K-12 vs. Postsecondary

There are a number of differences between high school and college that are important to understand. Both environments can be supportive and effective, but there are some key differences in the legal requirements, accommodations, education and advocacy, courses, and instructors. We would be happy to talk with you about your specific situation and some of the key differences. Contact SAS to for additional questions! 

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Summary of Key Differences

Key Difference High School College
Federal Laws Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA); Section 504 (Particularly subpart E) of (IDEA) Section 504 of the Rehabilitation the Rehabilitation Act of 1973; Title II Act of 1973 (“Section 504”); the Americans of the Americans with Disabilities Act with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) as (ADA) amended (2008) 
Purpose of the Legislation To ensure that all eligible students with disabilities have available a free appropriate public education (FAPE), including special education and related services (IDEA). To ensure that no otherwise qualified person with a disability be denied access to, or benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination by any program or activity provided by any public institution or entity (504/ADA).  To ensure that no otherwise qualified person with a disability be denied access to, or the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination by any program or activity provided by any public institution or entity (504/ADA). 
Eligibility For special education services, all infants, children, and youth (0 through 21 years) with disabilities (as defined by the state Administrative Rules for Special Education, and/or the ADA).  For accessibility services, students attending courses at the university; and who is a "qualified individual with a disability" as defined; by Section 504 and ADA are eligible for services.
Documentation School districts are responsible for providing trained personnel to assess eligibility and plan educational services. When necessary, students are responsible for obtaining disability documentation from a professional who is qualified to assess their disability. Accessibility services does not provide disability assessments. 
Receiving Services School districts are responsible for identifying students with disabilities, designing special instruction, and/or providing accommodations. Students are responsible for requesting accommodations, disclosing their disability to accessibility services, and requesting accommodation letters for each class. 
Self-Advocacy Students with disabilities learn about their disability, the importance of self-advocacy, the accommodations they need, and how to be a competent self-advocate Student self-advocacy is an important component throughout the interactive accommodation process, when accommodations are implemented, and if there are concerns or questions about accommodations. 


Key Difference High School College
Access to Records

Parents have access to student records.

Parents do not have access to student records without the student's written consent. Students are not under an obligation to complete a Release of Information (ROI). 
Accommodation Requests An IEP Team creates an Individualized Education Program (IEP) or a 504 plan. Students work with SAS to complete the interactive accommodation process. Accommodations must be requested through this process.
Service Implementation IEP or 504 Team works directly with teachers to help ensure supports are in place. 

For academic accommodations, students are responsible for completing a "semester request" that activates an accommodation letter for their specific courses. Students then work directly with instructors (and SAS as needed) for accommodation implementation. 

For non-academic accommodations, students are responsible for working directly with the necessary department (e.g., housing, dining, parking, transportation). 

Types of Services Fundamental modifications to programs and curricula are required. Reasonable accommodations are provided to students who qualify for services. Universities and instructors have no obligation to fundamentally alter academic requirements or essential standards.


Key Difference High School College
Right vs. opportunity Education is a right and must be provided to all individuals free of charge. Education is an opportunity. Students must meet all essential university, department/program, and course requirements. 
Self-Disclosure The school district is responsible for identifying a student's disability and developing an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) to define educational services. Students must self-identify and engage in the interactive accommodation process with Student Accessibility Services (SAS). This includes completing an accommodation request, submitting documentation, and meeting with SAS. 
Who Advocates Parents advocate for the student. 

Students are expected to self-advocate for their needs (Self-Advocacy Guide | Student Accessibility Services (unh.edu)).

If students would like SAS to share information with parents, families, or others, they must complete a Release of Information (ROI). 

Structure High school is a structured environment where most of the student's time is defined. Limits are set by adults/others. Students have a great amount of "free time" which is unstructured. Students are expected to structure their own time outside of classes. 


Key Difference High School College
Course Timelines The school year is 36 weeks long; some classes extend over both semesters, and some don't. The academic year is divided into multiple semesters. Each of these semesters have their own timelines and courses within specific semesters may have different timelines. Students are responsible for checking course syllabi for specific timelines. 
Course Participation The school may have modified participation requirements.  Participation requirements vary by the specific course. While there may be flexibility if approved as an accommodation, students are expected to meet all essential course requirements. 
Class Size Classes generally have no more than 35 students. Students cannot be guaranteed that all courses will be a certain size. There are both smaller and larger courses offered at the university. Students are responsible for working with their advisors to understand the courses they are registering for. 
Course Schedules Classes meet daily and are typically held in the same building. Classes may meet 1,2,3, or 4 times a week and are often held in different buildings.
Student Schedule Your school tends to make and organized your schedule. Courses are often provided with minimal student input. 

Students are responsible for working with their department and/or advisor to make their course schedule. Students sign up for courses at specific times in the year. Students are also responsible for creating their schedules outside of course times. 

Study Responsibilities You may study outside class as little as 0 to 2 hours a week, and this may be mostly last-minute test preparation. Students should plan to study at least 2 to 3 hours outside of class for each hour in class. Students engage in this work independently. There are not planned study halls or study sessions. 
Course Materials  Textbooks are typically provided free of cost. Textbooks are purchased or rented by the student. Specific costs vary based on what is required in the course. Students are responsible for finding and acquiring their materials. 
Independent Work Students are expected to read short assignments that are then discussed, and often re-taught, in class. Each course has different requirements, but many courses will assign longer assignments, multiple readings, and require writing assignments. Students are expected to navigate all work within courses independently (create their own timelines, monitor their progress, and meet all deadlines).


Key Difference High School College
Assignment Feedback Teachers remind  students about incomplete work. Students are responsible for making sure work is done and on time. Professors expect students to read, save, and consult the course syllabus (the syllabus spells out  what is expected, when it is due, and how it will be graded). Professors may discuss timelines and revised timelines during course time. 
Discussions about Supports Teachers approach students if they believe students need assistance. Most professors expect students to initiate contact for additional assistance. This includes the discussion about accommodations and supports within the course. 
Instructor Availability Teachers are often available for conversation before, during, or after class. Professors' availability will differ. Many will prefer students to connect for longer conversations and support during office hours. It is the student's responsibility to reach out to the instructor to schedule meetings. 
Advocacy with Instructors Teachers approach students to see if they need assistance. Every semester, students must complete a "semester request" to activate their accommodation letter for the course. Once the accommodation letter is shared, students are encouraged to connect with their instructor directly to discuss accommodation implementation.