Disability Accommodations in College




Written by Samantha Bartek, My College Planning Team


If your child has a qualifying disability and an IEP (individualized education plan) in high school, how should you guide them in the college search process? To start, you should be planning for your child to go and be very successful in college. After all, students with disabilities make up one-fifth of the college population.

But this means, in addition to finding a school that meets their academic, social, financial, and location needs, you must also research colleges to learn what they consider a qualifying disability and ensure they provide support services and disability accommodations.  

Here are some questions to get you started.

What are the Most Common Disabilities Among College Students? 

In 2022, the American College Health Association (ACHA) surveyed 54,000 undergraduates. It found that attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADD/ADHD) is the most common, with 15 percent of students reporting it. Other findings from the survey include:

      5 percent had a learning disability.

      4 percent were blind or had low vision.

      3 percent had Autism Spectrum Disorder

      2 percent were deaf or hard of hearing


Should My Child Disclose Their Disability to the College? 

In 2021-2022, some 17.3 million students aged 3 to 21 received special education services, so students with disabilities make up a significant part of the student population. Yet, a study released in 2022 by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) found that, among students who said they had a disability while attending college, only 37 percent informed their college.

The primary goal of going to college is to complete a degree. Students who don’t disclose a disability are cut off from support services that may well make the difference between graduating and not graduating.

Can a College Deny My Child Acceptance Because of a Disability?

No. Assuming your child is otherwise eligible for admission to a 2- or 4-year school, colleges and universities cannot deny admission solely because a student has a disability. They are not required, however, to provide the accommodations noted in your child’s IEP or 504 in the same way K-12 schools are.

Are There Specific College IEP Accommodations?

In college, students do not have Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) in the same way they do in K-12 education. 

IEPs are typically associated with the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), which governs special education services for students in public K-12 schools. Once students transition to college or university, the process and terminology for providing accommodations and support for students with disabilities often change.

That said, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires all public and private colleges to offer equal educational access. What that looks like varies widely from campus to campus. Still, colleges and universities must offer appropriate academic adjustments and auxiliary aids and services to students who meet the required standards.

Is There a 504 Plan in College?

No. There is no such thing as a college 504 plan. However, the protection against discrimination for students, established by the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, remains in place when they enter college. 

This means colleges can provide accommodations similar to those on your student’s high school 504 plan, but they won’t use the same name for those accommodations. 

How Do We Research Disability Services at Colleges? 

The names of the offices that provide services and support to students with disabilities vary. It could be the Academic Support Center, Office of Disability Services, Office for Accessibility Services, Student Disability Access Center – or some combination of the above!

You can usually find the appropriate office or center on a college’s website. Once you do, you can email these offices for information. But if you are planning a campus visit, schedule an appointment to meet with the staff. There will likely be an application process to access support in addition to the application for the college itself. 

How Can I Make Sure My Student Gets the Services They Need? 

Regardless of your student’s IEP/504 status – or if they were recently diagnosed – make sure to have diagnoses documented by their doctor. This will be necessary to access services.

From there, the best way to identify the services and support your student needs is to list what has worked well in the past. Have they used assistive devices? Had the help of a note-taker? Needed extra time for exams or special proctoring?

Compile and then share the list of accommodations with the office of disability services, and make sure they offer the services that will best help your student succeed.

Keep in mind that at the college level, your students will need to advocate for themselves due to privacy policies put in place at the college/university level. Even while accommodations could be put in place, their professors will likely be unaware of these accommodations unless your student shares them and advocates for the extra help they are entitled to. 

What is the Likelihood My Student Will Graduate? 

The six-year graduation rate of students with disabilities at four-year colleges is 49.5 percent, compared to roughly 68 percent for students without disabilities. By getting started early on your college search and paying meticulous attention to disability services available, you will be setting your child up for success at their future college or university. 

Final Thoughts on Disability Accommodations in College

Helping your child navigate the path to college and securing the disability accommodations they deserve is vital to ensuring their academic success and overall well-being. With the right information and proactive approach, you can confidently empower your child to navigate their college experience, making the most of their educational opportunities while embracing their unique abilities.

Looking for an easy way to support your child as they move away to college? You can help ensure they have safe, supportive, and empowering housing by checking out our list of colleges with disability housing for students. Once you find schools that might be a good fit, you can then create a free Appily account to research costs, see application deadlines, acceptance rates, and more. 

Samantha Bartek is vice president of community outreach director for My College Planning Team, which helps families plan and pay for college. As a National Certified Counselor (NCC), she has worked in both public and charter schools with a focus on college and career readiness for 11th and 12th graders. She lives in New Jersey.