College life poses different challenges for students with disabilities. When students enroll in a college or university, they are considered to be responsible adults by faculty and staff. The expectations are that they will assume responsibilities for meeting their class requirements.
This added responsibility is coupled with a change in environment. High school is a teaching environment in which students acquire knowledge and skills. A college or university has a learning environment in which students take responsibility for thinking through and applying what they have learned.
Another student responsibility is that of self-advocacy. Students must become adept at realistically assessing and understanding their strengths, weaknesses, needs and preferences. They must become experts at communicating this information to other adults, including instructors and service providers. Although services will be available to students through an office specializing in services to students with disabilities, students will be responsible for seeking these services and supports. Good communication skills and knowledge about oneself become crucial to success at any college or university.
How Parents Can Help with Smooth Transitions to College Life
Parents can help their son or daughter achieve a smooth transition to college life by helping them to prepare for higher education, the new experience of college, and knowing what information is available to parents.
Preparing a son or daughter for higher education
Preparing for a successful college or university experience begins early in school. Statistically, students with disabilities are less likely to enter college and those who do attend are less likely to graduate than their peers without disabilities. If your son or daughter is going to beat these odds, you have to plan and support the decisions that can lead to later success. Use the following list to help your son or daughter plan for a college or university, and discuss all of these points with your son or daughter:
- Recognize that your son or daughter with a disability will go through the same experiences as their non-disabled peer.
- Preparation for higher education needs to start early in your son's or daughter's high school years.
- Ask the high school staff for information regarding appropriate post-secondary choices, such as technical college, community college, or university.
- Explore the benefits of extending the high school graduation date to take advantage of transition programs.
- Work with your son's or daughter's high school teachers and support staff, and community agencies to identify transition activities that will prepare your son or daughter for higher education.
- Contact the admissions office of several colleges or universities. Ask to speak with the service provider for students with disabilities. Talk with the service provider about the admissions process for students with disabilities, how students must document their disability, and what services that institution offers to students with disabilities.
- Ensure that your son or daughter will have the necessary recent testing that a college or university needs to document a disability. This includes but is not limited to learning disabilities. This testing can be done during the senior year of high school but schedule it early. Have these reports and copies of your son's or daughter's most recent disability assessment, IEP (Individual Education Plan), and transition plan available for college staff.
- Encourage your son or daughter to contact rehabilitation services to determine eligibility for services. Rehabilitation services can help with financial and equipment support for students with disabilities.
- If your son's or daughter's chosen college or university requires post admissions test results, learn the process for requesting testing accommodations. If your son or daughter needs testing accommodations, the need must be documented.
- Ensure that your son or daughter learns to use reasonable and appropriate accommodations. These accommodations are determined based on documented need and may include but are not limited to test taking, note taking, reading texts, and using adaptive technology.
- Remember your son or daughter has the responsibility to notify the college or university that she or he has a disability identifying his/her needs and provide appropriate documentation of those needs. The college or university provides reasonable accommodation based on documentation of the disability.
Preparation for a successful college or university experience
As first-year students arrive at a college or university and begin to venture forth they experience different reactions and thoughts. Some students will adjust to life with little difficulty, while others may find that the transition stretches beyond the first year. Parents can help by understanding the developmental process that their students will journey through as they enter a college or university and recognize that this process is part of the higher education learning environment.
Upon arrival, many students enjoy a period where the newness and excitement leads to strong positive feelings about college or university life. A few weeks into the semester, students begin to realize that higher education is not all glamour and fun - there is hard work, and there can be frustration and disappointment as well. Students may receive their first low grades. About mid-semester, students may begin wondering if life is better at another school. They might believe that transferring to another institution will solve the problems they are experiencing. Or they may wonder if they would be better off out in the work world.
Students also begin to learn that things at home have changed. Life has gone on without them. Alternatively, first year students learn that they have changed, and because of this, their relationships with family and high school friends may be different from what they remember. Like the college or university, home suddenly feels like a new and changing place.
As students progress through the semester they refine their academic and study skills, engage in their first deep conversations with classmates and enjoy expanding their circle of friends. It is often at this time that true intellectual fulfillment begins and meaningful relationships with classmates and faculty develop.
With the end of the semester near, students face large amounts of work. No matter how well students have been doing academically and socially, they may have anxiety about whether they will survive the papers and exams and if they will actually make it to the second semester. They may question again whether they really belong in college
Sometime during the second semester, students begin to view higher education as a total experience. They come to see the classes, casual discussions with new friends, parties, and other elements of their life are related and part of an interrelated whole. First year students come to understand that the choices and commitment that they make have a tremendous impact on the shape of their higher education experience and future.
Information available to parents regarding educational records?
In general, under federal and state privacy laws, students at colleges or universities have the legal right to control access to information about them. Some information, called "directory data," is public and available to anyone, even parents. Almost all other information such as grades or class schedules is private and, in most cases, a student's written authorization is required to release to a third party private information held by a college or university.
Parents are legally considered to be "third parties" and need their son's or daughter's written permission to access private data about them.
Colleges and universities may have a policy whereby parents who can provide proof that their child is financially dependent on them (usually by providing copies of tax records) have access to their child's record without specific consent. You may contact the institution to see whether they have such a policy. If the college or university does not have such a policy, parents need their child's written consent to obtain private information from the school unless there is a health or safety emergency.