In kindergarten through twelfth grade, students have access to two programs to help complete their education. A committee can write an individualized education plan (IEP) to provide a free and appropriate education through special education under IDEA. For students who do not qualify for special education services, teachers provide academic accommodations under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. With shrinking education budgets, schools focus on providing support for a student to achieve an average performance, not an optimal one. Academic accommodations in college are only one option to increase your success. So what determines college success with a disability?

At the college or university level, students have only one option. Disability services offices determine academic accommodations for students who provide documentation of a disability. For students who had 504 accommodations in high school, the student usually receives similar ones in college. Since universities do not provide special education, students may have a rougher transition. However, any student can access a wide variety of services in addition to accommodations that can increase success.

Why no special education services?

The Individual with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) has three parts grouped into ages: early intervention (0-3), school age (3 to up to 21), and college age (21+). Those services provide a free and appropriate education up to 21 for those still in pre-K to 12th grade. Under special education law, subjects can be modified to fit the IEP.

After high school, student receive support through Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act. As such, students in college may have accommodations that put them on an even playing field. But the student must still complete the essential requirements for the class or program. After graduating, job seekers can also have job related accommodations.

Academic Accommodations in College

Picture of student visiting college or university offices that help you succeed in college

Some typical accommodations provided to students are:

  • Extra time for testing
  • Access to a testing center for less distractions while testing
  • Use of audio recording for lectures
  • Note-taking services or extra notes
  • Interpreter or real-time captioning
  • Flexible attendance agreements
  • Occasional assignment extensions

However, colleges provide many services for all students, including those living with disabilities. If a student needs accommodations for living on campus (under the Fair Housing Act), he or she can arrange a single room, have an emotional support animal, work out special dietary needs or hire a personal care attendant.

As an college student, you, the adult, will be responsible for arranging accommodations and seeking health care, therapy, or other services to manage your disability. In K-12 education, your parents and teachers arranged accommodations and services.

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Here's help to succeed in college while living with a disability


Some offices serve a certain population. Be sure to check if you qualify:

  1. Disability services offices - Each campus will have an office of disability services that can help you get academic accommodations and guide you to other resources at that campus.
  2. Integrated autism programs – Many of these programs have an additional cost, but provide ongoing support, tutoring, mentoring, and housing suitable to students on the autism spectrum. Such programs are only available at specific universities.
  3. First time in college offices – These offices can provide advisors for students whose families are new to college life. These offices may provide additional tutoring, financial aid advice, social gatherings, and mentoring.
  4. Mentoring groups - Several groups may offer mentoring for students. Some groups may offer social skills, study skills guidance, and help succeeding in college.

Additional Resources for All Students

  1. Tutoring center(s) – Some centers tutor most subjects and others are located in the department. Check both places for peer tutoring, video tutoring, or instruction from a teaching assistant.
  2. Academic advisors - Advisors can help you select the right courses that can save you time and apply to your degree plan. If you do not take prerequisites before you register for a class, you may not be able to complete the class. Good advisors can also save you money.
  3. Testing centers – The college or university testing center may provide accommodations on placement exams.
  4. Career centers – The career service office can offer guidance for finding student employment and internships as well as that first career job. A student will gain valuable job hunting skills when they visit early and often.
  5. Student counseling offices – Counseling is available to students free or low cost as needed.
  6. Psychology/School counseling department clinics – These clinics may offer assessments for diagnoses, counseling, and other services to help students succeed.
  7. Student health center – On campus clinics provide medical care and maintenance while attending college.
  8. Set aside housing or housing accommodations – universities that offer residential housing may have housing for sober living, single rooms, honors programs, and other groups that may best meet the needs of certain students
  9. Specialty clinical training programs – Universities often have speech clinics, dental or medical schools, communication disorders departments, and other clinics that students can use for therapy.
  10. Centers for diversity/inclusion – Diversity offices provide workshops, training, counseling, and faculty support around diversity issues
  11. Equal opportunity services – Provides investigation to students who may be unable to obtain needed accommodations.

While each college has another name for the offices listed above, be sure to ask when speaking with the admissions staff or academic advisors. The college website is also a great way to locate the office for your university.

Photo by Duangphorn Wiriya on Unsplash



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