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A Parentís Guide to College

A short guide to help you understand the transition process from high school to college for your child with a disability.


About College

College life poses different challenges for students with disabilities. When students enroll in college, they are considered 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. Whereas the high school was a very structured environment with a set schedule, college schedules can vary dramatically. For the first time students may have considerable time between classes and frequently do not use this time wisely. Students must enforce their own attendance policies and prepare to realize personal consequences if they choose not to attend class.

Is my child ready to assume responsibilities? If not, how will she/he learn these responsibilities?

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Self-Advocacy

Another student responsibility is that of self-advocacy. Students must become adept at realistically assessing and understanding their strengths, weaknesses, needs, and preferences. Also, they must become experts at communicating these to other adults including instructors and service providers. Although services will be available to them through DSPS, students will be responsible for seeking these services and supports. Good communication skills and knowledge about oneself become crucial to success in college.

Visit Self-Advocacy for Students with Disabilities

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Comparison of Services

High School and college are very different. Consider these differences and their importance to your child.

High School

  • Services are delivered to the student
  • Services are based on an agreed upon time allotment and menu of choices
  • Teachers and parents acts as advocate
  • Annual review & IEP
  • Regular parent contact
  • Entitlement law (IDEA)
  • Education and psychology testing is provided

Community College

  • Student must seek out services
  • Services are based on situational/individual needs
  • Student acts as advocate
  • No annual review or IEP
  • No parent contact
  • Anti-discrimination law (ADA)

Setting Demands

Keep in mind that the college demands will be different and often greater than in high school. These demands include the need for greater organizational skills, assertiveness, and use of self-advocacy skills. Students must be prepared to handle a complicated course schedule and make more time for studying and completing assignments. Mastering learning strategies and study techniques will make college coursework more manageable. Because adults will not be seeking the students out to offer assistance, students can not be shy about asking for help.

How good are my child's study and test-taking skills?

How to Lend Support

You can support your child entering the college setting in a number of ways. First, be knowledgeable about the rights and responsibilities your son/daughter has under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Your son/daughter is responsible for using the information. Prior to enrollment, make sure that your son/daughter has all the paperwork needed to obtain services. Once you have gathered the necessary paperwork, make copies and turn it over to your son/daughter as the first step toward he/she assuming responsibility (make sure that you keep a copy in a safe place).

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Further Support

Beyond taking care of paperwork, consider these steps:

  1. Encourage the development and use of self-advocacy skills;
  2. Help your son/daughter understand his/her disability;
  3. Talk about it comfortably. Once your son/daughter has a class schedule, discuss how his/her strengths and weaknesses will be effected by each class and what kinds of services he/she might need in order to be successful;
  4. Once the semester is underway, ask questions about progress, but remember that your son/daughter is ultimately responsible for his/her success;
  5. Listen and ask questions when you sense a problem is occurring;
  6. Realize that the coursework will be more difficult and time consuming than during high school;
  7. If your son/daughter is living at home, make sure he/she has a quiet place to study and ample time to finish assignments.

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Parentsí Rights

Your child is considered an adult at the age of 18. You will no longer have access to your childís records, unless your child chooses to share information with you. You cannot call the school and get updates on your child.


This web page was derived in part from a document which was supported in whole or in part by the U. S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs, (Cooperative Agreement No. H324M980109). However, the opinions expressed herein do not necessarily reflect the policy or position of the U. S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs, and no official endorsement by the Department should be inferred Note: There are no copyright restrictions on this document: however, please credit the source and support of federal funds when copying all or part of this material. This document is also available on the web for printing at: http://das.kucrl.org/iam.html. Minor changes have been made to the original document in formatting and to change the term DSS to DSPS.

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