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Why go to college?

Studies indicate that students with disabilities who go to college enhance their chances of (1) getting a job, (2) earning a college degree, (3) creating a pathway to lifelong learning, and (4) having a better quality of life (Getzel & Wehman, 2005).

For students with autism and/or other disabilities, college is the next major step after high school.  Attending college is the stepping stone into the next stage in their lives. College helps individuals with autism:

  • Prepare for a career
  • Develop skills and knowledge that lead to competitive and well-paid work
  • Live more independently
  • And embark on a new phase of life

What college opportunities exist for students with disabilities?

  • There are many paths to college for students with disabilities. Some students may want to take a traditional path, such as applying to four- or two-year colleges. Or they may want to pursue specialized training at a vocational or technical school to earn an occupational certificate.
  • Some students might be more comfortable applying to a college or program within a college that is specifically designed to support students with disabilities.
  • No matter what path students with disabilities choose to go to college, there is help available for students to get the assistance and accommodations they need to succeed in college.

What should students with disabilities think about when looking at colleges?

There are a number of things that students with disabilities should consider when looking at colleges. Most of these considerations are the same ones that students without disabilities think about. They include:

  • The kinds of courses – a college with different kinds of classes and programs or one that offers more specialized courses
  • Size – a big college with lots of buildings spread across a large campus or a college that is contained within just a few buildings
  • On-campus housing
  • Student activities outside the classroom
  • Academic support
  • Costs

What else should students with disabilities consider when looking at colleges?

Students with disabilities may also want to ask:

  • What types of support are available to students with disabilities?
  • How do students go about requesting disability services?
  • Does the college offer special housing or health care support?
  • Are there students with disabilities to talk to about their experiences with the college?

Where can students and others go for more information?

Below are links to online resources for students with disabilities who want to learn more about students with disabilities going to college, as well as a database of college programs developed for students with intellectual disabilities:

  • Think College:  Offers students, families and teachers resources to help them succeed in college. The site offers first-hand accounts from students with disabilities about their college experiences.
  • Think College Programs Database:  Designed to help students and families look up colleges that support college students with intellectual disabilities, the database provides information to help students, families, and professionals understand the range of postsecondary education services available to students with intellectual disabilities.
  • StudentAid: Student Aid provides information for students and families about preparing to go to college. In addition to video clips of students talking about college, this website has tips for high-school students, including how to apply to college and how to learn about financial aid.
  • Going to College:  Features video clips of students talking about the many different aspects of college, including planning for and applying to college, talking to professors and requesting accommodations. This website includes a section called “My Portfolio” where students can keep track of their college planning activities.
  • College Planning Resources for Teens: Offers tutorials to help students prepare for college. The tutorials focus on questions that many students have about college planning. Topics include: getting good recommendations, picking a major, and “25 Tips to Help You Survive and Thrive Your Freshman Year and Beyond”.
  • PepNet:  Focuses on helping transition-aged students who are deaf or hard of hearing prepare for their transition from high school. The website offers lots of information on how to plan for and be successful in college, and discusses skills that are essential for campus living.

Helpful Books and Articles

  • Adreon, D., & Durocher, J. S. (2007). Evaluating the college transition needs of individuals with high-functioning autism spectrum disorders. Intervention in School and Clinic, 42(5), 271–279.
  • Getzel, E. E. & Wehman, P. (2005). Going to college: Expanding opportunities for people with disabilities. Baltimore: Paul H. Brookes Publishing Co.
  • Grigal, M. & Hart, D. (2010). THINK College: Postsecondary Education Options for Students with Intellectual Disabilities. Brookes Publishing: Baltimore, Maryland.
  • Hart, D., Grigal, M. & Weir, C. (2010). Expanding the paradigm: Postsecondary education options for individuals with autism spectrum disorder and intellectual disabilities. Focus on Autism and Other Developmental Disabilities, 25(3), 134–150.
  • Shaw, S., Madaus, J., Dukes, L. (2010). Preparing students with disabilities for college success. Baltimore, MD: Brooks Publishing Company.

Date posted: May 30, 2012. Content created by The Institute for Community Inclusion at University of Massachusetts Boston. Last updated: December 4, 2015.

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