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How College Academic Support Differs from High School

Jed Geary

Written by Jed Geary

Director of College Counseling at Eagle Hill School

Feb 28, 2017

It is important to understand that two different laws govern the assistance that students with learning disabilities receive in high school versus college. In high school, students with learning disabilities are covered under the federal law, Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). There is no special education at the college level. When students matriculate to college, they are covered under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). There are significant differences for what this means for students. The link below is an excellent resource outlining the most significant of these:


It is important that parents and students carefully consider what the changes could mean on a day-to-day basis. While the differences listed may not seem too significant, they are drastic. Students at the college level must take ownership for their education. They must attend classes and are not granted “sick days.” Students must handle two-thirds of their workload on their own and seek out help when needed, and, hopefully, not just the day before something is due. The transition to college is a big change and students need not only to be academically prepared, but must also have the independence, motivation, responsibility, and maturity to take on the role that is expected of them.

I like to share with my students these suggestions for making the transition to college. It was once shared on the Southern Methodist University website.

  • Take control of your own education: think of yourself as a scholar.
  • Get to know your professors; they are your single greatest resource.
  • Be assertive. Create your own support systems, and seek help when you realize you may need it.
  • Take advantage of the resources available: go to a workshop, enroll in a reading and writing learning strategies course or other such courses, work with a tutor.
  • Take control of your time. Plan ahead to satisfy academic obligations and make room for everything else.
  • Stretch yourself: enroll in at least one course that really challenges you.
  • Make thoughtful decisions: don't take a course just to satisfy a requirement, and don't drop any course too quickly.
  • Think beyond the moment: set goals for the semester, the year, and your college career.

I’ve said in previous posts and here again as well that the predictors of a student’s success in college go far beyond just academic preparedness. It really also comes down to the motivation, responsibility, and maturity to take on the new responsibilities and freedoms afforded young college students.

Learning Disabilities Call to Action