Skip to main content
- Smaller Text | + Larger Text

People with Disabilities and Higher Education

  • Synopsis: Published: 2012-08-14 (Rev. 2016-11-06) - Information regarding college and continuing higher education for students with a disability. For further information pertaining to this article contact: Wendy Taormina-Weiss.

Main Document

"Colleges cannot deny a student admission simply because the student has a form of disability, yet a college will not admit a student based only on the fact that they do have a disability."

Considering what to do after you have completed high school can be an exciting and somewhat frightening experience for people with disabilities. The number of students with disabilities who attend college is increasing every year. Students who go to college are demonstrating growth in a number of areas such as social skills, academic skills, self-advocacy skills, independence, and self-confidence. Students with disabilities many times find they need to start planning for college while they are still in high school.

The college experience provides students with a certain level of flexibility and freedom. Every student who attends college has to make sure they have the skills to manage their social life, classes, and at times - a job as well. Students will have to make many different choices while they are in college. They will also have more freedom to make their own choices and decisions concerning the kinds of classes they want to take, when and where to take those classes, as well as when to finish their assignments.

(List of U.S. Universities and Colleges)

The fact that student have so many choices to make also finds them with many questions on their minds. They can get help from guidance counselors, high school teachers, and family members who will be taking an increased responsibility for what happens to the student after they have finished high school. Asking questions is a great way to make the best decisions that will support the student. Some of the questions that might cross a student's mind about college may include:

  • What should I put in an essay
  • How do I decide where to go to college
  • What are college entrance examinations
  • How is college different from high school
  • What should I do if I do not get into college
  • Can I use accommodations when I take tests
  • Where do I get a transcript to send to a college
  • Where can I get an application form for a college
  • What is involved in the college admissions process
  • Can I make it in college as a student with a disability
  • What should I start doing in high school so I can go to a college
  • Should I say I have a form of disability on my application for college
  • What else do I need to think about where selecting a college is concerned
  • Will I receive the same accommodations I did in college that I did in high school
  • Where I can I get more information about the colleges I am considering attending

Students with Disabilities and College Success

The questions that arise in the minds of many students with disabilities might make them wonder if they can be successful in college. Many students with disabilities succeed in college and the number of students with disabilities who are attending colleges and universities has increased over the last five years. One of the main reasons for the increase is that many students with disabilities have legal rights that help them to attend colleges while obtaining the supports they need to be successful in classes. Students with disabilities need to remember they will need all of the same capabilities as any other college student. They will also need technologies, accommodations, and modifications to assist them with accessing the same benefits of college as other students.

A college does not admit a student based merely upon their grades or college entrance exams. Admission committees at colleges examine everything about a student and then make a decision. Colleges cannot deny a student admission simply because the student has a form of disability, yet a college will not admit a student based only on the fact that they do have a disability. Students will want to present their grades, coursework, College Board Scores, personal attitudes, life experiences, and academic interests to the college of their choice to demonstrate their strengths and challenges.

The best way to succeed in college for students with disabilities is to begin planning while they are in high school. While in high school, the student's teachers, parents, and counselors can help to guide the student's educational process. Once in college; however, the student with disabilities will assume the majority of the responsibilities for making self-disclosure about the disability they experience, as well as making decisions concerning the classes they take, completing assignments, and self-advocating for the resources and supports they need to succeed.

College and Disability Accommodations

While a student is still in high school their parents, teachers, and other professionals will arrange for the accommodations they need. When a student with disabilities is in college, they will have to self-advocate for accommodations. They will need to think about the support and accommodations they need to succeed both academically and socially. Some questions students with disabilities can ask themselves to help decide what accommodations they need in college might include, 'Do I...':

  • Need regular breaks when I study
  • Get lost easily in unfamiliar places
  • Mix up letters and words when I read
  • Use my finger as a pointer when reading
  • Need a place that is quiet to do my work
  • Erase or cross out a lot of words when I write
  • Do better if I am not sitting at a desk to study
  • Have difficulties with giving verbal explanations
  • Become frustrated when I cannot think of a word
  • Remember things better when I write them down
  • Have to see someone else do a task before I start
  • Like drawing arrows and pictures when taking notes
  • Have trouble reading small, smudged, or blurry print
  • Find it difficult to understand a joke someone tells me
  • Simply begin a task without first reading the directions
  • Experience difficulties with reading other people's writing
  • Attempt to picture something in my head if I need to remember it
  • Prefer to receive new information by hearing it instead of reading it
  • Get tired when I read even when there is nothing wrong with my eyes
  • Solve problems simply by trying them instead of using a step-by-step method
  • Have a hard time understanding what other people say if there is music playing or noise
  • Understand how to do something if someone tells me how to do it instead of reading the directions myself

