Important Differences Between High School and College

1. The laws and responsibilities are different in college

In high school, students with disabilities receive services under the law known as IDEA, which mandates that students receive the educational modifications and services and have an IEP, or students may receive modifications under a different law and have a 504 Plan. High schools must provide these services to the students without requiring the student to request them from each teacher. The IDEA law does not apply at the college level. Instead, the laws are Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Not all students who received accommodations while in high school will be eligible for services while in college, and the modifications that were received in high school may not be available at the college level. To gain access to accommodations and services through these laws, students needing academic accommodations for a disability must “self-identify” their needs by 1) meeting the disability documentation requirements of the college, 2) requesting and finalizing the “accommodations” they will need due to their disability by registering with the designated office, and 3) self-advocating with each instructor to get the academic accommodations that they need in each class. Some personal services and technology may also be provided through the Georgia Vocational Rehabilitation Program Office.

2. Students are largely responsible for their own success

Classes and services for students at the high school level are extremely structured and supportive. Students take a specified schedule, and the same group of peers are in most of their classes. Teachers constantly review their expectations, monitor student progress, and may even contact parents. This is not the case in college, where each day’s schedule can vary widely, each class consists of a different group of students, and each student has an individualized schedule and course load. College professors may not check to see if reading assignments are being done or concern themselves with the quality of the notes being taken by students. Professors may not take attendance at all or they may consider it heavily when calculating grades. Students need to request clarification and communicate their needs to each professor and seek assistance when needed through their academic advisors, academic tutoring centers, and disability support services.

3. There is greater academic competition

Unlike going to high school, going to college is a voluntary matter. Low achievers and unmotivated high school students rarely reach the college campus. Consequently, students moving on to college often find themselves changing from “the big fish in the small pond” to “the small fish in a big pond” surrounded by other students, most of whom have strong academic skills and have successfully completed college preparatory courses in English composition, mathematics, and foreign language. If you have weaknesses or an identified disability in an academic area, now that the academic demands are higher, you may need to take advantage of tutoring or use accommodations that you have not needed to use in the past. There is no shame in using all of the campus services that are available to you and improving your chances of being successful in college.