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High School -vs- College

 College and high school are very different settings.  Understanding some of the key variations between high school and college is important for success at UMass Dartmouth.

  High School College
Success vs. Access IDEA is about educational success. The ADA AA is about access.   Passing courses is not guaranteed.
Modifications to Courses and Programs Fundamental modifications of programs and curricula are required.          No fundamental modifications are required – only reasonable accommodations.
Student Rights in Education Education is a right and must be provided in an appropriate environment to all individuals. Higher education is not a right. Students must meet certain admissions and/or program criteria and/or standards.  Students must remain qualified to attend.
Educational Plans The school district develops Individualized Education Plans (IEP’s) to define educational services. The student must provide disability documentation and request services.  The college will then determine what accommodations would be reasonable and effective.
Disability Evaluations The school district provides free evaluations. The student must obtain an evaluation at his/her own expense.
Arranging Accommodations  Primary responsibility for arranging accommodations belongs to the school. Primary responsibility for self-advocacy and arranging accommodations belongs to the student (who may seek assistance from CAS).
Personal Services Personal services for medical and physical disabilities are required (i.e. personal care attendant). The University is not required to provide a personal care attendant.
Advocacy Parents advocate for the student. Student must advocate for his/herself.
Parental Permission The student needs the parent’s permission in most instances. The student is an adult and responsible for making his/her own well informed decisions.
Educational Planning A main planning office exists as the center of activity for the school. The student is responsible for knowing where to go to obtain information and services.
School Year Schedule School year runs from September – June. School year is divided into semesters: from September to December and January to May.
Typical Class Length The average length of a class is 35-45 minutes. Classes vary in length from 50 minutes to 3 hours.
  • Takes attendance
  • May check student’s notebook
  • Writes information on the whiteboard, and
  • Imparts knowledge and facts.
  • Rarely teaches student the text but expects student to read covered chapters
  • Often lectures non-stop
  • Often requires library research, and
  • Lists assignments in the syllabus
Assignments and Due Dates Teachers usually take time to remind student of assignments and due dates. Professors expect student  to read, save, and consult the course syllabus (outline); this tells the student what is expected of him/her, when it is due and how it will be graded  (grading criteria).
Study Time Whatever it takes student to do  homework, 1-2 hours per day.   Rule of Thumb: 3 hours of study time for every 1 hour of class!  
Educational Funding High school is paid for by tax dollars that go to the school district. The student is responsible for applying for financial aid or arranging some type of payment.
Freedom Structure defines the day most of the time.  Limits are set by parents, teachers, and other adults.   The single greatest problem most college students face – students choose how long and often they  study, eat and sleep.


  • deBettencourt, L. (2002). Understanding the differences between IDEA and Section 504.  TEACHING Exceptional Children 34(3). 
  • Madaus, J. & Shaw, S. (2004).  Section 504: Differences in the regulations for secondary and postsecondary education.  Intervention in School and Clinic 40(2).
  • Shaw, D. & Rein, B. (2006) Disability laws – Applications in the schools. Adapted from: Brinkerhoff, L., McGuire, J., Shaw, S. (2002). Postsecondary education and transition for students with learning disabilities, Austin, TX: PRO-ED.
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