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Leaving high school

Are There IEPs and 504 Plans in College?

By Jim Rein

My daughter is in high school and is starting to worry about what kinds of services and supports will be available to her if she decides to pursue higher education. Are there IEPs and 504 plans in college?

Jim Rein

Former Dean, Vocational Independence Program, New York Institute of Technology

The short answer is there are no IEPs in college. Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 still protects students from discrimination when they get to college. But the process of requesting and receiving accommodations in college is different than in high school.

For one thing, you aren’t likely to hear many colleges use the phrase “504 plan.” And colleges may vary in their requirements for documentation. Another big difference between high school and college is that your child has to seek out the supports that colleges offer.

To do this, she needs to understand her learning or attention issues and be able to talk about them. That’s one reason why it’s important for your daughter to work on self-advocacy skills in high school. (Having your child attend IEP meetings can help with this. You may also want to ask the IEP team to include self-advocacy goals in your child’s IEP.)

Colleges tend to offer different types of support. Here’s a look at three types and some tips on how to help your child access these kinds of supports in college.

1. Support That Is Available to All Students

Most colleges make some kinds of supports available to all students. These supports typically are free. They tend to include:

  • A writing lab to help students work on their writing assignments
  • A math lab
  • Tutoring by student peers

Remember that in college it’s up to students to seek out these supports. Encourage your child to start using them at the beginning of her first semester rather than waiting until she’s at risk of failing a course. For example, make sure your child knows where the labs are and when they’re open.

2. Accommodations for Students With Documented Disabilities

If your child has a documented disability and is willing to disclose it to the college, then she can be eligible for accommodations. Here are some examples of accommodations in college:

  • Audiobooks and other kinds of assistive technology
  • Note-takers for students who need more assistance than a laptop during lectures
  • Copies of the professor’s or the teaching assistant’s notes
  • Untimed tests
  • A private room for taking tests
  • Alternative formats for tests

Your child can apply for accommodations at any time by contacting the college’s office of disability services. But keep in mind that if she waits, the college won’t go back and change any grades she received before she applied for accommodations.

It will also be her responsibility to show professors the letter approving her request for accommodations.

3. Special College Programs

Some colleges offer programs that are tailored for students with documented disabilities. Usually a few steps are needed to get into these special programs:

  • An admissions process in addition to the college’s regular admissions process
  • An interview with someone from the program
  • A fee on top of the school’s regular tuition

For many students, the extra resources are worth the extra cost. The advantages to these programs include:

  • Tutoring by professionals (as opposed to peer-to-peer tutoring)
  • Workshops on study skills and time management
  • Advisors who can talk to professors about a student’s progress or need for accommodations

Some of these programs may also allow students to register early for classes. Be sure to ask certain questions in advance. For example, you may want to find out if the program will be available to your child every year until she graduates.

There’s one other thing I wanted to mention related to your question about supports in college. Unlike high schools, colleges are not allowed to send progress reports to parents unless students give permission for them to do this. So when you’re talking with your child about college, it might be a good idea to encourage her to give the college permission to keep you in the loop.

About the Author

Portrait of Jim Rein

Jim Rein

Jim Rein, M.A., has lectured around the country on postsecondary options and summer programs for children and young adults with learning and attention issues.

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