After High School
What Are the Differences Between Secondary and Postsecondary School?
There are many basic differences between services for students with disabilities in high school and educational programs after high school, also called postsecondary education. Postsecondary education includes vocational programs, community colleges, colleges, and universities. It is important that you and your child research and understand what each of these has to offer before you make any decisions. High school counselors, college counselors, and disability services providers can help you understand how services and responsibilities change in postsecondary school.
One of the biggest differences is the change in responsibility. In high school, the school and special education team are responsible for your child’s education. In postsecondary school, your child is responsible for their own education.
Here is a brief outline of some more specific differences:
|9th-12th Grade||Postsecondary Education|
|School district is responsible for identifying and documenting student’s disability||Student must provide documentation of their disability|
|School curriculum can be fundamentally altered||Curriculum cannot be fundamentally altered|
|Individualized Education Program (IEP) created by team||No IEP. An education plan is created by the student and disability services staff|
|School is responsible for IEP||Student must self-disclose disability and ask for accommodations on their own|
|School district must make sure IEP is appropriate||Student must tell school staff if there are problems|
|Student evaluated as a child||Student evaluated as an adult|
|Parents actively involved||Parents cannot access information without their child’s consent|
|Student’s rights covered under the law called Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA)||Student’s rights covered under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act|
There are also many changes in the structure of postsecondary schools and the responsibilities of students. Adjusting to these changes can be difficult for students with and without disabilities. Once you understand some of the differences, you can help your child begin preparing for some of these changes.
Here are examples of how a postsecondary school differs from a high school:
- Classes may have different meeting schedules; for example, a class may take place 3 times a week for 1 hour or once a week for 3 hours
- Classes are not always back to back; there may be big gaps in time between classes
- Classes may be in different buildings that are far apart
- Students choose their own classes
- Students are responsible for making sure they take the right classes to graduate
- Teachers often lecture for the entire class time
- Most work happens outside the classroom; estimate about 2 to 3 hours of studying for every hour of class time
Many campuses have disability service offices that are there to help you and your child navigate the new systems. The changes can be frustrating and hard to understand, but the counselors, teachers, and peers in the disability service office are there to support you. Make sure you and your child know about the services offered by the campus disability office before choosing a school. Learning alongside your child about their legal rights and the disability services available at postsecondary institutions will help your child make good decisions about continuing their education.
The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) is a federal law that protects the privacy of student education records.
FERPA gives parents certain rights to their children's education records. When a student turns 18 years old or enters a postsecondary institution at any age, all rights afforded to you as a parent under FERPA transfer to the student ("eligible student"). However, FERPA offers ways in which a school may—but is not required to—share information from an eligible student's education records with parents, without the student's consent. For example:
- Schools may disclose education records to parents if the student is claimed as a dependent for tax purposes
- Schools may disclose education records to parents if a health or safety emergency involves their child
- Schools may inform parents if the student, if he or she is under age 21, has violated any law or policy concerning the use or possession of alcohol or a controlled substance
There are plenty of resources available to you and your child to help guide your decisions about postsecondary education. Here are some people who could help:
- High school guidance counselors
- Experienced teachers who know your child well
- Relatives or family friends who have a child who attended postsecondary school
- Doctors and psychologists
- Benefits counselors
- Peers with and without disabilities
- Parent support groups
There are also other sources of information, such as websites and books. Here are a few websites you can look at:
Remember that communicating with your child about independence and responsibility is equally important. When your child is 18 or graduates from high school, they will be considered an adult; they will make decisions for themselves and need to be well prepared.
Why Choose More Education?
More education can be a good opportunity for people with disabilities in the same way it can be a good opportunity for people without disabilities. More education can:
- Raise knowledge related to a specific career goal
- Improve general job skills and readiness
- Offer exposure to different types of work opportunities
- Develop important social skills
- Raise self-confidence and independence
As a parent it is important to start communicating with your child about the possibility of pursuing postsecondary education as early as possible. Many different things need to be addressed before your child and you can decide whether choosing further education beyond high school is the right option.
Here are some good questions to help get the conversation with your child started:
- What are your interests and goals for the future?
- What would you get from more education?
- How would more education help you accomplish your goals?
- What do you like about the idea of more education?
- What worries do you have about the possibility of more school?
- Are you prepared, personally, academically, and financially, for more school?
- What are your options for more education?
- Where will you be most successful?
Remember, it’s not always easy for young people to talk about their future. Sometimes they haven’t thought about their future at all. Ask a lot of questions that encourage your child to give full, detailed answers and be patient.
It can be easier for young people to talk with people who aren’t their parents. If you are having a hard time starting a good discussion about future education plans, ask another adult who is close to your child to bring up the subject.
What Are the Options?
Your child has many options for additional education. There is no single right choice for everyone; your child’s needs and desires will help you figure out what will work best for your child. Most colleges have some type of services for students with disabilities, but they vary greatly. It is important to thoroughly research the options together, so your child can make an informed decision.
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