The transition from high school to college is difficult for all students. It can be considerably more difficult for students with disabilities.
A disability doesn’t have to be a barrier to continuing your education. If you’re a motivated student, it’s a completely realistic goal. Invest the time and effort to make it happen!
The disability-related information contained in this section is offered as a SUPPLEMENT to the information contained throughout the rest of the website. You are strongly encouraged to review all of the information contained throughout the site as you plan for the transition from high school to college.
Step 1 – Plan for College Early
It is essential to begin planning for college as early as possible. There is much to do and learn before the first day of college classes begin.
Each college and university will have unique policies regarding admission and placement. For instance, if you are graduating from high school with a Mississippi Occupational Diploma (MOD), it will be necessary for you to contact the admission’s office of your prospective schools in order to determine if this type of diploma is accepted for purposes of admission.
In addition, each college has its own policies and procedures regarding assistance provided to students with disabilities. It’s also important to understand that colleges and universities are not required to provide accommodations retroactively, or after the fact, so advanced planning is necessary to ensure that your needs are met to the highest extent possible.
Step 2 – Learn the Skills Necessary for College Success
The academic, personal, and social skills that are needed to succeed in college are very different from those required in high school.
Questions to Ask Yourself
As a person with a disability, there are several important questions that you should ask yourself as you begin the challenge of planning for college:
- What is/are my specific diagnoses?
- How do these disabilities impact me academically and socially?
- What accommodations/modifications have been most helpful to me in high school?
- How good is my academic background compared to the students with whom I will be competing?
- What are my individual strengths and weaknesses?
- What are my short- and long-term goals?
- How much help have I required from tutors and my resource teachers?
- How are my skills in the following areas; Reading, written language, verbal expression, eye-hand coordination, spelling, mathematics, etc.?
- What kind of tests am I used to taking to assess what I have learned?
- How advanced are my study skills?
- Can I independently advocate for myself should I be required to do so at college?
The academic demands of college are far greater than those of most high schools. Student will be required to use notetaking, study, test-taking, and time management skills that may not have been necessary in high school. It is important that students develop these skills before they begin college classes.
- Begin to develop adequate time management skills. Use a master calendar to begin keeping track of appointments, due dates, etc.
- Learn to study independently, without the assistance of the resource teachers or parents. You will not have access to this type of assistance in college.
- Take classes/seminars in notetaking skills. The ability to take notes is essential at the college level.
- Research test-taking tips. In college, students take tests in all different formats: multiple choice, short answer, and essay. Practice taking tests with these different formats so that you are familiar with them once you begin college.
Once you begin college, keep the following tips in mind. These tips will help you succeed in college:
- Never miss class! This is one of the most important things to remember in college. Each instructor will have a different policy on attendance, and missing too many class periods can cause you to fail the class, even if your grades are okay. Also, the more classes you miss, the more information you miss. Attendance is absolutely essential!
- Review and keep the syllabus for each class! The syllabus gives you information on course requirements, due dates, attendance policies, policies on make-up work, and information on how to contact your instructors.
- Get to know your instructors! Next to never missing class, this is the most important thing you can do for yourself once you are in college. Your instructor is the expert in his/her class. The instructor can give you information on how to study for exams, where to find information for projects and papers, and what you can do to succeed in the class. Also, if instructors know who you are, recognize your face when you are in class, and know you are sincere in wanting to succeed, they are more likely to assist you if you are struggling in class.
- Use your approved classroom accommodations! If you are approved to use specific classroom accommodations, USE THEM. Accommodations are provided to level the playing field and give you an equal opportunity to succeed in college. They will not benefit you if you don’t use them.
- Become familiar with other types of assistance provided by your college! Each college will have other types of academic assistance available to all students. Familiarize yourself with what is available and take advantage of this additional assistance should you find you need it. Again, it won’t help you if you don’t use it!
Independent Living Skills
In addition to study skills that may be new to students, there will also be everyday living skills that students may not have had to use before.
- Know how to handle everyday living skills such as doing laundry, paying bills, balancing a checkbook, cooking, getting the oil changed in the car, etc.
- Be familiar and compliant with medical needs concerning medication and health problems. If ongoing medical and/or psychological treatment is needed, arrangements should be made in advance to continue that care while the student is away at college. Students taking medication should be sufficiently mature to remain compliant with medication instructions without daily input from parents or doctors.
- Understand that the environmental, academic, and social structure provided by parents and teachers will not be in place in college. With this lack of structure comes an increased need for responsibility in decision-making and goal-setting.
- Know how to interact appropriately with instructors, college staff, roommates, and peers. Appropriate social interaction and communication are essential at the college level of education.
- Be comfortable asking for help when needed. The transition from high school to college can be overwhelming socially and academically. Students should know when they need help and should be able to reach out and ask for that help.
Students who are able to advocate for themselves and who can make their needs known in a positive and assertive way are more likely to experience academic and personal success. Below are some tips on how to advocate for yourself.
