As a student with disabilities, you face unique considerations as you plan for college. To help you address these issues, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and EducationQuest have developed these steps you should follow:
Step 1: Understand the importance of self-advocacy
Becoming a self-advocate in high school will help you succeed in college. In college, you will be responsible for identifying and requesting support services. Parents aren’t automatically involved with your college education, and most colleges prefer working directly with the student.
As a “self-advocate” you communicate your needs with logical and positive language. To be an effective self-advocate, you must understand your disability, know how it impacts your learning, and become comfortable with describing your disability and academic-related needs to others. Follow these tips for becoming a self-advocate.
Step 2: Explore your career options
- Ask your school counselor or school transition specialist about career interest inventories and a vocational assessment to help you identify your career interests. Ask how your learning needs may influence these career areas.
- Discuss career options with your parents, friends, and people working in jobs that interest you. Look into job shadowing, attend local career fairs, and explore volunteer opportunities in your areas of interest.
- Become involved in extracurricular activities. Volunteer and paid work can teach responsibility, reliability and teamwork. A part-time job is also a good way to earn money for college. Track your activities using the Activities Resume.
- Review the Exploring Careers section for additional career information.
Step 3: Prepare for college entrance and placement exams
- ACT/SAT entrance exams
You typically take the ACT and/or SAT entrance exams in the spring of your junior year and again in the fall of your senior year. The following links provide details about requesting accommodations for the ACT and the SAT.
- Accuplacer and Companion
If you plan to attend a community college, the school may require you to take a computer-based placement test called Accuplacer which tests your knowledge in math, reading and writing. A paper-and-pencil version of the test, called
Companion, is also available. For more information, visit Accuplacer.org. To request accommodations, contact your college’s test center.
Step 4: Narrow your college choices
Finding a college that meets your needs will require research, campus visits and asking the right questions. See the Selecting a College section for steps to follow.
Once you narrow your college choices, meet with the disability services coordinator at each college to determine services and accommodations that may be available. This will help you decide which college best meets your needs. To prepare for that meeting review these questions to ask the disabilities services coordinator and questions you may be asked.
Step 5: Apply for admission and financial aid
Ask your prospective colleges about deadlines and the process for applying for admission, financial aid and college-based scholarships. Ask about scholarships that may be available for students with disabilities.
When you apply for financial aid, inform the college’s financial aid administrator of your disability-related expenses keeping in mind that financial aid will not cover expenses already covered by assisting agencies. Possible disability-related expenses include:
- services for personal care attendants
- special education equipment related to your disability and its maintenance
- special transportation
- medical expenses relating directly to your disability not covered by insurance
If you need help with the financial aid process, contact EducationQuest Foundation.
Step 6: Select a college and request services
Once you select a college, keep in mind that you will receive services related to a disability only if you contact the coordinator of disability services, provide required documentation, and request services each term or semester.
- Gather required documentation
All colleges require documentation of a student’s disability to determine eligibility for services. They may request copies of your IEP (Individualized Education Plan), 504 Plan, MDT (Multidisciplinary Report), or other appropriate documentation.
- Contact the office that provides services for students with disabilities at the college you plan to attend. Ask what you will need to provide to receive appropriate services in a timely manner.
- Request a copy of your high school IEP/504 before you graduate. If you had an IEP/504 in high school, that means you were tested by the school psychologist or a medical doctor. A copy of that assessment may be sufficient documentation of your disability.
- Update your tests. Some colleges have a three-year time limit on accepting certain documentation, particularly if you have a learning disability or Attention Deficit Disorder. If you received testing in high school, work with your school to have your tests updated the last year you receive special education services. Disability testing after high school graduation can be expensive.
- Meet with the disability services coordinator
Review the documentation and discuss accommodations with the disability services coordinator at your college. After meeting with you and evaluating your documentation, the disability services coordinator will understand how your disability impacts your learning and can determine possible accommodations. The law does NOT state that all students with a disability must receive ALL accommodations.
- Request accommodations
Partner with the disability services coordinator and the course instructor to find accommodations that work best for you. Although the college may not always agree to your request for a specific accommodation, they are required by law to provide an effective accommodation. Determining effective accommodations may involve experimenting and making adjustments.
- IMPORTANT! You must request services from the disability services office each term or semester. You will not receive services unless you make the request.
Step 7: Become familiar with the campus environment
- Register for campus orientation. The disability services coordinator may also provide a special campus orientation.
- Determine where to go and who to contact in case of an emergency. If you have special needs (especially medical needs) inform appropriate college personnel of any advance preparation that should be in place.
- Ask the admissions office if a summer transition program is offered.
- Obtain a copy of your class schedule and visit all buildings where your classes will be held to become familiar with locations and layout.
- Become familiar with parking facilities and procedures if you are commuting and will drive yourself.
- Consider signing a release of information so the school has permission to share information with your parents.