College Resources: Support Services in College

Family Modules

Module 4 Part 4



Objective: The student will identify at least 5 key services he or she receives in high school and identify whether or not those services will be delivered in a different or similar way in college.

Services provided in college are very different from what you are accustomed to in the K-12 setting. This is partially because the mission of colleges and public schools are different, and also partially because the two educational settings are governed by different legislation with different intents and processes. This lesson is designed to help you understand some of the differences that will occur in the way services are determined and delivered in the college setting.

Estimated time 30—45 minutes

Materials included:

Materials needed:

Curriculum Link:

This section corresponds with Module 4 Lesson 4 in the College Bound Transition curriculum resources.

Parents Chime In

Different laws apply to the high school and college settings. Therefore, the rules that govern how students with disabilities are served are different. Review the information in this lesson along with your student so that you both understand these differences, and so that you can ensure that your student understands the role they must perform in college.

As you read through these topics, take time to discuss the differences between high school and college with your student.

Learn About It

Transitioning to College with a Disability

Differences between Disability Support in High School and College

  • Disability services in high school and college differ in significant ways. Knowing what to expect in advance will help you transition to the college environment more easily.
  • One of the most basic differences is that in high school, these services are generally referred to as “special education,” whereas in college, you will no longer hear that term. Most colleges refer instead to “disability services,” so you will want to get used to using this new terminology.
  • *The information in this lecture is adapted from several sources, including the websites of the Disability Support offices at East Carolina University and Cleveland State University, as well as

Laws Governing Disability Services

Will your IEP or 504 Plan apply once you’re in college? This video discusses some of the laws associated with receiving accommodations after high school.

High School College

In high school, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) is the main law that provides guidelines for serving students with disabilities.

Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act:
In addition, some guidelines are drawn from Section 504, Rehab Act.

ADA and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act:
In college, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Section 504 of the Rehab Act are the main laws that provide guidelines for serving students with disabilities.

Because different laws apply to these two settings, the rules about how to serve students with disabilities also differ. All the differences that follow are a direct result of the differences in these laws.


High School College
The goal of special education is the student’s success. The goal of disability services is the student’s equal access to programs and services.

In high school, the adaptations, modifications, and accommodations that you receive are geared toward ensuring that you succeed. If you’re not passing your classes, your IEP will most likely be reevaluated and additional supports will be provided.

In college, the services you are provided are geared toward providing you with reasonable accommodation for equal access to major life activities (e.g., education), but they do not have a goal of student success. It is civil rights legislation designed to ensure that otherwise qualified individuals are not discriminated against because of a disability. If you do not pass your classes, it doesn’t mean that you are entitled to more services.


High School College
  • Individual Education Plan (IEP)
  • 504 Plan
  • School-provided evaluation
  • Documentation requirements vary
  • IEP/504 Plan are not sufficient
  • Current independent evaluation required

In public high schools, all students in special education will have either an IEP or a 504 Plan. These plans are generally based on an evaluation that the school provides (see next topic). The IEP and 504 Plan are formal and specific documents. Most states have a template that schools must use, so all IEPs in the state look similar, but that format may differ from state to state.

In contrast, there’s a great deal of variation in the documentation used at different colleges. College disability support offices may be able to use some of the information from a student’s IEP or 504 Plan when planning their services, but these documents alone may not be sufficient evidence of the student’s disability. Instead, students must have a current evaluation with test scores that support the diagnosis of the disability.

Current generally means within the past 3 years.

Instead of creating an IEP or 504 Plan, many college-level disability services offices simply have a copy of the evaluation and use that to create a letter, addressed to each of the student’s professors, that details the student’s accommodations.


High School College
School provides evaluation at no cost to student. Student is required to be evaluated at his or her own expense. Often, schools can accept the student’s most recent high school re‐evaluation if it was completed within the past 3 years and is comprehensive enough to meet their criteria.
School conducts re-evaluations at prescribed intervals. Re-evaluation is generally not required after initial documentation is approved.

Identifying Students with Disabilities

High School College
  • Schools are responsible for identifying students with disabilities and for testing and serving them if appropriate.
  • The law requires schools to serve all students with known disabilities
  • In college, students have a choice about whether or not to notify the school that they have a disability.
  • However, if a student wants services to accommodate a disability, s/he must contact the disability support office and self‐identify as a student with a disability and provide documentation to support their diagnosis before they can be served.
  • Students are not required to self-identify unless they want to access services

Parents Chime In

Thoroughly discuss the idea of self-identifying as a student with a disability in college. Many students are excited to find out that they don’t have to be identified as having a disability in college, but they fail to consider the accommodations and modifications that they may need to succeed. Talk about the role your child will play in college (see the next topic).

