Transitioning from High School to College

Help for Students with Dyslexia

Are you a High School student with dyslexia thinking about going to college?  Are you an adult thinking about attending college? Are you a parent of a dyslexic child looking for information on what to do to help transition to college?  Are you on an IEP/504 plan in High School and wondering how to make the transition to college?  Are you overwhelmed by what steps to take to take to before/after you apply for college?  If you answered Yes to any of these questions…you are in the right place!



For students with learning disabilities (LD) making a successful transition to college is a multi-year process and a team effort that requires input from the student, parents, school personnel, and other professionals.  Getting to a 4-year college requires a 4-year pre-plan. The best way to get the college acceptance letter is to have a strong transition plan in place and…

  • Make smart course selections in high school
  • Rely on your support team (parents, teachers, friends, counselors)
  • Develop independence as you keep up your academic performance, self-advocate, use accommodations, and learn successful student strategies.
  • Leave nothing to luck!

In high school,  a student should be identifying their learning strengths and weaknesses as well as learning the strategies they need to work independently. Beyond academics, all students should be able to manage to get up on time, do laundry, make and keep appointments, and handle other basic adult responsibilities.



Terminology…because of the language used in the civil rights law that protects students in higher education, you will probably use the term “learning disability”. Note: Dyslexia is the most common of learning disabilities (LD). Every College or University will have its own requirements for documentation of a learning disability, though most use some variation of the guidelines from the U.S. Department of Education.



What to do BEFORE college Acceptance?

For students with learning disabilities (LD) making a successful transition to college is a multi-year process and a team effort that requires input from the student, parents, school personnel, and other professionals.   Ideally, transition planning for college begins when a student enters high school to maximize options as they move through the next four years.  It takes a 4-year plan to get into a 4-year college!


The below timeline is high-level recommendations of activities to complete leading up to High School graduation.

9th /10th Grade:

  • Know the graduation requirements and stay on top of them throughout high school
  • Get involved in an after-school activity (sports, drama, music, school clubs, volunteer work, etc.)
  • Discuss options for after high school (for example, gap year, employment, vocational school, community college, or four-year university.
  • Develop self-advocacy skills.
  • Make sure the student understands and can articulate his or her learning struggles and why accommodations are needed. Students should actively participate in IEP meetings and practice self-advocacy skills in those meetings.
  • Explain strengths and weaknesses to the student to develop his or her understanding for more effective self-advocacy.

10th Grade:

  • Focus on one or two after-school activities
  • Prepare for standardized testing (by the end of the year):
    • Apply for accommodations; and
    • Register for the Preliminary SAT (PSAT) or if offered in your area, the ACT’s equivalent preliminary test

11th Grade:

  • Register for SAT or ACT.
  • Investigate colleges (make list)
  • Make a list of criteria for selecting a college (for example, class size, availability of support services, and finances) with the help of parents and school personnel.
  • Encourage participation in extracurricular and leadership activities as well as community service. Admission counselors are looking for applicants who are actively engaged in their schools and communities.
  • Visit prospective schools (by spring).

12th Grade:

  • Eliminate some schools to shorten the list of prospective schools before applying.
  • Finalize applications by mid-November.
  • Communicate regularly with school administration to be certain that the student has the academic requirements needed to graduate from high school and apply to the colleges he or she wishes to attend.

(Support from parents and school personnel is very important at this stage. Students with organizational challenges may find it daunting to simultaneously secure letters of reference, write essays, and complete forms while also keeping up with regular academic demands.)

12th (summer after):

  • Develop independent living skills (for example, refilling medications and doing laundry).
  • Communicate regularly with the appropriate office at the college of choice to secure accommodations before arriving in the fall. Once on campus, students will need to learn to access various resources and implement strategies such as maintaining a calendar, using the library, and becoming involved in study groups.

Source: IDA Fact Sheet



College Research Questions

  • Academic Programs of Interest
  • Average Class Sizes?
  • Disability Services/Counseling Center/Tutoring services
  • Campus Resources and Support
  • Health center
  • writing center/math center
  • procedures for waiving or substituting requirements
  • Acceptance criteria – Know your goal!

It is important to understand the requirements to be accepted to any college.   Your High School transition plan should be built to satisfy the goals of a college acceptance criteria.  Research what the requirements are for YOUR choices.



  • Update documentation of LD
  • Discuss whether to disclose LD/ADD or not- does diagnosis explain the transcript of test scores?
  • Visit institutions if possible
  • Make appointments with disability services office (are you comfortable there?)
  • Write about your strengths in your application – show self-knowledge
  • Consider a portfolio admission process




What to do AFTER you are Accepted to a College

Congratulations!  You are about to embark on a very exciting time in your life. Reference this IDA Fact Sheet for important details on transition steps for college.


At the college level, you will have to prove that you have a disability that requires academic accommodations. Merely saying that you have a disability is not adequate; instead, you will have to show documentation as proof. Every school has its own requirements for documentation. A high school IEP or Section 504 plan may help to identify educational accommodations that may be beneficial to you, but they are generally not enough documentation to prove you have a disability that needs support. The U.S. Department of Education provides examples of some documentation that may be necessary from a medical doctor, psychologist, or other qualified diagnostician. They include (U.S. Department of Education, 2007):

  • A diagnosis of your current disability
  • The date of the diagnosis
  • How the diagnosis was reached
  • The credentials of the professional
  • How your disability affects a major life activity (as in Section 504’s definition of disability)
  • How the disability affects your academic performance

In some cases, a postsecondary school may inform you that you need more documentation to prove that you have a disability. In that event, it is your responsibility to schedule and pay for a new evaluation. This is not the responsibility of your high school or college.


  • It is a good idea to contact the Office of Disability Support at the colleges of interest (the names of the offices may differ somewhat).  A counselor in this office will help determine any accommodation that might be appropriate. This office may also have some suggestions for someone to do the evaluation and documentation. Section 504 does not entitle you to services like IDEA did in high school!
  • The first step to receiving disability support services in college is to disclose your disability to the Disability Support Coordinator, 504 Coordinator, or ADA Coordinator.  This should be done before a course begins. If you wait until the middle of a course when you are already having difficulties, it may be too late. 

Accommodations, Accommodations, Accommodations

After your college has determined that you meet the criteria for having a disability under Section 504, you are eligible to receive academic accommodations. Section 504 mandates the provision of reasonable accommodations, which means that a school does not have to experience undue hardship to accommodate you. The accommodations that you receive in college under Section 504 may be different than those you receive in high school under IDEA. Remember, postsecondary schools will not change or modify the standards of learning for you. You are expected to demonstrate the same standards of learning as your peers without disabilities in college. In addition, accommodations at the postsecondary level will not be personal. This means that your college is not responsible for providing you with a tutor, personal attendant, or personal computer software or hardware. 



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