Disability Resource Center

Transition from High School to College

Guide for Students with Disabilities

The University of North Carolina at Wilmington is open and accessible to students with disabilities. We are committed to providing assistance to enable qualified students to accomplish their educational goals as well as assuring equal opportunity to derive all of the benefits of campus life.

Too often First-Year students with disabilities struggle to make a successful transition to college. It's easy to understand why the transition can be so difficult. The laws which govern special education in high school differ from those that guide disability services and the accommodation process in college. The Disability Resource Center at the University of North Carolina Wilmington offers the following information to students with disabilities to ease the transition to college and help provide a successful beginning to university life.

U.S. Legislation guiding disability services in educational settings:

There are two pieces of U.S. legislation which mandate disability services in post-secondary settings: Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Americans with Disability Act (ADA 1990; ADAAA 2008). IDEA, also known as the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act extends to elementary and secondary educational settings (K-12); however, it does not extend to post-secondary environments.

In high school, Special Education and other programs are mandated to provide support to students with disabilities. Also, Individual Educational Plans (IEP's) and 504 Plans are developed for students with disabilities as a procedure required under IDEA. One misunderstanding by students with disabilities is that an IEP or 504 Plan developed for high school will be binding or continued at a college or university - they are not.

High School:

  • Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)
  • Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act
  • Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)
  • Civil Rights Restoration Act


  • Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act
  • Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)
  • Civil Rights Restoration Act

Understanding the Differences Between the Responsibilities of High Schools & Colleges
is Critical to a Successful Transition!

High School Responsibilities:

  • Identify students with disabilities
  • Provide assessment and impact of a disability on learning
  • Classify disabilities according to specified diagnostic categories
  • Involve parents or guardians in placement decisions
  • Provide certain non-academic services including personal assistants and personal devices
  • Place student in programs where they can benefit (in any way) by placement committee with parent participation and approval
  • Structure a large part of the student's academic schedule
  • Modify educational programs
  • Prepare Individual Education Plans (IEP's) and 504 Plans
  • Provide a free and appropriate education
  • Provide appropriate services by the school nurse or health services

University Responsibilities:

  • Provide access to all programs and services to students with disabilities who meet the academic standards for entrance
  • Protect a student's right to privacy and confidentality
  • Provide information of office location and procedures for requesting disability-related accommodations and services
  • Accept and evaluate verifying documentation of a disability
  • Determine that a mental or physical impairment causes a substantial limitation of a major life activity based on student provided verifying documents.
  • Determine whether a student is otherwise qualified for participation in a program or service, and if so, whether a reasonable accommodation is possible
  • Provide reasonable accommodations for students who meet the above qualifying criteria
  • Provide reasonable access to program and service choices equal to those available to the general public
  • Provide reasonable academic adjustments which do not alter essential requirements of a course or program
  • Assure that off-campus and contracted program facilities also comply with Section 504 (subpart E) and ADA
  • Inform students of their rights and responsibilities.

Universities are NOT required to:

  • Conduct testing and assessment of a disabilities
  • Provide personal attendants
  • Provide personal devices
  • Provide personal or private tutors
  • Prepare IEP's or 504 Plans
  • Reduce or adjust the essential requirements of a course or program

(Other differences may exist for colleges/universities that provide housing programs, health services, psychological counseling services, and extensive international programs.)

Additionally, student rsponsibilities at a university also change in contrast to the K-12 educational experience where many of the responsibilities are assumed by the school.

It is the Student's Responsibility to:

  • Self-identify or disclose their disability
  • Obtain assessment and test results
  • Submit verifying documentation of a disability
  • Contact instructors and discuss implementation of eligible accommodations
  • Fulfill all course/program/degree requirements
  • Act as an independent adult
  • Arrange for and obtain personal tutoring
  • Manage and organize weekly schedules
  • Use campus resources
  • Self-advocate for your needs

Students attending colleges/universities are considered adults, with privacy and confidentiality protections. University staff cannot talk with parents and guardians about a student's academic activities as in the K-12 setting.

Documentation requirements may vary from institution to institution. Each institution has the right to establish it's own guidelines for documentation requirements. Check with each institution to obtain the documentation requirements. The documentation must verify the disability, describe the extent/severity of the impairment and provide information regarding the functional impact of the disability, which supports the need for a specific accommodation.

College students must structure and plan their own study time; colleges do not set up study periods or provide for time to do homework during classes.

Professors and classes may differ regarding attendance requirements, scheduling assignment due dates and exams. It is the student's responsibility to study each professor's syllabus to determine these requirements. Attendance may be considered an essential requirement of some courses and therefore not subject to waiver or reduction. Grades reflect the quality of the work submitted.

The Following is a Checklist Prior To Entering A University


  • Apply for special testing arragements and/or accommodations for the SAT/ACT
  • Develop a tentative list of universities
  • Identify sources of college/university information
  • Research services offered by colleges/universities
  • Research academic and social competencies needed for success in a university setting
  • Inquire about procedure and requirements for documentation of a disability
  • Plan college/university visits
  • Apply early
  • If accepted - contact the college/university office that provides disability services

For a pdf version of the above please visit the Transition from HS to College link.

For additional information on student responsibilities, please go to http://www.ed.gov/ocr/transition.html to visit an online publication provided by the U.S. Department of Education, Office for Civil Rights titled Students with Disabilities Preparing for Postsecondary Education: Know Your Rights and Responsibilities.