Differences Between Support Services in High School and College

Postsecondary Disability Support Services: The Differences Between High School and College




High school is an entitlement.

College is a choice, a right to access.

High school is mandatory and usually free.

College is voluntary and costly.

Others structure your time.

You manage your own time.

Permission is needed to participate in extracurricular activities.

The decision to participate in co-curricular or extracurricular activities is yours.

Parents and teachers remind you of your responsibilities and to assist you in setting priorities and goals.

Balancing your time and setting priorities is now your responsibility.

Day-to-day decisions are made for you, so you have limited moral and ethical decisions to make.

You will make all your day-to-day decisions and many moral and ethical decisions will be part of those decisions.

High school days are planned, you proceed from one class directly to another, spending 6 hours each day or 30 hours a week in class.

In College there are sometimes hours between classes; class times are varied throughout the day and evening and you spend only 12 to 16 hours each week in class.

Most of your classes are arranged for you by teachers and parents.

Your advisor assists you in arranging your own schedule towards degree completion.  Schedules tend to look lighter than they really are.

You are not responsible for knowing what it takes to graduate.

Graduation requirements are complex, and differ from year to year. You are expected to apply for graduation and know when you are eligible.

During your attendance in high school your parent have the right to participate in decisions that affect your learning:  IEP and 504 Plan.

Once a student turns 18, parents no longer have legal right to student information, unless they maintain guardianship.

School will make academic adjustments based on IEP or 504 Plans.

Documentation of your disability is your responsibility. You are required to provide and pay for documentation of your disability.  IEP and 504 Plan are not acceptable documentation.

High School can change academic requirements for you.

Colleges are not required to reduce or waive essential course requirements.

High School is a guided process and students are told what to do and how to behave.

College is a student responsibility and students are held responsible for the consequences of their decisions.



The school year is 36 weeks long; classes extend over both terms and some are divided between terms or weeks.

The academic year is divided into two separate 15-week semesters, plus a week of finals for each.

Classes generally have no more than 35 students.

Classes may number 100 students or more at university levels.  Community College classes have similar enrollments to High School.

Outside study time varies from as little as 0 to 2 hours a week and this may be mostly last-minute test preparation.

For each class you should allow at least 2 to 3 hours outside study time per class.

You seldom need to read anything more than once, and sometimes listening in class is enough.

You need to review class notes and text material regularly. Read over notes after each class, re-write notes and re-read before going to next class.

You are expected to read short assignments that are discussed, and often re-taught, in class.

You are assigned substantial amounts of reading and writing which may not be directly addressed in class.

Learning is a matter of supplying students with information and testing them on the same.

Learning is formulating thoughts and critical thinking. Students must take responsibility for their learning, professors assume students have read materials and proceed as it is done.




Teachers check your homework.

Professors do not always check homework, but they will assume you can perform the same tasks on tests.

Teachers remind you of your incomplete work.

Professors do not remind you of incomplete work.

Teachers watch and identify your problems and approach you if they believe you need assistance.

Professors are usually open and helpful, but they expect you to initiate contact if you need assistance.

Teachers are often available for conversation before, during, or after class.

Professors expect and want you to attend their scheduled office hours.

Teachers have been trained in teaching methods to assist in imparting knowledge to students.

Professors have been trained as experts in their particular areas of research.

Teachers provide you with information you missed when you were absent.

Professors expect you to get from classmates any notes from classes you missed.

Teachers often write information on the board to be copied in your notes and identify important information.

Professors may lecture nonstop, expecting you to identify the important  points in your notes. When professors write on the board, it may be to amplify the lecture, not to summarize it. Good notes are a must.

Teachers impart knowledge and facts sometimes drawing direct connections and leading you through the thinking process.

Professors expect you to think about and synthesize seemingly unrelated topics.

Teachers often take time to remind you of assignments and due dates.

Professors expect you to read, save, and consult the course syllabus (outline); the syllabus spells out exactly what is expected of you, when it is due, and how you will be graded.

 Teachers carefully monitor class attendance. Doctor’s excuses are accepted for absences.

Professors may not formally take roll, but they are still likely to know whether or not you attended. Professors do not take doctors excuses for absences, attendance policies are written on their syllabus, along with consequences for absences.

Teachers teach.

Professors provide opportunity to expand knowledge and develop thinking.




Testing is frequent and covers small amounts of material.

Testing may be less frequent and may be cumulative, covering large amounts of material. There may only be one to 4 tests per term. A comprehensive final may be given.

Teachers may go over what will be on the test.

Test preparation is the students’ responsibility.  The professor may review for the test or they may not.

Makeup tests are often available.

Makeup tests are seldom an option; if they are, it is your responsibility to request them.

Teachers work around school activities for their testing dates.

Professors in different courses usually schedule tests without regard to the demands of other courses or outside activities.

Teachers frequently conduct review sessions, pointing out the most important concepts.

 Professors rarely offer review sessions, and when they do, they expect you to be an active participant, one who comes prepared with questions.

Tests are modified and interpreted to help you understand what the teacher is asking.

Tests are verbatim, you are expected to know what the professor is asking — no help is given.

Passing a course is based upon your ability to reproduce what you have been taught.

Passing a course is based upon application of the principles taught.




Grades are given for most assigned work.

Grades may not be provided for all assigned work.

Consistently good homework grades may raise your overall grade when test grades are low.

Grades on tests and major papers usually provide most of the course grade.

Extra credit projects are often available to help you raise your grade.

Extra credit projects may not be an option in college.

Initial test grades, especially when they are low, may not have an adverse effect on your final grade.

Watch out for your first tests. These are usually “wake-up calls” to let you know what is expected–but they also may account for a substantial part of your course grade. You may be shocked when you get your grades.

You may graduate as long as you have passed all required courses with a grade of D or higher.

You may graduate only if your average in classes meets the departmental standard, typically a 2.0 or C.

In high school you must pass.

In college you can fail.



High School allows shortened assignments.

In college shortened assignments are not a reasonable accommodation.

High School allows the use of notes on exams.

Use of notes on exams are not a reasonable in college.

High School explains questions using different words.

Explaining questions using different words are not reasonable in college.

High School ensures success.

In college you must meet the academic standards of a course. Success is not guaranteed.

High School must pass students socially.

It is legal for a student with a disability to be academically dismissed from college.

Other Facts:

  • Not all colleges and universities have disability service offices, but federal law mandates there is at least one person on campus that can help you with your accommodations.
  • Students must identify themselves to the disability office on each campus.
  • Colleges and universities are not required to provide personal aides.
  • Colleges and universities may not charge students for providing accommodations.
  • Tutoring is not available at all colleges and universities. Some colleges charge a fee for tutoring.
  • IEPs and 504s are not acceptable documentation for college unless certain information is contained within them. Colleges can create their own documentation standards.
  • Disability documentation must be recent within 3 years and varies by college and university.
  • Reasonable accommodations are made in order to level the playing field for qualified individuals with disabilities. These accommodations permit students with disabilities the opportunity to learn by removing barriers that do not compromise academic standards.
  • Admission requirements must be met for each individual college or university.
  • SAT or ACT scores are used at the college and university level. Most community colleges do not use SAT scores, they give course placement tests or an entrance exam.

Adapted from © (2003) ed. Patty Florentine, Community College of Allegheny County, Boyce Campus, David Carson, Community College of Allegheny County  and Gretchen Flock, OVR Pittsburgh. Some information used from the Altshuler Learning Enhancement Center at Southern Methodist University.  This publication may be distributed freely provided the editing and original authors are acknowledged. http://www.ccac.edu/default.aspx?id=149708