With an increasing number of college programs and supports available, more and more students with disabilities are exploring college as an option post-high school or transition. The thought of attending college is exciting, but preparing for the experience can be an overwhelming process. Identifying a campus to attend, deciding on a course of study and the number of units to take, and other crucial details may require team effort to make the most appropriate decisions. With drastic differences between high school and college, here are tips to help prepare students with disabilities for the transition.

Know the legal differences. Colleges and universities operate under a different set of laws than high schools. Unfortunately, parents cannot call or email an instructor to ask about their student’s progress. Due to the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) law, staff members can’t discuss any information pertaining to a student without the student’s consent. Additionally, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) no longer applies. Receiving disability support services is not automatic—the services are voluntary in a postsecondary education setting. Students must complete paperwork, provide disability documentation and meet with a counselor to receive auxiliary aids.

Research schools. Know what support services are available on campus. Is there an English center, math lab or specialized program that your adult child can benefit from? Accessibility to these services can help determine which campus will be the best fit.

Start preparing early. Colleges have important deadlines prior to orientation. Missing a deadline may mean receiving a later registration date. If a student plans to start college in the fall semester, it is suggested to begin research early and submit applications in January or February. Pre-planning ensures all steps are completed and allows time to handle challenges that may arise.

Practice self-advocacy. College students are expected to communicate their needs. Help your teen or adult child find a way to express challenges he may have in the classroom. Counselors can suggest auxiliary aids that benefit students who have special needs. Students should also know their learning style and how to express it to others.

Know who’s responsible for what. Throughout elementary and high school, student success is seen as more of a right. School districts and parents often ensure appropriate supports are in place to help the student succeed. In college, success is not a guarantee. Students are responsible for their own success (which includes advocating for supports and services). Have your teen or adult student practice taking ownership of actions and being aware of what could benefit his learning experience.

Some students with disabilities express an interest in pursuing education after high school, while others may be unsure of the new environment. Students may want to experiment with the idea of college to see if that avenue is a good fit. To explore the environment, while learning or reinforcing valuable skills, seek out specialized courses for adults with disabilities. San Diego Continuing Education (SDCE) and Southwestern College offer free, non-credit classes. For more information and to register, visit the websites below.

San Diego Continuing Education

Southwestern College

Krystle Taylor is an instructor for SDCE and a counselor for the Southwestern College WorkAbility III program, which is dedicated to providing vocational services to students with disabilities.