Many high school students who have special supports will still need them to succeed in college. Yet, there are no formal 504 plans in college, and in that system an “IEP” means “Intensive English Program.” Parents and students need to make the adjustment to the college system for continuing the 504 plan or other supports in college.
Rather than develop a 504 plan for a student, a college will issue accommodations. The process is not automatic, and students must initiate it rather than expect the school to do so. While colleges vary on their requirements, there is a general process that students and parents can expect to go through.
1. If a student wants accommodations from a college, they must initiate the process by contacting the school’s disability department to find out the process. This typically involves submitting documentation of the student’s disability for the school to review. A school will typically not accept documentation until a student is accepted at their college.
2. The disability staff reviews the documentation and determines what the student will need in terms of accommodations, like extra time for exams, and other considerations that will help the student to perform well academically. Colleges make their own determination of what a student will need, and I’ve worked with some colleges who were very generous in what they grant students, while others were not.
3. Once approved, the disability department will typically to ask to meet with the student to discuss their needs and to tell them what accommodations that have been approved. Professors of the classes that a student is taking are notified, which may come from directly from the department or may occur through the student. The student cannot use the granted accommodations until the professors are notified, and if a student does not do this before their first exam they may not be able to use accommodations for that test even if they were granted them.
4. Accommodations must be renewed. This usually happens each semester but some colleges renew them on an annual basis. In general, this entails the student signing forms at the disability department, although some colleges may require a student to update their documentation (e.g., evaluations) if they are outdated.
For a positive college experience, parents and students need to understand how to obtain 504 plan considerations in college, which are called “accommodations” in the higher education system. By asking a school about the process of requesting accommodations, parents and students can effectively continue 504 or IEP plans in many ways while a student attends college. It is up to the college, however, to grant specific accommodations and students should carefully research schools to find one that will grant the accommodations that they need.