From High School to Higher Ed: Managing the Transition

Posted by | Feb 10, 2015

The move to postsecondary education from high school can be challenging for students with learning disabilities. Their individualized education program, parental support, and accommodations fall away; they are living away from home for the first time; and they need to navigate new friendships and unfamiliar resources.

While your child is still in high school, you can help them “rehearse” their newfound freedom in ways that strengthen their ability to function independently. Make sure they have their own checking account and understand how to build and manage a budget (apps like can be very helpful). Make it your child’s responsibility to sort, wash, and fold their own laundry each week and teach them how to cook simple meals using inexpensive ingredients. Help your child to thoroughly understand their learning needs and encourage them to advocate on their own behalf. Urge them to embrace social situations where they will meet new people. Most important, be sure that they have plenty of practice breaking down assignments, taking notes, and studying for tests.

Secure tutoring or coaching support before your child starts university to help them organize and plan. Be sure to register with the learning skills office at the new school and set up a meeting for your student prior to the beginning of classes. Colleges and universities will require an official diagnosis of your child’s disability to formalize accommodations (this process may have to be repeated each year). When setting up a bank account, create joint access so that you can transfer funds into the account and help your student monitor their spending. Before your child begins school, spend some time in the area where they’ll be living and make sure they are familiar with important locations such as medical offices, laundry facilities, grocery stores, banks, and bus/train stations.

The journey through college or university will sometimes be bumpy. Be available, reserve judgment, and provide as much structure for your student as you can. It may take extra time for your child to graduate, grades may go up and down, classes might be dropped or failed, and there will be a lot of last-minute calls for help, but hang in there. By being proactive and patient, you’ll help your son or daughter secure that important diploma and reach a new level of independence.