Students with disabilities can use these kinds of questions to help identify the types of technologies, accommodations, and modifications they will need and consider which college they want to go to. They will need to find out if the college has the ability to provide the accommodations they will need after they have provided the documentation the college requires.

Actions to Take in High School for Students with Disabilities Who Want to Attend College

Students with disabilities need to have some of the same abilities and skills as other college students in order to succeed in college. It is best to begin learning those skills while in high school, instead of waiting until college. Going to college knowing what you can do and how to do it might be the most important thing to help a student with disabilities to succeed in college. Colleges require students to take a certain number and type of courses while they are still in high school, for example. Some colleges and universities require students to take three or four courses every year in math, English, social studies, science, or history. A student's guidance counselor, parents, and teachers can help them to plan their coursework for college.

Some colleges require students to do well in all of their high school courses. They may not require that a student receive all A's and B's in their high school classes, although receiving a number of low or failing grades shows a college the student might not be able to succeed in college level courses. The accommodations a student receives while they are in high school that help them to meet the requirements for writing, reading, note-taking, and class discussion can help them to decide if they want to self-disclose to a college and self-advocate for accommodations while they are in college.

Every college student, to include students without forms of disabilities, discover they have to develop strategies for organizing they day, problem solving, managing their time, studying, and interacting with people who have all types of personalities. While a student is still in high school they may want to develop strategies to help them organize work, learn the required material, manage their time, and develop social skills that will help them to become an independent learner when they are in college. The skills should be a part of their IEP.

Students in their senior year of high school will find their school working with their teachers, parents, counselors and others to gather relevant information about the form of disability they experience and the accommodations they receive. With this information, the student's team will develop a, 'Summary of Functional Performance (SOP),' for them which includes five parts:

  • The student's goals after they leave high school
  • Recommendations for assisting the student to meet their goals after high school
  • Background information concerning formal and informal assessments demonstrating the student's needs and strengths
  • The student's ideas about how they understand the impact of the disability they experience on what they want to do after high school
  • A summary of the student's academic, functional, and cognitive performance and the assistive technology, accommodations, and modifications they need to succeed after high school

An SOP is a transitional bridge between high school and a post-high school learning environment. An SOP also provides additional documentation of the disability a student experiences that colleges and universities will request.

List of Disability Scholarships - Information and list of disability scholarships for applicants including financial aid for the disabled and grant money for students with disabilities.

Resource Guide on Higher Education for People with Disabilities
www.txddc.state.tx.us/resources/publications/collegehtml.asp

Association on Higher Education and Disability (AHEAD)
ahead.org

Students with Disabilities Preparing for Postsecondary Education (OCR)
www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/transition.html



Related:

  1. Disability Scholarships - Free College Tuition Money for Students with Disabilities - Hundreds of additional grants and scholarships available for free college tuition money for students with disabilities.
  2. Student Loans College Scholarships and Grants - A college scholarship should be top of your funding and loan list since this is money which you do not have to repay.
  3. College Tips for Students with Learning Disabilities - A number of useful tips and information for persons with learning disabilities attending college.



     What will I receive?

Loan Information for low income singles, families, seniors and disabled. Includes home, vehicle and personal loans.


Famous People with Disabilities - Well known people with disabilities and conditions who contributed to society.


List of awareness ribbon colors and their meaning. Also see our calendar of awareness dates.


Blood Pressure Chart - What should your blood pressure be. Also see information on blood group types and compatibility.


  1. Ocrevus for Relapsing-Remitting MS Approved in Canada
  2. Fewer Behavioral Issues Detected in Lower-income Kids Raised in Counties with High Upward Mobility
  3. Folding Portable Wheelchair Scale With Ramp
  4. Sign Language May Offer Answer to Meaning of Music




Citation