If your child is going on to college, it will be important for her—and for you—to be aware of the many ways in which college is different from high school. It’s not just that the classes are more advanced or that some students are living on their own. In college, your teenager, like her sighted classmates, is expected to take much more responsibility for her education as well as for other aspects of her day-to-day life. In addition, she’ll need to advocate for herself to get any special services or accommodations. They will not be provided automatically.

What’s Different After High School Graduation?

There are major differences in the laws that cover special education services in high school and college in this country. Services for individuals with disabilities change dramatically after high school. Essentially, much that is required by federal law during a child’s early, elementary, middle, and high school years is no longer required by law for students attending postsecondary schools. Your child will need to be aware of the importance of arranging for services she needs and will have to be prepared to take responsibility for those arrangements. To do that effectively, she’ll have to be well organized and develop skills in negotiating accommodations that she needs.

The following is a summary of the specific differences between the laws applying to high school and to college:

  1. In high school, the Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA) requires that all children, including those who are visually impaired, receive free, appropriate public education.
    In college, the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, Section 504, and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) require colleges to provide accessibility and reasonable accommodations to prevent discrimination on the basis of disability.

  2. In high school, visually impaired students are covered by IDEA from birth until they reach 22 years of age (or until they meet standard requirements for a high school diploma or leave school).
    In college, Section 504 and ADA requirements apply to individuals with disabilities regardless of age.

  3. In high school, school and all educational services are provided free of charge and attendance is mandatory.
    In college, most students will have to pay tuition, and they decide whether or not to enroll and attend classes.

  4. In high school, local school districts must identify students with disabilities through free assessment and the Individualized Family Service Plan (IFSP) or Individualized Education Program (IEP) process.
    In college, to receive any accommodations, students are responsible for identifying themselves as disabled and supplying supporting documentation to their colleges.

  5. In high school, students receive special education and related services based on their assessed needs.
    In college, colleges are not required to assess incoming students or provide special education services.

  6. In high school, services, based on the IEP, may include disability-specific instruction, classroom modifications, and accommodations designed to meet the individual student’s needs.
    In college, accommodations may be made to ensure equal access, but colleges are not required to tailor aspects of the curriculum, program, or activity to meet a student’s needs.

  7. In high school, school personnel may receive program support to meet an individual student’s needs based on the IEP.
    In college, colleges are not required to provide program support for instructors or administrators or to provide for accommodations that pose an undue burden on the school.

  8. In high school, progress toward meeting IEP goals is monitored and reported to the parents and/or the student.
    In college, students must monitor their own progress, communicate their needs, and negotiate accommodations with their instructors.

  9. In high school, students receive help from the school in connecting with local support agencies if the need is identified in the IEP.
    In college, students have to make their own connections with community support groups.

  10. In high school, parents are expected and encouraged to be involved in their children’s education.
    In college, college staff are not allowed to disclose information about students, even to parents, in accordance with the federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA).