Preparing to Transition to College

Understand the differences between K-12 and college; and how to prepare for them

Legal Differences

The U.S. laws that provide protections and support for individuals with disabilities vary greatly in the types of support provided for K-12 students vs college students.

The differences

In K-12...

  • Parents are generally more involved in working with the school to provide accommodations for their child
  • Parents and the school work to identify the limitations of students and how to best adapt classes for the child
  • Accommodations and adjustments to classes are rather broad and unrestricted

In college...

  • The student is the one who must work with the school to obtain accommodations
  • The student will need to explain their disability and the functional limitations to work with the disability office to identify appropriate accommodations
  • Accommodations are there to reduce the impact of a student's disability while not compromising the learning objectives of the course

Prepare for the changes

  • Practice articulating some changes between high school and college
  • Explain how these changes may impact you, for example...
    • How to disclose your disability
    • How to get disability-related services
    • What types of accommodations you may receive)
  • Recognize that privacy laws in college prevent college staff from communicating with parents/guardians about students’ disabilities, services, or grades without written permission from the student

Prepare for College Admissions

  • Research college admissions requirements early in order to take appropriate college preparation courses in high school
  • Recognize that students applying to college must meet the college’s standard admissions requirements (e.g., SAT scores, language requirements, etc.) regardless of disability
  • If applicable, complete the process to request accommodations for college entrance examinations
  • If desired, fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and explore scholarship opportunities when applying for college
  • Connect with the Office of Vocational Rehabilitation (OVR), if appropriate
  • Tour college campuses to select the right environment for you (e.g., large student body vs. small/medium, rural environment vs. urban environment, class sizes, climate or temperature)

 Build Self-Awareness

  • Practice describing how your disability impacts you
  • Don’t use a disability “label” if that makes you uncomfortable, but be able to talk about your strengths and your needs
  • Be involved in IEP/504 meetings and decisions in high school
  • Ask high school teachers if they can connect you to high school graduates who are currently in college to talk to them and learn from their experiences

 Develop Self-Advocacy

  • Practice explaining what academic accommodations you received in high school
  • Describe how you benefit from your academic accommodations
  • Consider establishing connections to medical care, both physical and emotional, local to your college to build support away from home
  • Start using a planner or calendar to organize activities and academics
  • Talk to school staff about learning and reading strategies
  • Practice independent living skills, for example...
    • Waking up independently
    • Managing and budgeting money
    • Preparing meals
    • Managing medication independently
    • Building awareness of college safety issues

Initiate Services Early

  • Contact Student Disability Resources on the Penn State campus where you plan to enroll and inquire about establishing services and documentation guidelines prior to entering college
  • Arrange an appointment to determine disability services eligibility and start services before your classes begin

Prepare for Eligibility

  • Start a portfolio of documentation needed to get disability services in college
  • Schedule and complete evaluations to determine college disability services eligibility prior to exiting high school
  • Complete an introduction meeting with Student Disability Resources on the Penn State campus where you plan to enroll

Engage in Campus Life

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