Transitioning from High School to College

Making the transition from high school to college is exciting and challenging for all students. Learning how to get around campus, how to take care of new responsibilities and expectations, and learning more about yourself are all part of the experience.

The Student Accessibility Resources Office (SAR) Office is available to help you make a smooth transition into college by helping you develop independence and self-advocacy skills.

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The focus of laws can shift once you leave high school and start attending higher education.

High School College
You're covered by the Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA) and Section 504. You're covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Section 504.
Entitlement: You have the right to a free and appropriate public education. Eligibility: You must be eligible to receive reasonable accommodations.
Success is the focus. Access is the focus.
Standards are modified using an Individualize Education Program (IEP). Standards are not modified. Reasonable accommodations are made to provide access.
Public schools pay for textbooks; you must return the textbooks at the end of the term. You buy your own textbooks, which can cost several hundred dollars per term. You can keep the textbook at the end of the term or sell them back for a small percentage of what you paid.

Social Environment

Starting college means you have to be more focused and disciplined.

High School College
Your time is managed by teachers and parents/guardians. You must manage your own time wisely to balance classes, studies, work, living arrangements, family and friends.
Teachers and parents/guardians monitor your student activities. You get to choose from many student activities.
Support is centralized by school staff, family, and friends. Support is available but decentralized. You must seek out your own support.
Fewer social distractions. More social distractions.

Academic Environment

One of the most important shifts from high school to college takes place in the classroom.

High School College
You're in class daily approximately 6 hours. Teacher contact could possibly be 4 to 5 times a week. You may only meet once or twice a week. The opportunities for direct teacher contact are much more limited. Limited teacher office hours can make it difficult to find face time with your teacher.
Teacher gives frequent opportunities to relearn material in class. You're expected to learn material and ask for help on your own.
Exams and assignments are frequent. Teacher gives many chances to fix your grade and prepares you more thoroughly for exams. Exams and assignments may be infrequent. Faculty may base your grade on a limited number of exams. You are left largely to your own devices for exam preparation.
Exams tend to be objective (for example, multiple choice). Exams tend to require more writing.
Study time and working on assignments is done during class time/study hall/resource room, and a limited amount of time is done at home. As a general rule, studying times for success may be substantial for every hour of class time. You need to spend 3 hours out of class time preparing assignments.
Teachers are usually readily available and willing to help you before, during, and after school. You have to make the effort to contact faculty, usually during faculty office hours.
Materials are presented in a variety of ways. Usually all materials on exams are covered in class. Instruction is more experimental. The teacher may change styles if you do not understand. More reliance on your personal note taking and reading comprehension. Not all material will be covered in class. You may have to read independently to prepare for the exam. Instruction is more often provided via lecture.
Most learning is done in the classroom with the teacher's guidance. Learning is primarily the teacher's responsibility. Most learning is done at home using textbooks, handouts, and lecture notes. You are responsible for your own learning.
Classes are more structured; step-by-step instructions given. Tasks are less structured and you are held responsible for developing a method to complete your assignments.
Similar workload and slower pace leads to reduced stress. Increased workload and faster pace leads to more stress.
Grades are based on a variety of activities. Grades are often based on fewer tasks or larger projects.
Attendance and progress are well monitored. Attendance and progress may not be monitored. Time management and organizational skills are critical.


The biggest difference between high school and college is your personal responsibilities.

High School College
The school district is responsible for finding students with disabilities and verifying the student's disability. You are responsible for self-identifying as a person with a disability and for providing verification of your disability.
Special Education office informs teachers of modifications using the IEP. You are responsible for communicating your accommodation needs with faculty using a letter from the Student Accessibility Resources Office (SAR) Office.
School district monitors class attendance. Class attendance is mandatory. You monitor your own class attendance. Class attendance will impact your performance.
You are required to go to high-school, so you will stay in school even with low grades and poor attendance. College is not required. You can be put on probation or dismissed from the college for poor grades and inappropriate behavior.
Teachers and parents/guardians remind you of missed assignments and assign homework. You are expected to monitor your own class work.
Parents/guardians and Special Education Office/counselors advocate for you. Special Education teachers act as liaisons between other teachers. You must self-advocate with help from the Student Accessibility Services Office (SAR) Office.
Help is readily available; you do not have to seek it out. You must independently seek help using effective communication skills.
You generally have fewer responsibilities.  You generally have more responsibilities (personal concerns, jobs, etc.).
You have help making decisions or decisions are made for you You are expected to make more independent decisions.
Career decisions are not expected. You are expected to know what you want to do with your life.

Updated January 20, 2023