Student's Role

High School College
The student’s parents and school personnel bear the primary responsibility for accessing, defining, and scheduling the student’s special education services. The student bears the primary responsibility for accessing, defining, and scheduling his or her disability services.

The difference in your role and responsibilities will probably be the most fundamental change for you. Instead of simply being the recipient of various services and accommodations, you will now have to take an active role in making sure that you receive your supports.

It is important to understand that you are now in the driver’s seat with respect to your accommodations in college. In high school, if you just sat back and waited for something to happen, it probably did. This is because teachers and other school personnel, as well as your parents, made sure that it happened. In college, if you sit back and wait for something to happen, it will not happen. You have to take the initiative to start the process, ask questions, follow up, and advocate for yourself in other ways.

It’s a good idea to start taking an active role in your IEP while in high school.

Guardian's Role

High School College
  • Parents have access to the student’s records and regularly participate in the accommodation process.
  • Parents advocate for the student.
  • Parents do not have access to disability-related records unless the student provides written consent.
  • Students advocate for themselves.

The changes in your parent’s or guardian’s role go along with the changes in your role. In high school, parents and guardians are required to be informed, and generally they are involved in the process.

In college, it is actually illegal for the school to disclose most types of information to anyone, even parents or guardians, unless the student provides the school with a signed form specifically authorizing that release of information. The law that regulates this requirement is called FERPA (the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act), and you will probably hear much more about it as you transition to college.

Services and Accommodations

Can Students with Disabilities Get Accommodations in College? [Transcript]

High School College
High schools provide many different instructional modifications, accommodations, and support services. Colleges are only required to provide accommodations, not instructional modifications or support services.
Examples of support services include tutors, personal care attendants, and personal aids and devices. Examples of accommodations include note-takers, priority seating, extended test time, a reader or scribe, or the use of a computer, spell-checker, or calculator.

Please note that all of these differences in services and accommodations are generalizations. It is up to each individual school to determine what they provide to you, and you may very well be able to find examples of colleges that provide services above and beyond what is legally required. In addition, many campuses have entities other than the disability support office that can provide some of these resources (for example, tutoring for all students), or they may be able to refer you to other agencies or individuals who can provide extra support.

Parents Chime In

Talk with your student about whether or not you will have access to your student’s information. If you and your student agree that you will have access, research where and how to submit the required FERPA release of information form.

Respect your student’s right to make this decision. Remember that your student is becoming more independent and needs to make decisions as well as experience the consequences of those decisions.


High School College
  • May modify curriculum.
  • May use modified grading standards.
  • May alter test format (i.e., oral test instead of multiple-choice test).
Will not make any modifications that would fundamentally alter a curriculum or class, including grade modifications or test format changes.

High schools have a lot more flexibility than colleges in how they can modify a student’s academic experience. Any change that would fundamentally alter a curriculum or a class generally cannot be made in college. So, if you are accustomed to having modified grading standards, shortened assignments, changes to your test formats, shortened tests, or similar changes, you may be surprised to learn that none of these modifications will be permitted in college.

Colleges can often change how things are done, but not what is required. For example, if a student has a test to take, he may be permitted to have someone read the questions to him while he takes the test with extra time in a distraction-free environment. But he cannot take a different version of the test, take a shorter test, use different resources (e.g., a word bank), or be graded according to a different standard than the rest of the class.

Apply Your Knowledge

  • Take time to look at your IEP and Summary of Performance (SOP). List any issues that you will need to be proactive about, given what those documents suggest about the supports you might need in college.
  • Work together with your parent or guardian to think about college implications from as many different angles as possible.
  • Use the “What Does This Mean for Me?” worksheet to think through the supports you receive in high school and how you plan to research the availability of similar supports in college (and what to do if they are not available).

Objective Check

Have you accomplished today's objective?

Objective: The student will identify at least 5 key services he or she receives in high school and identify whether or not those services will be delivered in a different or similar way in college.

If so, congratulations!

If not, talk to your high school special education teacher or case manager about the key services that you receive in high school. Then contact the Disability Support Office at the college you plan to attend to request information regarding modifications, accommodations, and services, and especially whether or not the key services you’ve used in high school will be delivered similarly or differently in college.

Digging Deeper