Transitioning To College For LD Students

As educators, and especially as educators of students with learning disabilities, we are often stuck in the "now." Instructing classes, managing behavior, grading, and creating lesson plans, we find ourselves sprinting to stay one day ahead of our class. All too often, the same is true for our students, as they are engrossed (or not!) in the demands of high school life and fail to prepare fully for life after college. The consequences of not looking ahead enough — whether in terms of college admissions or financial aid — can be devastating to students' future prospects.

This is even more true for students with learning disabilities, for whom the transition to higher education is an even more daunting challenge. Legal and practical considerations must be taken into account as LD students prepare for the college transition. The following are some important points and suggestions to help teachers become advocates to help their students succeed in this crucial transition.

Legal Considerations

Throughout their primary and secondary educations, LD students enjoy the protections of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), which among other things requires the creation and implementation of Individualized Education Plans (IEP). Under the law, IEP teams must begin to consider a student's post-secondary goals at age 14, when most students are about to enter high school. One way this could manifest itself in a plan is to include SAT preparation in the goals and services sections of IEPs. Furthermore, beginning at around age 16, IEPs must be updated to include statements of any transition services the student might need.

But the IDEA does not extend beyond high school, except in the situation where a student is receiving rehabilitation services as part of an Individual Written Rehabilitation Plan (IWRP). In college, students will instead have their rights protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Although this law offers strong protection from discrimination in admissions and provides the right to "reasonable accomodations," it is not as flexible, individualized, or formalized as the IDEA with its IEP procress.

One very important and often overlooked implication of this switch from IDEA to ADA is that a student will not necessarily receive accommodations in college simply because s/he had an IEP in high school. Instead, during a student's last two years of high school, IEP teams should arrange for additional diagnostic testing to further define the student's disability and provide current assessment data to demonstrate to a college that accommodations are necessary and appropriate. Without such data, a student may find themselves left behind at the beginning of college.

Practical Considerations

There are many different factors to consider as any student chooses and transitions into a college. But for LD students, additional considerations must be made:

  • What type of college best suits me? This is a universal question, but is particularly important for LD students to consider. Community colleges, part-time, vocational, and even online institutions are among the wide array of higher education options.
  • What type of accommodations will make the most sense given the college learning environment? For example, assistive technology (such as word-recognition software for word processing) can be a key component in making accommodations. Students (and their advocates) should investigate the services offered at the schools they are considering.
  • Do professors at a particular school use technology in flexible ways that might assist LD students access the material? For example, many college professors provide lecture notes online, which could be an easy and helpful accommodation for several learning disabilities.
  • How committed is the college or university to its disability support programs? Students should visit disability support centers or offices on campus tours to meet and interview the staff. Speaking with current LD students is an effective way to ferret out the truth.


Students with learning disabilities can succeed in college, just as they can succeed in K-12 education. But in order to be in a position to succeed, students, their families, and their teacher-advocates must plan ahead for the transition. The transition process must account for both legal and practical considerations such as those listed above.


Taymans, Juliana M., and Lynda L. West. "Selecting A College for Students with Learning Disabilities or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder." ERIC Digest. 2001. 1 August 2007. <>.

This page was created by Dan Gordon