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Home Resources Tool Kits Post-Secondary/College Tool Kit Preparing for post-secondary education

PART 2. How can you prepare for post-secondary education?

Transitioning to college can feel overwhelming, but building independent living and academic skills gradually throughout the teen years helps smooth the way. 

How does college differ from high school?

  • Expectations of independence. Most colleges expect students to communicate directly with their professors, teachers and college staff, and to be prepared to live independently (unless commuting from home) as well as handle their academics independently. This includes waking up, getting to class on time, handling daily living needs, and keeping track of assignments.

  • Disability services vary widely. While colleges are required to have some disability services, the breadth and depth of them vary. Some schools have more supportive services or partner with special programs that provide extensive support usually for an additional fee. Other schools, including the most selective academically, may provide limited disability services. Exploring what those differences are based on your needs is vital to finding the right match.

  • Colleges follow the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), not the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) that high schools abide by. FERPA is a federal law that governs the privacy of student records and limits what can be shared with parents of students who are 18 or older without written permission from the student. This is a helpful comparison of ADA vs. IDEA from Eastern Oklahoma State University. 

Skills to develop include:

  • Self-regulation, the ability to express emotions and manage behaviors in healthy ways.
  • Personal hygiene and self-care (i.e. getting enough sleep, preparing or accessing nutritional food, trimming nails, washing and combing hair, doing laundry)
  • Health management (knowing when to seek medical care, take cold medicine, or to rest)
  • Executive functioning
  • Living with people you don’t know and sharing a space with others
  • Time management (i.e. homework vs. home time)
  • Leisure interests
  • Self-advocacy, including communication skills and the ability to reach out to the appropriate people when needed (i.e. Resident Advisor (RA), professors).

What are the best ways to teach as much self-advocacy and self-management as possible in the years leading up to graduation?

  • The student should be involved in their own IEP meetings starting at the age of 14.
  • Students may benefit from attending overnight camp(s) starting early in their adolescence. It helps to develop skills for independence and allows them to become comfortable with different living situations.
  • Another option is attending a college prep program through a college catering to students with special needs, such as the ones Notre Dame College in South Euclid, OH, and Mercyhurst University in Erie, PA, offer.
  • Students should begin handling teacher communication and the relationship as a way to prepare for the transition to college. When the student has an issue or question that arises in school, coaching them to speak with their teacher about it will help them prepare to talk directly with professors and instructors at their college.
  • Gradually managing homework and schedule independently. For example, do you:
    • Wake up early enough on weekdays, allowing enough time to get to school promptly? Get your own breakfast and have a plan for lunch whether packing it or buying at school?
    • Have your backpack ready with everything you need?
    • Have a system such as online tasks list and calendar to keep track of important assignments and deadlines?
    • Turn in your homework on time?
    • Plan out studying for exams and preparing large projects and papers during the weeks leading up to them with daily chunks of time?
    • Email your teacher if you have a simple question or talk with them in person if it is a more in-depth issue at an appropriate time?
  • If you take regular medications, do you take them on time without someone reminding you at the proper time and dosages? Do you know how to refill your prescriptions?

If you are struggling with any of these skills, consider making them part of your IEP goals so your school works with you to achieve them.

Visit our article on Self-Advocacy and Self-Determination to find more resources and ways to prepare the student to be their own advocate. 

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