Students with Disabilities and Planning for College

The transition to college is an exciting, challenging time for all students. The attitude and self-advocacy skills of students with disabilities may be two of the most important factors in determining their level of success in college. Students with disabilities need to be prepared to work collaboratively with the institution’s disability coordinator to enable them to have an equal opportunity to participate in an institution’s programs and activities. To ensure that students with disabilities possess the desired levels of self-advocacy to succeed in college, high school educators may encourage the students to:

Accept responsibility for their own success. One important point for families to know is that students’ high school accommodation plans, whether they are IEPs or 504 plans, are not valid once they graduate from high school. While students may receive the same accommodation in college that they had high school, they are not guaranteed the same adjustments. Certain basic accommodations are widely available, such as testing in a room with fewer distractions. Accommodations are assigned on a case-by-case basis rather than by a category and it is the student’s responsibility to apply for services.  Students with disabilities, in particular, are moving from a system where parents and school staff usually advocated on their behalf to a system where they will be expected to advocate for themselves. An institution’s staff will likely communicate directly with students when issues arise and are generally not required to interact with students’ parents. This is why it is important to make sure that students can function as independently as possible before they leave for college.

Learn time management skills. Although a primary role of high school educators is to provide monitoring, direction and guidance to students as they approach the end of their high school career, staff also need to prepare students to act independently and to manage their own time with little to no supervision. High school educators can assist students by identifying resources that will help them learn time management and scheduling skills.

Consider supplemental post secondary education preparatory programs. A variety of institutions of post secondary education have summer programs in which students can participate while they are still in high school, or after graduation, to ease their transition to college. These programs often expose students to experiences that they are likely to encounter in college, such as living on campus, relating to other students and eating in dining halls. The programs may also focus on instruction in certain subject areas, such as math or English, or in certain skills, such as computer, writing or study skills, that can prepare a student to be successful in college. High school educators can assist students with disabilities by identifying such program opportunities in their area of residence.

Research post secondary education programs. Students with disabilities may select any program for which they are qualified but should be advised to review carefully documentation standards and program requirements for their program or institution of interest. For example, students should pay close attention to an institution’s program requirements, such as language or math, to avoid making a large financial and time commitment only to realize several years into a program that they cannot, even with academic adjustments, meet an essential requirement for program completion. Campus visits, which include visits to the disability services office, can be helpful in locating an environment that best meets a student’s interests and needs. In addition, while all institutions have a legal obligation to provide appropriate services, certain colleges may be able to provide better services than others due to their size or location.

Get involved on campus. To help students avoid the isolation that can occur away from home during the first year of college, high school educators should encourage students to live on campus and to become involved in campus activities. Attendance at orientation programs for freshmen is a good first step in discovering ways to get involved in the college community.

For more information about disability services at Kalamazoo College please contact: Dana Jansma, Senior Associate Dean of Students (269.337.7210