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Post Secondary Disability Consortium of Central New York Site
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  What can I do in high school to get ready (prepare) for college?

Congratulations on making the decision to attend college.

First, let's look at what the primary differences are for students with disabilities in high school and in college:

The Law

Most students in high school are covered by IDEA (Special Education), some by Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. Section 504 and the American with Disabilities Act cover all students in college.

Rights and Responsibilities

In high school most responsibilities lie with the school and decisions are made by the school and by your parents and teachers. In college, many of those responsibilities will belong to you. It is very important that you understand your rights and responsibilities so that you can make informed, wise choices.

In general, under IDEA, the school is responsible to identify students, provide assessment, and monitor service provision. Under Section 504/ADA, the student is responsible to self-identify, request accommodations, and provide appropriate documentation.

Students with disabilities have the right to:

  • full and equal access, and the opportunity to participate in all programs, services, and activities;
  • be evaluated based on ability, not disability;
  • reasonable accommodations, academic adjustments, and appropriate auxiliary aids and services determined on a case-by-case basis;
  • privacy, meaning that confidential information will not be released without consent except as permitted or required by law;
  • information and course materials readily available in accessible formats.

Students with disabilities have the responsibility to:

  • meet college, course, and program qualifications and maintain essential institutional standards for academic standing, courses, programs, services, employment, and activities;
  • identify, in a timely manner, when an accommodation is desired and to seek information, counsel, and assistance as needed;
  • provide, in a timely manner, current, relevant, appropriate documentation from a qualified professional;
  • follow published procedures for obtaining reasonable accommodations, academic adjustments, and/or auxiliary aids and services;
  • abide by the Student Code of Conduct in the same manner as all students.

What should you know about your disability?


You are now your own advocate. Your parents and resource room teachers will not be on campus to advocate on your behalf. The campus disability services office will provide some assistance, but you now have the primary responsibility to explain your needs and advocate for any assistance you may need.

Remember, you will need the same skills as any other college freshman PLUS the ability to work with your disability. You can't do that unless you understand your disability, know how it affects you, and know your own strengths and challenges. In addition, you will be responsible for seeking help. Therefore, you must be able to explain your needs to others-faculty, tutors, service providers.

You will need to develop compensating strategies and to assess your need for and the effectiveness of specific accommodation strategies. You need to know what services you need for success.

If applicable you will also need to connect with appropriate adult services agencies, e.g. VESID, CBVH, Learning Disabilities Association etc. If you use taped-text books, obtain an individual membership in Recordings for the Blind and Dyslexic.

Learn about adaptive technology, both hardware and software, that may help you work independently. ( Link to the section on adaptive technology)

Does this sound daunting? The trick is to start early and be actively involved in your planning for success in both high school and college. Use the resources available to you, including:

  • teachers, parents, counselors, psychologists, other students
  • college-based programs
  • print, video, electronic resources
  • journals, reflective exercises.
If you have an IEP, beginning at age 12, the law requires that the plan be based on adult education, career, and independent living goals. If you want to go to college, that should be clearly reflected and your annual plan should address your needs for appropriate coursework, an understanding of your disability, the development of self-advocacy skills, and the development of independent living skills. Be involved in the creation of those plans, discuss them with your parents and teachers, and attend the Committee on Special Education meetings.

What do colleges identify as the most common reasons students with disabilities fail?

  • Expectation of support beyond what is available. Student's lack of active participation in his/her own learning.
  • Not asking for help or using the recommendations of disability support service providers until after failure has already occurred.

Don't become one of those statistics. Your success is dependent on planning. Get actively involved NOW.


It is a good idea to complete the Self Assessment Questionaire. It will help to decide if college is a practical choice for you at this time. It contains a list of questions you should ask yourself to help you make your choice. Keep in mind that each college has conditions and limitations on eligibility for financial aid, keeping a minimum grade point average, academic progress, etc.

If there are any questions which you cannot answer, discuss them with your parents, teachers or others who can help you find the answers.

How can you identify the best college for you?

Collect general information from agencies, publications, your Guidance Office, and the Internet, and collect specific information from disability service personnel and other students. Remember you are looking for the best match between YOU and a college and its services.

There are many kinds of post-secondary institutions, including community colleges, state colleges, private colleges, universities, and trade schools. Each has something different to offer students. As you consider your educational and career goals, explore which type of institution will best help you achieve those goals.

When looking at a particular institution, consider both the availability of academic programs and the availability of support services that you will need to be successful. Early in the process, even before filing a formal application, contact the disability support services office at schools you are considering. They will be happy to provide information about disability services and general information about the school.

Some colleges have disability service programs that, for an extra fee, provide individualized services beyond those required by law. If you determine that your success plan includes a need for extensive tutoring or other personal assistance, look for schools with specialized programs.

Find out about each school's general education requirements as well as the specific course requirements for the academic program in which you are interested. If your weaknesses are in writing, foreign language, or math, find out what the requirements are for courses in these areas. Different schools will have different requirements. Don?t make assumptions about the course requirements of all schools based on a small sample; explore the requirements for each school. If you anticipate asking a school to allow a substitution for a requirement, for example foreign language, find out what is required to make that request. Do not assume that courses will be waived just because they were in high school.

VISIT the school, if possible. Make sure to arrange a visit to the disability services office while you are on campus. Ask to talk with current students with similar disabilities; they can be one of your best sources of information to help you find a good match.

Begin the financial aid process early. A good resource for beginning your exploration of financial resources is Creating Options: A Resource on Financial Aid for Students with Disabilites available from the Heath Resource Center at:

  • If you are sponsored by a vocational rehabilitation agency (VESID, CBVH), determine your eligibility for financial assistance from them (e.g. tuition, transportation, adaptive equipment).
  • If you will need to purchase new adaptive equipment to support your disability needs in college, discuss your need with the Financial Aid Office. The cost may be added to your budget increasing your pool of available aid.
  • If you are planning to attend a school in New York State, you may be eligible for part-time Tuition Assistance Program aid.
  • In order to be eligible for Federal financial aid such as PELL or a student loan, a potential student must have one of the following: a local or Regents high school diploma, a General Equivalency Diploma (GED), or a satisfactory score on an independently administered approved standardized test which demonstrates ability to benefit. An IEP diploma is not equivalent to a local or Regents diploma. If you will be receiving an IEP diploma, contact the school to identify the procedures you need to follow to be considered for admission and financial aid.
MOST IMPORTANT-you can't make good decisions without good information. So ask questions and find out what you need to know!

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