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Tuesday's Tip: High School to College - IEPs are not 504s

The transition from high school to college is usually difficult for most SCHOLARS because many of the rules have changed. In addition, there are no nagging adults demanding that you follow through, finish your work or go to class. It all sounds wonderful until you have slept through your morning classes for the third time, and you have automatically dropped a full letter grade because of it. If you are off the charts with an IQ of 160 it probably will not be a problem, but if you are one of the rest of us with just reasonable intelligence it can be scary trying to keep that grade up while some of the realities of adulthood start to sink in as you try to navigate.

Let's face it, in college there are no IEPs or IDEA to support you. In college you have only ADA and 504. In order to take advantage of ADA and the 504 there are a couple of things that you must do to get what you need. First and foremost, keep the copy of your last IEP and evaluation. Hopefully the evaluation was done within the last 18 months before graduation. Secondly, you will contact Disability Services (DS) at your college or training program and work with them to receive the accommodations and services you need. You will need your IEP and your latest evaluation report with you.

Your self-advocacy skills are critical to ensure that you get what you need to have an equal opportunity for success in college and adult life. The goal of special education in high school is to help you effectively gain access to your education and any remediation you may need to address your education deficits through the IEP or 504 process. In college the goal of disability services is to give you equal access to programs and services through the 504 process. The following chart illustrates the differences between high school and college in terms of what supports may or may not be given.

HIGH SCHOOL: Continued Support from Staff & Parents V. COLLEGE: Your Responsibility


High School: Class attendance is mandatory and monitored carefully. Warnings are given.

College: Scholars are expected to follow the colleges attendance policy as stated in the syllabus or handbook and warnings are NOT given.


High School: Teachers approach and support scholars who are having academic difficulties.

College: Scholars are responsible to ask the instructor for help.


High School: Scholars are reminded of assignment due dates.

College: Scholars are responsible for keeping track of their projects, assignments, and test dates based on the syllabus and oral revisions during class.


High School: Teachers provide students with missed information when they are absent.

College: Scholars must approach their instructors or other scholars for information they missed when absent.

Extra Credit

High School: Extra Credit assignments are given to help scholars raise their grades.

College: Extra credit assignments are not usually given.

Make Ups

High School: Make up tests are usually available.

College: Make up tests are not usually an option.

Lecture and Textbooks

High School: Teachers present information to help the scholar understand the textbook.

College: Instructors may not follow the textbook. Lectures enhance the topic. Both are on the exams.

Disability Evaluations

High School: The IEP (Individual Education Plan) should provide adequate evaluation documentation at no cost for the development of a college 504 plan.

College: In college, if the IEP is not adequate, an independent evaluation will be required to document a disability which you will have to get at your expense.

Accessing, Defining, Scheduling Services

High School: In high school the school staff and parents are responsible for accessing, defining, and scheduling special education services.

College: In college you are responsible for accessing, defining, and scheduling your disability services.

Identification of Disabilities

High School: The school is responsible for identifying and disclosing to staff the scholar’s disabilities. The school must provide the assessment of disability, classification of the disability and involve parents.

College: You must self-identify or disclose your disability in college, across environments and at the Disability Support Office. Scholars are not required to self-identify unless they want to access services. Scholars must directly request pre-approved accommodations from EACH teacher.

Records Access

High School: In high school the parents have access to the scholar’s records and regularly participate in the IEP process.

College: In college the parents do not have access to disability related or other records unless the scholar provides written consent. Scholars advocate for themselves.

Modifications and Support Services

High School: In high school MANY different instructional modifications, accommodations, and support services are provided. (tutors, personal care attendants, personal aids/devices, Occupational Therapy, Speech and Language, apps, etc.)

College: Colleges are required to allow for only some accommodations, (note-taker, priority seating, extended test time, reader, scribe, use of a computer, spell checker, calculator, etc.) NOT instructional modifications or support services. They are not required to lower or effect substantial modifications to essential requirements.

Academic Progress

High School: School staff will discuss academic progress with parents or legal guardians.

College: The scholar is considered an adult with privacy and confidentiality protections. Staff cannot talk with parents or legal guardians about the scholar’s academic progress.

IDEA vs 504

High School: The school must develop an Individualized Education Program. The school must provide a free and appropriate education including modified program and appropriate related services, under IDEA.

College: THERE IS NO SPECIAL EDUCATION AT THE COLLEGE LEVEL. The scholar must request specific reasonable accommodations and provide supporting evidence through documentation. Accommodations are to provide equal access and allow participation.

Monitor Results

High School: The school must coordinate the provisions of all services, monitor progress, and evaluate results.

College: The college must provide reasonable accommodations for scholars who qualify and request them. They do not monitor results.

Test Formats

High School: High Schools modify curriculum, grading standards, and alter test format (oral test instead of multiple choice).

College: Colleges will not make any modifications that would fundamentally alter a curriculum or class, including grade modifications and test format changes.


High School: Teachers are free to approach parents without consent from scholar to discuss scholar’s progress.

College: Without a release of information signed by the scholar the teacher cannot legally include the parents in any part of the educational process.

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