Admissions ABLE

Helping Your Student with a Disability Transition to College

Learn about IEPs, the accommodations available in college, and the role parents can play in helping their child with a disability succeed.
Mother and daughter using computer to review transition to college

Students who have a diagnosed disability that impacts their learning may receive accommodations from school districts to help them best understand the curriculum and achieve better learning outcomes. These students can benefit from an individualized education program, or IEP, which is designated for students ages 3 to 21 who receive special education services in public schools. The IEP is a legal document that describes the support that students with a disability will receive in their high school years.

Students should become familiar with their IEP, including the following important factors:

  • The student's diagnosed disability
  • How the disability affects the student's learning
  • All documentation related to the student's IEP
  • The accommodations in place for the student

Thinking of the IEP as an evolving document, rather than a static one, may help as students progress through their high school years. Students should recognize the accommodations that have been helpful, and change them as needed.

The involvement of parents is crucial in shaping how an IEP can help a student transition soundly into the post-secondary years. If you have a student with an IEP, encourage your student to start to take responsibility for the resources needed for academic success. Act more as a coach for your child, instead of acting directly on his or her behalf, and encourage your child to share his or her experiences and progress with you.

To make a smoother transition to college, a student might want to focus on weaning off modifications in the later high school years. In K-12, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) provides for IEPs that are designed to have the student succeed. This might mean that a student is graded differently or might have less work than peers, such as shorter papers or fewer questions for homework and tests. To prepare for college-level work, students may want to give themselves the same academic assignments as the students around them. 

In college, IEP's are no longer required by law. Though reasonable accommodations under the ADA and Section 504 are designed for the student to access the curriculum and perform on a level playing field, students with disabilities must do the same amount of work and are expected to meet the same standards as other students. The reasonable accommodations provided are about access to education, not modification of standards or expectations. Getting assignments early or taking a longer time to complete an exam are examples of reasonable accommodations. 

Once your child gets to college, it's helpful to get to know the resources available there, and encourage your child to access them for help with writing papers, studying, or other academic needs. The role for parents in the college setting differs from that in the high school setting, and to be successful, students must learn to access university resources independently.

It's also helpful for students to have the financial resources needed to help them achieve, and students with a disability have the ability to participate in their own savings program through the Attainable® Savings Plan. Attainable® accounts allow individuals to save for short and long-term expenses without an impact on their federal means-tested benefits. Beneficiaries can use their accounts to pay for qualified educational expenses and a wealth of other costs, including healthcare, food, clothing, and housing. Using an Attainable® account helps students build their financial literacy and independence as they embark on their educational and career goals.

Having a disability does not define an individual, nor does it limit what a person can do in life. Remind your student of the bright future ahead, and do all you can to help grow your child's skill set while offering your support, guidance, and encouragement.

Watch the MA College Programs for Students with Disabilities webinar