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Summer 2005 Table of Contents
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Postsecondary Education: Preparation Is a Necessary Ingredient for Success

By Deborah Leuchovius

Reprinted with permission from the Summer 2004 issue of The PACESETTER, a publication of the Pacer Center, Inc., Minneapolis, Minnesota, (952)838-9000.

Abstract: This article describes the skills needed by students with disabilities to prepare for postsecondary education.

Key words: blind, visually impaired, deafblind, parents, transition, postsecondary education, college, study skills, self advocacy

Research shows that completing some type of postsecondary education, including vocational-technical training leads to higher earnings, higher self-esteem, more meaningful employment, and economic self-sufficiency.

More and more students with disabilities are going on to college. Unfortunately, most students with disabilities who go on to higher education leave before they complete their program or degree.

If students with disabilities have higher education as a goal, it is critical that they leave high school with the skills they need to be successful there. Through the transition planning process, parents and educators can help ensure that a student’s secondary education program provides a foundation for postsecondary success. A student on an individualized education plan (IEP) should have a transition plan included at age 14. The plan can include postsecondary goals.

Keys To Success

What exactly are the skills students need to be successful in higher education? Adequate academic preparation, self-knowledge, self-advocacy, study skills, time management, and perseverance. In addition, the transition team should help students collect the documentation they will need to obtain services in college and plan for financial aid.

Adequate Academic Preparation & Study Skills

Staying in college is difficult without a solid academic foundation. One of the greatest barriers to college for students with disabilities is the lack of a strong academic preparation. Students with disabilities are less likely to complete a full academic curriculum (differences are most significant in math and science) than students without disabilities. The result is that they are far less likely to qualify for admission to a four-year college.

For many students this comes as a surprise rather late in the game. It is not until college entrance exams reveal what students lack in their academic knowledge that many discover they will have to take remedial courses.

Early planning is the best way to ensure success. A student’s courses should include college preparatory courses—in middle school or junior high, as well as in high school. If your son or daughter expresses an interest in postsecondary education, make sure they understand the classes they will need to take and the grades they will need to maintain in order to qualify for admission. Students should talk with teachers and counselors to map out a curriculum that corresponds to the admission requirements of state colleges.

For many students, it is disorganization, not the learning material that makes getting good grades difficult. Parents can help students to develop good study and time management skills. Good study skills involve setting goals; being organized; and setting a place, time and schedule that is study friendly.

High school students intending to continue their education should also practice using postsecondary-type supports in their general education classrooms, for example, low tech assistive technology such as talking books, specialized tape recorders, and portable note-taking devices.

Colleges look for well-rounded students. Becoming involved in extracurricular activities such as sports, community service, music, or drama may help students enter more competitive college and university programs.

Self Advocacy

It is not just the academics that are difficult in postsecondary education. Postsecondary schools expect students with disabilities to take the initiative, to declare their disability, and to work with the disability support personnel to plan their accommodations. In addition, accommodations must be negotiated with each instructor.

It is absolutely essential that students with disabilities going on to college develop the following in the course of their high school education: 1) a basic understanding of their disability, 2) knowledge of the accommodations they will need in post-school environments, and 3) the ability to articulate both of these things to others.

Attending their own IEP meetings and being active in the planning and implementation of their own educational plans is a beginning step in developing these skills.


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Last Revision: September 1, 2010