College Students with Disabilities – Know Before You Go

what students with disabilities should know before they go to college

Students with Disabilities – What to Know Before You Go

Written by: Sarah Miller for Student Choice

If you’re a college-bound student with a disability – whether it’s a learning disability, ADHD, or a physical disability – you’ll find some changes in the services you’ll receive when you head to college. There will different expectations and you will face new challenges. But with a little preparation, you can be well on your way to success and independence!

First you’ll want to find out who is in charge of providing disability services on your campus. Some schools may have a separate department, while others include it within an office called Student Services, Academic Support, or something similar. Make an appointment to speak with a staff member BEFORE classes begin. Some departments may request that you meet with them as soon as the spring of your senior year of high school. Each school will have different requests and requirements, but here are a few general tips to keep in mind.

Take It with You

Before you graduate from high school, make sure you have a copy of your most recent IEP (Individualized Education Plan) or 504 Plan, and any testing that was conducted to evaluate you for services. This usually includes an MFE (Multi-Factor Evaluation) or an ETR (Evaluation Team Report). You should automatically receive copies of these items before graduation, but if not you should ask for them. Yes, you can always contact someone at your high school later and have them sent to your college, but that takes extra time and means you may not receive services when classes start.


Colleges, like places of employment, are required to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). This means they are required by law to provide reasonable accommodations to students with disabilities. What does this mean to you? The accommodations you receive in college may not be identical to those you had in high school. In college you will sit in the same classroom as your peers, and you will be expected to complete the same work they do. (Learn more about your rights here.)

This doesn’t mean you’re on your own – you can still receive extended time on tests, quiet testing rooms, tutoring, and other services. But don’t count on having an aide or resource room setting for extra help. This can be a big adjustment for many students.


If you have a physical disability that limits your mobility or daily living skills, you’ll want to speak with someone in the campus housing office before you’re assigned a room to discuss accommodations you may need. If you use a walker, it might be a good idea to have a room near an elevator. If you require special large equipment in your room, you may need furniture rearranged or removed from the room. Other changes may include lower hanging bars for closets, modified light switches, or visual fire alarms for students with hearing impairments. If you wait to address these issues until you move in, you may have to wait due to the volume of maintenance requests for new students.


The biggest hurdle for many college students with disabilities is self-advocacy. In the past, your IEP moved with you to each new classroom and your teachers likely had an idea of what you needed before they even met you. When you arrive at college no one will know about your disability and your needs unless you speak up. Some students find this embarrassing or difficult, but this is one of your first  chances to advocate for yourself as an adult. Let your professors know if you need accommodations like sitting near the front of the room or recording lectures. These conversations can happen discreetly, but they do need to happen to ensure you have all the tools to be successful. The disability services staff can help you prepare for these discussions but they will likely recommend that you initiate them yourself.


It may seem like you have a lot of work ahead of you to get the accommodations you’ll need for college. But by taking care of these important items before you arrive on campus, you’ll have more time to focus on academics, meeting new people, joining clubs and activities, and enjoying your college experience!

If you need to discuss your financing options, remember, your high school guidance counselor, college financial aid office, and your credit union are great resources! If you’re not a member of a credit union, you can find one here and join today. You’ll be glad you did!

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