talk to college staff about their success for students with disabilities. Ask to meet students with disabilities similar to your child.
  • Remember your child has the responsibility to notify the college that she or he has a disability and needs services. The college has the responsibility to provide reasonable accommodations so that all students have a fair opportunity for access and success.

This information was supported in whole or in part by the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs, (Cooperative Agreement No. H324M980109). However, the opinions expressed herein do not necessarily reflect the policy or position of the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs, and no official endorsement by the Department should be inferred.

Note: There are no copyright restrictions on this information. However, please credit the source and support of federal funds when copying all or part of this material. This document is also available on the web for printing at

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