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Learning Disability Services Differ in College

High school students on IEP’s and 504’s will undoubtedly do better in some college settings than others. Before even looking for the “right fit” college, wrapping your mind around how services differ is key.  

During the kindergarten through high school experience, students are protected under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). At the college level, the student is protected under the American’s with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the college need only supply “reasonable accommodations” to essentially level the playing field.  The experience in college will be quite different.

Keep in mind:

Colleges offer ACCOMMODATIONS, not Individualized Education Plans (IEP’s). 


At the high school level, students with IEP’s are generally provided direct, specially designed instruction in a specific classroom at least once daily.  These services are provided by a teacher who is specifically trained in working with students with disabilities.  In college, unless the student chooses a school with a specialized program that provides such services, the students must make their own appointments at the disability services office. These services are usually the same as offered to all students at the college. Typically, they include tutoring by other students, not by trained professionals.


Accommodations are  “reasonable” and only provided with appropriate documentation to substantiate eligibility. 

Typical accommodations include extended time for tests, tests taken in a more quiet setting, more frequent breaks during testing, access to copies of class notes, and the possibility of a reader, scribe, and use of assisted technology.  Students may not, however, be able to choose the exact format of assisted technology.  Instead, they will have access to what the school has available.  Also, they may not be provided with copies of notes from the most skillful of note-takers. It is typical that a professor will ask for note-taking volunteers and these then are available upon request.

The student is responsible for securing needed assistance. 

At the high school level, it is the school’s responsibility to arrange for the student to receive accommodations.  In college, the student must: identify themselves to the disability services office, provide appropriate documentation of a disability, and request accommodations.  Once granted, they must request accommodations as needed and arrange for them accordingly.  If the student needs additional or updated information to support accommodation requests or has never been identified prior to college, the student is responsible for seeking an independent evaluation and paying for it.

    Essentially, what this means is that the student is transitioning from a high school environment that was structured to ensure student success, to a college environment that is designed only to allow equal access to the opportunity for success. Success rests solely upon the student’s own efforts to access it.

    If you have a neurodivergent student or are one:

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