High School vs. College
back to top

High School vs. College

College life poses different challenges for students with disabilities. When students enroll in a college or university, they are considered to be responsible adults by faculty and staff. The expectations are that they will assume responsibilities for meeting their class requirements.

This added responsibility is coupled with a change in environment. High school is a teaching environment in which students acquire knowledge and skills. A college or university has a learning environment in which students take responsibility for thinking through and applying what they have learned.

Another student responsibility is that of self-advocacy. Students must become adept at realistically assessing and understanding their strengths, weaknesses, needs and preferences. They must become experts at communicating this information to other adults, including instructors and service providers. Although services will be available to students through an office specializing in services to students with disabilities, students will be responsible for see​king these services and supports. Good communication skills and knowledge about oneself become crucial to success at any college or university.

Contact the Office of Access & Disability Resources before Actual Enrollment
The transition from high school to college requires that students with disabilities contact the Office of Access & Disability Resources well in advance of actual enrollment. Many colleges and universities have a diverse student population with many different needs and services which need to be planned in advance. Pre-enrollment services may be needed for assessment testing or other college requirements.

Successful Accommodations
Successful accommodations come from effective collaboration between the student, College staff and faculty. Students are encouraged to:

Attending College for the First Time
Especially for students attending college for the first time, here's a comparison between high school and college:

High School


School 6 hours per day, 5 days per week.

Full time students attend class 12-18 hours per week.

The school year is about 9 months long.

The academic year is two 16 week semesters.

Time is structured by others; teachers closely monitor attendance.

Students arrange their own schedule and manage their own time.

Students are not responsible for knowing what it takes to graduate.

Students are expected to know the graduation requirements for their particular program.

Teachers check student’s completed homework.

Instructors may not always check student’s homework.

Teachers might remind students of missed work and often provide students with information they missed when they were absent.

Instructors may not always remind students of missed work; they expect students to get notes from classmates for any classes they have missed.

Case manager acts as advocate.

Students advocate for themselves.

Services result from Individualized Educational Plan (IEP).

Services are based on individual needs, which must be supported by updated documentation, and the requirements for specific classes.

Regular parent contact.

Parent contact limited by privacy laws.

High schools are required to identify students with disabilities and determine what is needed for the student to be successful.

Colleges are restricted from seeking out students with disabilities due to privacy laws.

Educational and psychological testing is provided.

Students are responsible for providing documentation to the college.

Entitlement law (IDEA).

Civil rights – Anti-discrimination law (ADA, Rehabilitation Act, Section 504 and the MN Human Rights Act).