Differences Between High School and College


K-12 Higher Education
Education is a right and must be provided in an appropriate environment to all individuals. Education is not a right. Students must meet certain admissions criteria defined under the ADA and ADAA as “otherwise qualified.”
School district is responsible for identifying a student’s disability. Students must self-identify.
School district provides free testing and evaluation. Students must provide documentation and pay for evaluation if there is none.
School district develops Individualized Educational Plans (IEP) and 504 plans to define educational services. No IEP or 504 plans exist. Students must identify needs and request services.
IEP determines services and school district must ensure that services are provided under IEP. All teachers are contacted by Special Ed staff. Services are determined after a review of documentation. Students are responsible for presenting letters of academic accommodation to instructors.
Fundamental alteration of programs and curricula are required. No fundamental alterations are required. Students must meet standards of curricula/program.
Personal services for medical or physical disability are required. No personal services are required.

Students attending post-secondary institutions are considered adults, with privacy and confidentiality protections covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990, the Americans with Disabilities Amendments Act (ADAA) of 2008, and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. Each institution has the right to establish its own guidelines for documentation requirements. Check with each institution to obtain their requirements.

Students with disabilities are moving from a system where parents and school staff usually advocated on their behalf to a system where they will be expected to self-advocate. All students, including those with disabilities, must take primary responsibility for their education at the university level. An institution’s staff will communicate directly with students.

Students with disabilities should expect to complete all course requirements. It is the student’s responsibility to utilize course syllabi to determine each course’s academic requirements. Federal disability laws guarantee students with disabilities equal opportunity to participate, not that they will achieve a particular outcome, such as good grades.


* Adapted from the University of North Carolina and

U.S. Department of Education, Office of Civil Rights, Transition of Students with Disabilities to Postsecondary Education: A Guide for High School Educators, Washington, D.C., 2007.