In transitioning from high school to college, students are expected to practice a greater level of independence. This can make the transition to college confusing and sometimes difficult, so it helps to take advantage of all the resources available to you, starting with understanding your rights and responsibilities as a student with disabilities in higher education. The following chart examines the differences in responsibilities between a student with a disability in high school and a student with a disability in a higher education setting:


High School

Higher Education

Primary Legislation

Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.

Section 504 and 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, and the Americans with Disabilities Amendments Act of 2008. 


School may conduct the assessment and provide student with documentation of disability.

Student must provide current documentation of disability by a qualified professional.

Services and Meetings

School initiates services and sets up meetings for student (e.g., IEP, 504).

Student initiates requests for services, accommodations, and meetings with Institute staff.

Educational Goals

School often creates and monitors progress for student.

Student develops and monitors own progress.

Course Workload

May be modified.

Is not modified.


May consist of one to three hours of study time per day, some of it done in class.

Students can expect to study three to four times the number of hours spent in class per week.


Requirements for classes may be done with minimal outside work.

The Institute is a reading-intensive environment—analytical skills are required.

Additionally, below is a listing of some helpful resources on transitioning to higher education:

Association on Higher Education and Disability: AHEAD provides a list of FAQs for students and parents, as well as resources on transition.

Students with Disabilities Preparing for Postsecondary Education: Know Your Rights and Responsibilities: A list of FAQs from the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights regarding the legal rights and responsibilities of students with disabilities who are preparing to attend a postsecondary institution.

National Center for Learning Disabilities: An article on strategic planning to ensure success in the transition from high school to higher education.

International Dyslexia Association: IDA provides a list of FAQs regarding the transition from high school to college, including when to start planning, how to obtain accommodations on standardized tests, and what kind of support students can expect as they enter higher education.

For students or parents who are facing challenges with the transition to college, check out The Transition Year website.

Also, attached below is an Open Letter to Parents written by Jane Jarrow, an expert in disability studies and also a parent of a college student with disabilities. This letter speaks to parents about their new role as their children transition to college.

The Role of Self-Advocacy in Transitioning to Higher Education

Self-advocacy refers to one's ability to effectively communicate, negotiate, or assert their own interests, desires, needs, or rights. By developing self-advocacy skills, students learn how to successfully communicate their learning needs to professors, which is essential to long-term success. In addition, through self-advocacy skills, students learn life-long strategies that allow them to maximize their strengths and take charge of their lives, which in turn helps to foster independence.

Discussing Accommodations With Professors

Discussing academic concerns or disability-related accommodations with professors can be difficult, especially the first time. Below you will find helpful information regarding the process, including tips on how to effectively communicate with professors about your accommodations and learning needs.

Also note that many students with disabilities may not require classroom accommodations, or specific accommodations may not be appropriate for certain classes. For example, it is usually not appropriate to receive extended time in studio classes. However, it may still be helpful to meet with your professors to discuss strategies to improve learning and mastery of course content. This is where self-advocacy skills will likely come into play.

Creating a Self-Advocacy Plan

When preparing to speak with your professors, plan in advance what you want to tell them about your learning needs and how the accommodations you receive assist you in the learning process. Writing out a self-advocacy plan before meeting with professors helps guide discussions about classroom accommodations and your learning needs. Start by identifying your academic strengths and weaknesses. Then, develop concrete examples of how accommodations will improve your access to academic material. You may want to do some role-playing with your roommate or a friend to plan how you will respond to questions about your requests. You can also watch the self-advocacy videos below to help you prepare.

The Letter Process

After the enrollment appointment, in order to utilize accommodations, professors and relevant offices must be legally notified. After obtaining the student’s permission, the Learning/Access Center (L/AC) will email the Faculty Notification Letter (FNL), which outlines the student’s approved accommodations, to the student’s faculty, academic advisor, and department chair. The L/AC will then work with students and faculty as needed to implement the approved accommodations.

After meeting with the L/AC. the next step is to schedule an appointment with each individual professor to introduce yourself and discuss your accommodations. This is where your self-advocacy plan will come into play. Additionally, here are some more tips to help you prepare for your conversation: 

  • Schedule your meeting as soon as possible. Find a time during scheduled office hours, or by appointment, to meet privately with your instructor.
  • Start in your comfort zone. Start by approaching those professors you feel most comfortable around. As you gain confidence, set up appointments with the other professors.
  • Organize your thoughts, or even role-play, prior to the meeting. Using your self-advocacy plan and Faculty Notification Letters as a guide, think about any information you may want to discuss, and role play with your roommate or a friend to practice how you will respond to questions about your learning needs.
  • Let the Faculty Notification Letter be your guide. Focus the discussion on your accommodations, not your disability. Remember, you do not need to disclose your diagnosed disability to your professor to receive accommodations.
  • Be open to suggestions or comments from instructors. Accommodations requests often require a collaborative effort and instructors are frequently able to offer creative suggestions for implementing your requests.
  • Reconnect with available resources if you need to. If you find you are unable to schedule an appointment with your instructor, or you are experiencing difficulties of any kind, contact the L/AC to make an appointment to discuss the situation.

The L/AC also offers assistance with self-advocacy. If you are interested in scheduling a meeting to discuss self-advocacy further, please contact the L/AC at 718.802.3123 or email us at

What to Say and How to Say It: Talking with Professors

When meeting with professors to discuss your classroom accommodations, approach each professor with a sense of confidence that your learning needs are important and that the professor is there to help you.

If you do not want to email your professor to schedule a meeting, approach him or her after class (the professor may be distracted at the start of class so you may not receive the attention you need). Whether you are emailing your professor or approaching them in person, start by introducing yourself. Then let the professor know that you would like to talk to them about an important and confidential matter. An example of what you might say is:

      “Hello, my name is _______ and I am in your class. I am wondering if I can meet with you privately to discuss some important issues related to my participation in your class.”

Alternatively, if you are comfortable enough and/or if there are no other students around, you can say:

“Hello, my name is _______. I require academic accommodations in your class. Is there a good time to meet to go over these?”

If you are comfortable doing so, you may share the nature of your disability; however, you are not required to do so. Rather, you need to only disclose your academic requests. If you are not comfortable sharing the nature of your disability and the professor wants to know what your disability is, you can say, “I am not comfortable sharing that information with you. But I am willing to talk about the accommodations and how they will be provided.” Be sure to remind the professor that this is confidential information that you would like to remain private between the two of you.

If a professor informs you that he or she is not willing or able to provide any or all of the accommodations that you requested, contact the L/AC at 718.802.3123 or to schedule an appointment.

Self-Advocacy Videos

If you would like additional help in effectively communicating your learning needs with professors, we recommend checking out Temple University’s videos. These videos, titled “Introducing Yourself,” “Disclosing Your Disability,” “Requesting an Accommodation,” and “Closing Your Conversation,” all use real-life students to model the steps to effectively discuss accommodations with professors. 

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