Transitioning from High School to College

A woman sits next to a young man helping him with homework at Vermont State University.

The transition from high school to college presents many challenges for all students and their families. But students with disabilities experience additional, unique challenges. The process can be exciting and confusing, happy and stressful, fun and intimidating. Those feelings are normal and are all part of the process of growth and change. The Office of Disabilities at Vermont State is here to help you navigate the transition. 

How Are Disability Accommodations in College Different From High School? 

High schools have special education programs and systems. No special education system exists at the college level, but colleges do provide many services to students with disabilities. 

For students with disabilities, you have the added challenge of figuring out the differences between the services you received in high school and the rights and responsibilities you will have as a college student. There are some significant differences between high school and college. 

  1. Colleges follow different rules than high schools. Colleges are not governed by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), but they are prohibited from discriminating on the basis of disability. Colleges are also required to ensure equal access for students with disabilities. They have to make sure these students can access things just like everyone else. They do this by giving reasonable help, called “accommodations.”  
  1. In college, the student is responsible for initiating a request for accommodation. To do so, you must declare that you have a disability and provide current documentation. Learn more about this process.
  1. All students, including those with disabilities, must meet the same academic standards. Accommodations are meant to “level the playing field,” not lower standards. 

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) is the law that covers students ages two to 21 who need special education in public secondary schools. This law has no authority after a student graduates from high school. From then on, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) become the guiding laws. The biggest differences between IDEA and ADA & 504 are: 

  • There is no specific list of disabilities covered by the ADA. Criteria for determining disability include having any physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities; having a record of such impairment; or being regarded as having such an impairment. 
  • Under the ADA it is the responsibility of the student with the disability to self-identify and provide documentation. The cost of any evaluation is the responsibility of the student, not the university. 
  • An IEP (Individual Education Plan) does not follow the student from high school to college. Services, auxiliary aids, and accommodations are arranged by a designated university staff person. Accommodations must not pose an “undue hardship” to the university. 

Admissions Standards

Colleges are not required to modify admission requirements or academic requirements for a student with a disability. In fact, a student with a disability must participate in the university’s standard admission process and must be otherwise qualified for admission. Otherwise qualified means that the student with a disability must meet the same admissions standards and have academic credentials equivalent to their peers without disabilities. 

The university is not required to lower or substantially modify essential academic requirements. For example, the university may provide extra time to complete a test, but it is not required to change the substantive content of the test. 

Section 504 and the ADA are considered “outcome neutral.” That means colleges must ensure that a student with a disability has an equal opportunity to access but the college does not guarantee a student’s academic success. 

To learn more about applying to Vermont State as a student with a disability, contact  Admissions anytime at or 888.398.VTSU (8878). 

What Are My Next Steps?

  1. Not sure what services you may be eligible for? Please don’t hesitate to contact the Office of Disability Services any time to discuss your unique needs and circumstances.
  1. Learn about what you need to do to request a disability accommodation.
  1. Learn about disability accommodations for living in on-campus housing.   
  1. Read about our policy for emotional support animals.

Contact Us

Castleton and Killington

Gerry Volpe
Director of Disability Services
Vermont State University, Castleton
87 University Drive
Castleton, VT 05735
Phone: 802.468.1428
Fax: 802.468.1205
Schedule a meeting!

Johnson and Online Students

Pamela Billings, M.A., CCC-SLP
Coordinator of Disability Services
Vermont State University, Johnson
337 College Hill Road
Johnson, VT 05656
Phone: 802.635.1214
Fax 802.635.1454
Schedule a meeting!


Margaret Wald
Coordinator of Disability Services
Vermont State University, Lyndon
1001 College Road
Lyndonville, VT 05851
Phone: 802.626.6438
Fax: 802.626.6474
Schedule a meeting!

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