- Accept your disability. Shame and embarrassment can prevent you from getting the assistance and support that’s needed to help you succeed.
- Know your specific disability and how it impacts you so that you can talk about it with others if needed.
- Admit your disability to others. You cannot be a successful self-advocate if you hide your disability and needs from those who may be able to help you.
- Understand your learning style. Understanding your learning style can help you articulate your academic needs and ask for appropriate assistance.
- Realize how other issues might interfere with your self-advocacy. Many young people with disabilities struggle with low self-esteem, communication difficulties, shyness, and other personal self-image issues that might negatively impact the ability to be a positive self-advocate. It is important to recognize these issues so that the healing process can begin.
- Know what you need. Students should be able to articulate clearly what they need so that if those needs are not met, the student can advocate for more appropriate assistance.
- Anticipate your needs in each class. Don’t wait until later in the semester to start thinking about accommodations or other types of assistance in a class. Begin the first day of class thinking about what type of assistance you might need in each particular class and discuss those needs with your instructor.
- Know your rights and responsibilities. Students should be familiar with their legal rights and responsibilities. Knowing your rights and responsibilities will help you advocate appropriately for the assistance you may need.
- Be willing to compromise. Students should be willing to negotiate and compromise when necessary in order to receive the most appropriate assistance in the class. A willingness to compromise and work with an instructor will help to build trust and respect.
- Know where to go for support. Everyone needs support occasionally, even those who can successfully advocate for themselves. Become familiar with the assistance provided by your college or university so you know where to go should you need assistance.
- Plan for the future. In order to really advocate for yourself, you need to think about where you want to be in the future. When you have a very clear plan for the future, you will be better able to see the reason for your education today.
Assistive Technology Skills
Assistive technology for people with disabilities has revolutionized education for this population of people. Students with disabilities are strongly encouraged to become familiar with the different types of assistive technology that are now available in order to gain as much benefit as possible from these wonderful tools. Types of technology include, but are not limited to:
- Voice Recognition Software. This type of software allows a student with learning disabilities or disabilities that impact manual dexterity to speak directly into a microphone and have the computer do the writing.
- Reading Software. This type of software allows a student to scan reading materials into the computer and have the computer read it back. This works well for students with vision problems and certain types of learning disabilities.
- Screen readers. Screen readers are for those who are blind or have low vision. This software allows these students access to computer-based information by reading what is on the computer screen.
- CCTV for enlarging text.
- FM Amplification systems for those who are hard of hearing.
- Specialized keyboards and computer desks.
Step 3 – Stay On Track for College with Our Checklist
- Contact a guidance counselor and design a college preparatory class schedule.
- Develop a clear understanding of the nature of your disability and how it affects learning.
- Take courses or participate in groups that promote skills in time management, studying, assertiveness training, stress management, and exam preparation.
- Prepare for all classes.
- Explore career options (interest inventories, career fairs, discussion with school personnel and parents).
- Develop skills for academic independence (time management, study skills, notetaking, and so forth).
- Participate in extracurricular activities (athletic and nonathletic).
- Continue to remediate and/or compensate for basic-skill deficits.
- Determine what types of courses are necessary for admission to college (keep in mind, modified courses may not be acceptable for admission to some postsecondary institutions).
- Investigate assistive technology tools (communicative devices, unique computer needs, TTY, etc.).
- Continue academic preparation and remediation/compensation strategies, and identify any assistive technology needs.
- Identify interests, aptitudes, and accommodation needs.
- Continue to develop self-advocacy skills (asking for help, communicating needs to instructors, and so forth).
- Meet with guidance counselor to discuss college and college requirements.
- Find out if the schools you are interested in require or recommend that candidates take the ACT or SAT exams. If they do, make preparations to take the appropriate exam.
- Find out about documentation required by ACT/SAT in order to receive testing accommodations.
- Attend college fairs.
- Visit colleges and other postsecondary education training options.
- Gather information about college programs and about services offered for students with disabilities and make certain you understand their requirements for documentation of disability.
- Identify application deadlines for postsecondary support programs.
- Investigate eligibility requirements and services available through the Mississippi Department of Rehabilitation Services.
- Participate in volunteer and paid work experiences.
- Determine need for technology training and assessment.
- Continue academic preparation and remediation/compensation strategies, assistive technology needs, and self-advocacy skills.
- Focus on matching interests/abilities and career goals to appropriate postsecondary education choice.
- Identify appropriate postsecondary choice.
- Take ACT or SAT with or without accommodations.
- Establish tentative career goal.
- Identify people to write recommendations for you.
- Invite Department of Rehabilitation Services counselor and other appropriate adult agency representatives to IEP meeting for discussion and planning of post-high school options.
- Tour postsecondary campuses and be sure to include the disability services office.
- Investigate services offered by postsecondary setting and determine which settings match individual needs and goals.
- Learn to use public transportation options.
- Obtain picture identification or driver’s license.
- Obtain documentation of disability from current assessment (within two years of graduation date) because colleges require current assessments.
