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From High School 504s and IEPs to College Disability Services

Updated: Apr 10

As your child approaches college, you may wonder if they need an Individualized Education Program (IEP) or 504 plan in high school to access accommodations in college. As an educational consultant, I frequently speak with parents to clarify the relationship between high school IEPs and 504 plans compared to college disability services.  

The short answer is no - college disability services are handled differently, so an IEP or 504 plan is not required to receive accommodations in college. However, having documentation of a learning disability under an existing IEP or 504 can make the process smoother. Here’s how it works:

The ADA Replaces IDEA

The key legal difference is that the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and Section 504 (Subpart D) of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, manage accommodations in high school, while the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Section 504 (Subpart E) covers disabilities at the college level.

This means 504 plans and Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) essentially expire when graduating from high school. So, while helpful background information, IEPs and high school 504 plans do not transition or carry over to college.

What Documentation Do Colleges Require? 

While high school IEPs and 504 plans are helpful records, colleges have their own documentation requirements that students must meet to receive ADA accommodations. Exactly what a college disability services office asks for can vary from school to school. Most require assessments done within the past three years, while others will accept older information and base their decision on what is available. Families are advised to contact the disability services office (sometimes referred to by other names) to confirm what is needed in order to register with them and to receive accommodations.

Your Child Must Self-Advocate  

One major difference in college is that your child must self-identify and self-advocate to receive accommodations. In high school, parents and school staff ensure that each student has the accommodations needed for them to be successful. In college, students must reach out to the disability services office and communicate their needs themselves. This is an important growth step towards independence and self-advocacy.

To receive a download outlining key differences between accommodations in high school vs in college, click here. Of course, you can also contact us for guidance and support!


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