Transitional Independent Living


Choosing a College for a Child with Special Needs

For many young adults today, education doesn’t end with a high school diploma. The same is true for your child with special needs.

Selecting a college for a student with special needs, though, means you need to look into more than the majors and campus organizations offered. Here are a few other points you should consider to help your young adult find the education that best prepares him or her for a secure, independent life.

Start With Your Interests

It doesn’t matter how wonderful a college is about working with students with special needs if the school doesn’t offer a program reflecting your young adult’s interests or career path. First, you and your young adult need to decide what he or she wants to study. This will also tell you both what type of postsecondary education your young adult should be considering: certification, technical school, or four-year institution.

Consider Accommodations

The accommodations available to students with disabilities may vary from school to school, so be sure to inquire about what is offered when you visit each school. Generally, the disability or learning support services coordinator is the best person to ask for this information. Also take this time to ask the coordinator what type of documentation you must provide to prove your disability to the school.

Campus Explorer points out, “While schools must accommodate your needs, you may find more success at a college or university that already has the special programs and services you need in place.” Accommodations provided may include:

  • Adaptive technology labs
  • Waivers and/or substitutions for classes your disability prevents you from passing
  • Basic or study skills courses that may count towards your required credit hours
  • Access to textbook formats easier for you to read than standard printed or digital versions

Be certain to evaluate everything the school says it offers in person. What sounds like the same services in marketing materials may be vastly different from campus to campus.

Evaluate the Staff and the Support Program

Does the department’s staff have experience working with students who have special needs similar to your young adult’s? How many members of the staff have experience in relation to the total number of students serviced by the department?

Also, how good is the staff at communicating? Kathleen Nadeau, Ph.D. says this about making first contact with a disability services department by email: “A rapid, encouraging response to your email is a good sign of adequate staffing and a positive attitude toward students with need for accommodations and learning supports.”

If the staff doesn’t understand what type of assistance your young adult needs, they may not be able to provide that assistance. If they do provide the needed accommodations, they may not be the same quality as those provided by a school with a more in-depth understanding.

You also want to find out how long the program has been in existence on campus, and how long the current director has been overseeing it. Generally, the more years the current program has been in place, the better the program operates.

Ask About Financial Aid

There may be scholarships, grants, and other funding specifically geared toward students with disabilities available through the school or other organizations. The disability services coordinator may have this information, but you should also check with the financial aid office.

The Process is Worth It

It may take a little bit more work to prepare for college with a special needs student, but there are a number of great schools out there for your family to consider. These schools are well-equipped to help your young adult enjoy the college years.


Education Quest – College Planning for Students with Disabilities –

Campus Explorer – Students with Disabilities –

Help your young adult complete college

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