High School vs. College

The Differences Between High School and College for Students with Disabilities

In college, there are NO special education classes.

(Adapted from University of Wisconsin-La Crosse ACCESS Center)

General Differences

High School


High school is mandatory and usually free.

Personal aides and equipment that are required are provided by the school.

I.D.E.A. (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act) provides for education of all students regardless of disability in high school.

I.D.E.A. is about ensuring success.

College is a voluntary choice and very costly.

If a student needs a personal aide or equipment, they must provide it themselves.

A.D.A. (Americans with Disabilities Act) and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act helps level the playing field for student with disabilities in college.

A.D.A ensures equal access, but does not guarantee success.


High School


Teacher may modify curriculum and alter pacing of assignments.

Your are expected to read short assignments that are then discussed and re-taught in class.

You seldom need to read anything more than once, sometimes listening in class is enough.

Professors are not required to modify curriculum or alter assignment deadlines.

You are assigned substantial amounts of reading and writing which may not be addressed in class.

You need to review class notes, textbooks, and other materials regularly.


High School


Consistently good homework grades may raise your overall grade wehn test grades are low.

Extra credit projects are often available to help raise your grade.

Initial test grades, especially when they are low, may not have an adverse effect on your final grade.

Grades on tests and maor papers usually provide most of the course grade.

Extra credit projects usually cannot be used to raise a grade in a college class.

Watch out for you first tests. These may be “wake up calls” to let you know what is expected and may count for a substantial part of your course grade.

You cannot retake tests in college.

Attendance may or may not be included as a part of your grade.

Modifications vs. Accommodations

High School


Accommodations and modifications are written  into the IEP or 504 plan for all of the student’s classes.

The resource teacher informs your other teachers regarding the accommodations you require.

Assignments may be modified, i.e. extensions and writing assignments, notes for exams, etc.

Accommodations requested by the student are provided on a course by course basis.

**You are responsible for informing your instructor(s) that you have academic accommodations through disability services.

Accommodations may not alter the fundamental requirements of the course, i.e. notes for exams, word banks, length of assignments, etc.

**You will need to be registered with disability services before accomodations can be requested. Check with your college/university/technical school for available accommodations. Such accommodations may include: alternative reading formats, alternative testing times/site, assistive technology, classroom access, deaf and hard of hearing services, faculty notifications by disability services, note taking assistance.

Time Management

High School


Your time is structured by others.

Each day you proceed from one class directly to another, spending 6 hours a day - 30 hours a week- in class.

Most of your classes are arranged for you.

You manage your own time!!

You often have hours between classes. Cass times vary throughout the day and evening and you only spend 12-16 hours each week in class.

You arrange your own schedule.

*Be careful here! Keep track of what NEEDS to be done and plan for it.

  • Develop a schedule that fits you best.

  • Learn how to utilize a planner, prepare “To Do” lists and then prioritize the tasks.

  • Designate specific times for study, tutoring, social activities, personal errands, and other responsibilities and stick to them.

  • For every one credit hour in which you enroll, you will spend approximately two to three hours outside of class studying. Therefore, to help determine the course load most appropriate for you, use the formula: 3 credit hours (1 course) = 3 hours in class per week = 6-9 hours study time per week per 3 credit course.

  • Leave breaks between your classes if possible to allow for extended testing time.

  • Managing your time effectively is crucial to your success.


High School


Student is identified by the school and supported by parents and teachers.

Primary responsibility for arranging accommodations belongs to the school.

Teachers approach you if they believe you need assistance.

Student must self-identify to disability services.

Primary responsibility for self-advocacy and arranging accommodations belongs to the student.

Professors are usually open and helpful, but student must initiate contact as assistance is needed.

  • To ensure availability when needed, register with disability services when you first begin college. You will not be required to use the services if you do not need them, but this puts accommodations in place when you need them.

  • Disability services advisors will advocate with students as opposed to advocating for students.

  • Know your disability and most effective learning styles so you can share that information with people who need to know (disability services advisor, instructors, academic advisors, etc.)

  • Communicate your needs and concerns to your disability services advisor and instructors.

  • Meet with your academic advisor.

Use ALL available university resources (tutors, writing labs, etc.)