What Are College Accommodations?

For students with disabilities, going to college means a more challenging level of academic work. Most expect to receive the same type of assistance that helped them succeed during high school, such as the extra time for exams they were allowed through their IEP or 504 plan. Yet, in college, there are no IEPs or 504 plans. So how do they receive similar help? Students can request “accommodations” from a college to gain the same types of help.

Accommodations are considerations that a student can ask for from a college to them overcome the impact of their disability on their school activities. For example, a student with Attention Deficit Disorder can ask for extra time to take exams if their ability to concentrate while taking a test is impaired so it takes them longer to complete the exam. While it may seem logical that a if a student received accommodations in high school that they will automatically get them in college, the reality is that they may not. The process of getting accommodations in college is not automatic even if he or she had them in high school. There are some frequently asked questions below that I often answer.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) About College Accommodations:

How Does A Student Receive Accommodations In College?

Typically a student must submit a request for accommodations to a specific college. The college will then review the submitted documentation and determine what accommodations, if any, a student will be granted while attending their school. The college will approve what they feel the student needs, which may or may not match what the student received during high school or even any physician recommendations.

What “Documentation” Will A College Will Review?

While every college is different, common types of documentation required by colleges are high school IEPs, 504 Plans, psychiatric evaluations, and psychological evaluations. Some colleges may want lengthy neuropsychological or psychoeducational evaluations. I’ve worked with schools that were very lenient in terms of the documentation that they require, and other schools set a very “high bar” to show the student needed help. Some colleges even specify what tests that a psychologist must use to assess the student’s condition. In one case, a college wanted multiple forms of detailed documentation, as well as teacher’s reports going back to elementary school to show a deep history of need for a college student.

What Accommodations Will A College Typically Approve?

There are many possible accommodations for students. Common ones are extra time to take exams and the ability to take exams in a distraction-free (quiet) room. The rest will depend on the “functional impairments” that a student has. I’ve seen having access to lecture notes or sharing notes with a classmate (or a note taker) be approved. Also, extended time to turn in projects plus many others are possible. Having a good “accommodation plan” of what the student will need is important when heading to college. It’s critical that this plan be in place before the student begins attending classes in their freshman year, since the freshman year is a critical time for transition. I’ve collaborated with many professionals to develop accommodation plans, and ensuring that each piece of the overall plan is in place is essential. Also, the student is often asked to meet with the disability department at the college and they typically will ask the student directly what they feel they need. For a student, being able to state in their own words the difficulties they face and what types of accommodations they want can be a key part of the approval process.

When Should I Submit Documentation To A College?

Colleges generally will not want a student to submit documentation for review until they have been accepted as a student. This places students in a precarious position of not really knowing whether they will receive accommodations before they apply to a college or accept an offer from them. Checking the schools policies on documenting a disability can be helpful, but there’s no “recipe” for guaranteed accommodations. I’ve worked with students who accepted an offer or even started classes a particular college, only to find out that their accommodation request was denied for some reason based on their documentation. Finding schools that have reasonable documentation guidelines are part of the issues are best sorted out during the college planning phases.

If a student is accepted at and plans on attending a particular college, asking upon acceptance what the disability department would like submitted and when is probably the best route. Disability departments typically need advanced notice to review documentation and approve accommodations. In general, most colleges want students to submit documentation four to six weeks in advance of classes starting. However, some colleges may want it much earlier than that. Students should speak with the disability department at their school as soon as they are accepted to find out how far in advance they should submit documentation.

There are many issues that should be considered for receiving accommodations in college. Among them are that students with disabilities do not automatically receive accommodations- they must request them from the school and be approved for them. Each college sets its own criteria for the documentation that must be submitted, which can be simple or complex, and they will review the documentation to determine what the student needs, if anything. Students may find that some colleges have more stringent guidelines for approving accommodations than others, so choosing a college that has reasonable requirements for receiving accommodations may help ensure that they continue to receive the supports that they had in high school.