- Check with the learning institution(s) of your choice regarding requirements for disability documentation.
- Strengthen self-advocacy skills (your legal responsibilities change after the age of 18).
- Prepare transition packet for disability documentation including: current and past evaluation reports, transcripts, test scores, current IEP, medical records, writing samples, and letters of recommendation.
- Role-play interviews.
- Talk with students who are receiving services at colleges and other postsecondary training setting about their experiences.
- Schedule an interview and tour with your schools of interest. Be sure to include the disability services office on each tour.
- Prepare applications.
- Determine need for assistive technology and assessment.
- Once you have chosen your top schools, begin the process of applying for accommodations through the school’s disability services office.
Step 4 – Complete the Required Documentation
The law allows postsecondary institutions to require documentation from a student before determining a student’s eligibility for accommodations based on a disability.
Generally speaking, a student’s IEP or 504 Plan from high school will NOT be sufficient documentation.
Each college or university will have its own documentation requirements, but, in general, colleges require documentation that is current, comprehensive, details the CURRENT impact of the diagnosed disorder, and gives recommendations for reasonable accommodations. Documentation should be provided by a medical/psychological professional who is licensed to make the diagnosis and who is not related to the student.
As stated, each college or university will have its own unique documentation requirements so it is vital that you check with your school of choice, IN ADVANCE, so that you know what documentation they need and have time to get the documentation to the college. Be aware that retesting may be necessary if your documentation is too old or is incomplete in some way.
Step 5 – Take The Necessary Tests
If you are a student with a learning disorder or attention deficit disorder and you find that your college of choice is going to require that you be retested, there are several options you have in terms of locating someone to administer the new testing.
- Ask your high school, before you graduate, for an updated, comprehensive psycho-educational assessment.
- If there is a college or university in your area, find out if the Psychology Department or Counseling Department provides psycho-educational testing. If so, call and ask about the criteria for using their services to be retested.
- Look in your local yellow pages under psychologists, counseling, etc. You may be able to find someone in your area who is licensed to administer this type of testing.
- Contact your college of choice to see if they have a list of evaluators who may be able to administer updated testing.
It is important to be aware that the cost of retesting is the responsibility of the student and not the college or university. This is another reason why advanced planning is so important.
Step 6 – Apply for College
If you have a disability, follow the same steps for choosing and applying to a school as any other student, but you should also evaluate schools based on their ability to accommodate your needs.
Explore college admissions requirements, research schools, and build a college list. Once you have schools of interest, get organized and meet with campus specialists to discuss your specific requirements. Then, explore whether the programs, policies, procedures, and facilities meet your specific situation.
It’s usually best to describe your disability in a letter attached to your application so the proper fit can be made between you and the school. Send copies of your psycho-educational evaluation, testing records, and/or any other assessments of your disabilities directly to the school. Some will help arrange your schedule and offer transition courses, reduced course loads, extra access to professors, and special study areas to help address your needs.
Step 7 – Request Reasonable Accommodations
Students should be prepared for a difference in the type of accommodations provided at the post-secondary level. Colleges are required by law to provide accommodations and modifications that are REASONABLE and that do not fundamentally alter the essential elements of a course, a program or the evaluation standards of a course or program. In addition, accommodations are provided based directly on the impact of a student’s diagnosed disorder.
In other words, the disability services office must see a direct connection between the requested accommodation and the impact of the diagnosed disorder before approving the accommodation.
All of this means that some accommodations provided in high school may not be provided in college. Knowing in advance what accommodations may or may not be provided will help in preparing for college.
What is Reasonable Accommodations?
Some examples of reasonable accommodations are listed below. (Please note that inclusion in this list does not guarantee that each college or university provides these accommodations, nor does it guarantee that all students with disabilities will qualify for these accommodations.)
- Extended time on exams and quizzes
- Distraction-reduced testing environment
- Use of a tape recorder in class
- Peer notes
- Alternate format reading materials (Brailled or in audio format)
- Readers/scribes for exams
- Use of a spell checker or calculator in class
- American sign language interpreters
- Course substitutions
- Priority registration
- Reduced course load
Below are some examples of accommodations that may be considered to be unreasonable at the postsecondary level:
- Untimed tests
- Distraction-free testing environment
- Copies of instructor notes
- Restating or explaining of test directions and questions
- Word banks
- Reduction of test questions or course work (for instance, a 25-question test instead of the 50-question test given to other students in the class, or permission to submit a five-page paper instead of the 10-page paper required of other students in the class)
- Permission to redo missed test questions in an attempt to get them right
- Extension of deadlines and test dates
- Course waivers
The law does not require that colleges and universities provide “personal services” to students with disabilities. Below are some examples of common personal services:
- Personal care attendant
- Personally prescribed medical devices (eyeglasses, wheelchairs, hearing aids, etc.)
- Transportation (if your college of choice has a transportation system, that system must be accessible to students with disabilities; however, if your college of choice does not have a transportation system, it is not required to provide transportation to students who may have disabilities.)