Transitioning from K-12 to College


Picture of the arch at the entrance to Grand Valley on Lake Michigan Drive.

On behalf of the Disability Support Resources (DSR) office, we would like to welcome you to Grand Valley State University. There are a number of differences between the accommodation process in high school and college and these differences are due to the distinct intentions of the laws that govern the provision of these accommodations. In high school, accommodations are an entitlement, whereas in college, it is a civil rights mandate. Greater emphasis is on personal responsibility and self-advocacy in college. While this is an important part of the developmental process for college students, it can lead to some difficulties for students who are used to having many of the procedures related to accommodations handled for them by someone else on their behalf. We know that transitioning from high school to college life can be a little overwhelming, but we are here to assist you.

Preparing for College

IEP/504 to Coverage Under the ADA

  • The difference between an IEP/504 plan and the American’s with Disabilities Act (ADA).
    • When you graduate high school, your IEP/504 plan ends and you will now be covered under the ADA.  This means that accommodations may be a lot different in college than what you had in K-12.  Your disability advisor will explain in greater detail how this will affect you.
A picture of the clock-tower and library on a sunny fall day.

How to Prepare for College

  • In order to receive accommodations for your disability in college, you will need to provide documentation of your disability to your disability advisor.
  • GVSU requests that the documentation you provide be five years old or newer. 
  • Examples of documentation:
    • Psychological examination completed by a qualified mental health professional. (your high school counselor can help you with this examination)
    • Letter from your doctor that is signed, and on the doctor’s letterhead.
      • Must include that there is a diagnosis of a disability
      • Testing used to diagnose
      • Recommendations for accommodations that you will need
  • Form templates are available the DSR Documentation webpage.


A view of the Little Mac Bridge on the Allendale Campus.
  • College will be different than high school as to where your professors will need to know about any accommodations that you need and you will need to be the one to have that discussion with them.
  • Now that you are an adult, your parents or other individuals you used in the past to help you will not always be able to do that.  Your DSR advisor can work with you to help you learn how to self-advocate for yourself.
  • DSR will provide you with an accommodation letter that has your approved accommodations listed on it. You will need to print this off, take to your professors and have a conversation with them to determine what will be the best way for you to receive them. 

High School vs. College


High School



Schools provide and pays for testing for eligibility of services and prescribe accommodations.

Student self-identifies, advocates for accommodations and seeks out services by registering with Disability Support Resources (DSR). Student must provide documentation.


Information is shared with parents/guardians/support team.

The Family Right to Privacy Act (FERPA) does not allow an institution to share information without student’s approval.


I.E.P. (Individualized Education Plan) and/or 504 plan.  Documentation focuses on determining whether student is eligible for services based on specific disability categories in I.D.E.A. (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act).

Documentation requirements vary from institution to institution. Student must contact the schools to determine requirements. To see DSR’s specific requirements for documentation: DSR Webpage.

Diagnostic Testing

Schools pay for the process of diagnostic testing.

Students must pay for their own diagnostic testing.

Eligibility for Services/

Placement and Accommodations

Parental guidance is expected as parents/guardians/teachers are the primary advocates.

Only include parents/guardians in decisions regarding eligibility for services if you choose. Decisions regarding placement and accommodations are determined by disability.

Instructor Awareness

Teachers are aware of your specific difficulties and requests for intervention.

Students must assume the responsibility of their own advocacy by meeting with the DSR office and meeting with Faculty.

Altering Courses and Programs

Courses/programs modified for specific needs.

Take courses offered, not fundamentally altered.

Test Modifications

Eliminating questions, unlimited time, extra explanations, ability to take tests in resource room, open book/open note tests, etc.

Accommodations related to testing are often limited to extended time, distraction reduced environment, and readers for tests who can read the test exactly as written.

Homework Modifications

Fewer questions to answer, alternate assignments, extra time to turn in homework, etc.

No modifications to length of assignments. DSR may grant extended time for in-class assignments but, professor has the final say about extended time for homework submissions.

Resource Room

Resource room and support professionals.

No resource room. Referrals are made to individual offices for academic support through the Writing Center, Knowledge Market, Tutoring, Counseling Center, etc.


Tutoring or outside resources may be set up for you.

Go to GVSU’s tutoring website to sign up for free tutoring.  Tutoring Center Webpage.

Reminders and Deadlines

Parents/teachers remind for exam dates and assignment deadlines.

Student must keep track of exam dates and assignment deadlines by referring to course syllabus, Blackboard, etc.

Discipline/Missing Class

Expect to be disciplined for skipping class.

Professors establish their own attendance policy.  DSR will discuss attendance as it pertains to conversations you will need to have with your professors about missing class.


Schools provide transportation to and from school.

Transportation is not a service; however, some colleges provide as a courtesy on their campus or access to public transportation.

Personal Aides

Personal aides may be provided in the classroom/academic or personal care issues.

Personal aides are not provided.

Alternative Textbooks

Schools provide free alternative textbooks using a variety of ways, including BookShare.

Students are required to purchase or rent their books, provide proof of ownership or rental, and then request books in alternative format. Colleges may or may not use BookShare; they may just share files.

Page last modified June 9, 2023