Transitioning from High School to College – Help for Students with Dyslexia

Are you a High School student with a dyslexia thinking about going to 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 at 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!


Step 1:  Plan Plan Plan

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 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 getting up on time, do laundry, make and keep appointments, and handle other basic adult responsibilities.

Steps to take BEFORE College Acceptance

Steps to take AFTER College Acceptance

Step 2:  Know the Laws
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”.  Dyslexia is the most common of the learning disabilities (LD).   Generally speaking, every College or University has its own individual requirements for documentation of a learning disability, though most use some variation of the guidelines from the Association on Higher Education and Disability (AHEAD).

Federal Laws and Learning Disabilities (LD) – three federal laws govern services for students with learning disabilities:

  1. When in K-12 grades, students are covered by IDEA, The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. Students with disabilities are covered by IDEA until graduation from high school or until age 21.  
  2. Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 defines persons with disabilities who have a physical or mental impairment that limits one or more major life activities. The 504 Plans are developed with parents, teachers, and school personnel in elementary and high school and given to disability services staff in college so reasonable accommodations can be arranged. Each college uses its own process to provide services.
  3. The ADA, Americans with Disabilities Act, extends Section 504 coverage through adulthood and protects all persons with disabilities from discrimination based on disability in educational and other settings.
As a student in high school, you may receive special education services and experience success in a supportive environment. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), which mandates that your school identify your disability and accommodate your individual academic needs, has protected your rights as a student.   Now you are preparing for college and wondering what rights you will have at that level. Your rights as a student change as you enter college. You will no longer benefit from guided academic planning, and you will not have the same level of support that you previously received from school personnel. It is now your responsibility to advocate for disability support services and appropriate academic accommodations. You will be better prepared to do this when you understand how Section 504 protects your rights from high school to the college setting. 

Because I receive special education services in high school, does Section 504 entitle me to disability support services in college?

There is no legislation at the postsecondary level that entitles you to the same level of academic support that you receive in high school. This means that if you have an IEP, Section 504 Plan, or any accommodations or modifications, they will not necessarily transfer into the college setting. Many students make the mistake of thinking that their IEPs will entitle them to similar services in college. The IEP is a legally binding document in high school but has no power at the postsecondary level. In fact, the determination of disability status in college is different than what it is in high school. Colleges have their own eligibility criteria for determining whether students have a disability that can be accommodated within their classrooms. This is based on the definition of disability in Section 504.

Under Section 504, is my college responsible for identifying and accommodating my disability as was done in high school?

At the postsecondary level, you are responsible for seeking out disability services, which is a change from the guidance you received in high school. In high school, you had the support of your teachers, counselors, transition specialists, administration, and your parents.   In college, you are responsible for yourself.  Your professors are not responsible for identifying your disability. They will not communicate with school counselors, administration, or your family on your behalf.  You cannot rely on your family members to help you get support for your disability in college. Instead, you have to be a self-advocate and seek out help. This includes getting your college to recognize your disability and accommodate it.

Will anybody help me in college to make sure I am supported?

While you are responsible for your academic success in college, you do have support to make sure your civil rights as a student are being met. Schools should have staff responsible for assisting students with disabilities. If the college has a disability support services office, they typically have a designated Disability Services Coordinator. In the event that the school does not have a disability support office, they are required to have a 504 Coordinator or ADA Coordinator. This person is responsible for coordinating the school’s compliance with Section 504 or Title II of the ADA. This person helps you to communicate with school faculty, as well as helps to make sure you are receiving any reasonable accommodations that you need. In addition, the 504 Coordinator is responsible for teaching the faculty about reasonable accommodations and legal obligations to make sure the college is in compliance with Section 504. Lastly, the 504 Coordinator is available to assist you in resolving any issues or complaints related to perceived discrimination on account of having a disability.

In Section 504, what does the term “reasonable accommodation” mean?

Colleges do not modify instruction, which means that they will not alter the standards of learning for you. You will be held to the same standards as your peers. Under Section 504, if they determine that you have a disability, they will provide you with accommodations so you receive equal educational opportunities. While they may adjust the way you receive information or demonstrate knowledge, they will not change the academic standards.

Under Section 504, colleges are required by law to provide reasonable accommodations to students who they determine to have disabilities. “Reasonable” means that the school does not have to change the fundamental nature of a program or be subjected to undue financial hardship. In other words, schools cannot be expected to completely change programs or spend unreasonable amounts of money to accommodate a student. The U.S. Department of Education provides examples of academic accommodations that a college may provide under Section 504 to make sure students with disabilities receive equal educational access (U.S. Department of Education, 2007):

  • Reducing a course load
  • Substituting one course for another
  • Providing note takers, recording devices, or sign language interpreters
  • Extending time for test-taking
  • Offering priority registration for courses
  • Equipping school computers with screen-reading, voice recognition, or other adaptive software or hardware
  • Providing TTY in a dorm room if telephones are provided in other rooms

Postsecondary schools are not required to provide students accommodations of a personal nature, such as personal attendants, tutors, or individually prescribed devices (U.S. Department of Education, 2007).

The above information is referenced from the HEATH Resource Center, managed by The George Washington University Graduate School of Education and Human Development





College for Students with LD and/or AD/HD



HEATH Resource Center – Spotlight on 504
IDA Fact Sheet
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