Transition Planning for College

By Linda Talbert, BCBA and Gerri Fleming


By the time students with LD served under the IDEA turn 16 years old, the law requires them to have a transition plan to prepare them for life after high school • Ideally, transition planning for college begins when a student enters high school to maximize options as they move through the next four years • Understanding college requirements is key to making smart decisions about high-school course selection

2.8.11-Transition-PlanningFor students with learning differences, the law recognizes that transition to adulthood may require specialized services to help them attain the skills and education they’ll need to succeed after high school.

The IDEA requires that transition planning must begin, at the latest, for the year a student turns 16. The Individualized Education Plan (IEP) for that year must contain goals that will advance the likelihood of further education, economic self-sufficiency, and independent living.

Preparing for College

The transition plan must consist of a coordinated set of activities within a results-oriented process and may include instruction, related services, community experiences, the development of employment, and other post-secondary adult living objectives.

If, for example, your high-school freshman wants a career in engineering, then the IEP team needs to be cautious about modifying high school academic courses. The courses must be rigorous enough to prepare her for the educational challenges of college.

In addition, many college programs require that certain academic requirements be satisfied in high school. So when the high-school IEP team offers to waive the Foreign Language requirement in an effort to lighten the load, or make room for something else, they may also be making it more difficult for your child to get into a college of her choice. It is, therefore, important to investigate the high-school course requirements for college, so that your child is not precluded from attending the college of her dreams.

The double-edged sword of an IEP is that the team has the power to individualizethe program to such an extent that a student can find herself unprepared for a competitive college.  

Likewise, if your child struggles with skills necessary to succeed in college—time management, note-taking, studying, task analysis, organization, and working independently—those skills should be targeted for goals and objectives in the IEP transition plan.

Finally, the issue of self-advocacy cannot be over-emphasized. Once your child graduates from high school, the protections of an IEP vanish, and she is covered under the 504 provision—a civil rights statute that requires students, among other things, to self-disclose their disabilities to individual professors prior to receiving accommodations. (Some college disability offices will assist with this process.)

Because Section 504 carries a different standard than IDEA, the transition IEP should contain a goal and objectives regarding self-advocacy, understanding 504 accommodations and protections in college, and identifying personal strengths and weaknesses. Parent training in the differences between IDEA and Section 504 rights might also be appropriate.

Year-By-Year Student Guide

While the college transition process is overwhelming for some students, it’s important that your child be involved. Share the following information with her, then monitor and support her through the process as necessary.

Start by encouraging your child to become familiar with the high school’s college and career resources as a freshman, and have her work with a guidance counselor to come up with a 4-year plan. This might include some of the following benchmarks, which can even be restated as IEP goals and objectives:

Freshman Year

  • Know the graduation requirements and stay on top of them throughout high school
  • Get involved in an after-school activity (sports, drama, music, school clubs, volunteer work, etc.)
  • Determine the accommodations needed for any college entrance exams and make appropriate application

Sophomore Year

  • Focus on one or two after-school activities
  • Register for the Preliminary SAT (PSAT) or if offered in your area, the ACT’s equivalent preliminary test, the PLAN

Junior Year

  • Attend college fairs and develop a preliminary list of colleges that interest you
  • Schedule inquiries, interviews, and college visits
  • Register for the SAT, ACT, or both; and consider whether tutoring or a preparation course would be a smart choice

Summer After Junior Year

  • Research colleges of interest
  • Request catalogs and financial aid information from your selected list
  • Brush up on skills you’ll need to get your best score on the SAT or ACT; consider whether taking a course or working with a tutor would be helpful

Senior Year

  • Establish a timeline to complete and meet the deadlines for college applications (September-December); plan plenty of time to work on your essay and obtain teacher recommendations
  • Make plans about financial aid, including preparing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA)
Take Action

Getting to a 4-year college requires a 4-year plan. The best way to get the college acceptance letter you desire your senior year is to have a sound transition plan in place and…

  • Make smart course selections in high school
  • Rely on your support team
  • Develop independence as you keep up academic performance, and work your plan.
  • Leave nothing to luck!

Linda Talbert is a licensed behavior analyst in Connecticut and the Director of Life Planning at Abilis, Inc. Gerri Fleming is a member advocate of the Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates, who specializes in special education advocacy in Connecticut.

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