Students with Disabilities-Types of College Programs

Types of Programs

A number of colleges have established structured programs to provide support for students with learning disabilities, ADHD, and/or other disabilities. These programs provide a variety of services that are designed to assist students in the college environment. The programs can be particularly helpful for those students in need of extra assistance in making the transition from high school to college.

While it might make things more challenging, a disability shouldn’t stand in the way of getting a college degree. These days, it’s easier than ever for special needs students to find the help they need, as more and more institutions work to understand their disabilities. Doing so allows them to provide better programs that can make the transition into college life much smoother. Students with a wide range of special needs, from learning disabilities to hearing impairment, can find schools with amazing programs that offer support, tutoring and special courses designed to make everything less stressful for enrollees and parents alike.


(source: The K&W Guide to College Programs & Services for Students with Learning Disabilities or Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder)

Structured Programs:  
Schools that have specific programs for students with LD/ADHD that go beyond the mandated services. These services  might include special admissions procedures, specialized and trained professionals, compensatory strategies, one-on-one tutoring, additional fees, compulsory participation, and monitoring.

Coordinated Services:
Schools that have some involvement with admissions decisions, voluntary participation, more than just mandated services, small or no fees, and less structure.

Basic Services:
Schools that comply with Section 504 mandates that rarely have specialized LD staff, do not have monitoring, and are totally dependent on student self-advocacy.

Questions & Information


The abbreviation ODS, which stands for the Office of Disability Services, is used to represent the office on a college campus that is responsible for providing accommodations and services to students with disabilities.  It is important to note that the name of this office varies by college.  Ultimately, it is important for students to find out the name of the primary office on a college campus that is designed to provide support for students with disabilities.

1. Do all colleges offer the same services for students with disabilities?

In general, colleges have an Office of Disability Services (ODS) that works with eligible students to provide accommodations as required by law.  However, the type of support services available and the way that the accommodations are delivered varies depending on the university.  As a result, it is important for students to research colleges carefully to determine if the Office of Disability/Accessibility Services on a campus can meet their learning needs and goals.

According to a representative of the ODS at one college:  “It is important for students to contact our office early in the college search process so that they can get a clear picture of the accommodations and services that are provided.  This will help students determine if our college is a good match.”

It is also important to note that some colleges have specialized programs that provide structured support services to help students with disabilities in the college environment.  These programs are often fee-based, but they offer extra support services that can ease the transition from high school to college.

2. How do colleges determine whether a student is eligible to receive accommodations and services?

It is the responsibility of students to contact the ODS to determine what documentation needs to be provided to be eligible to receive accommodations and services at a college.  Most colleges will use recent psychological, cognitive, and/or medical evaluations done by qualified professionals to determine if a student is eligible for accommodations and services.  It is important to note that colleges tend to rely on testing that involves adult measures as opposed to child/adolescent measures.  As a result, it is important to contact the ODS at colleges of interest early on during the college search process to determine the specifications for the eligibility determination documentation.

3. What are the common types of accommodations that are provided by colleges for students with disabilities?

Although the way that accommodations are delivered can vary, common accommodations at the college level include:  Extended time to complete tests, a distraction-reduced testing environment, access to audio books, note-taking assistance, and visual and hearing accommodations.

It is important for a student to inquire about the accommodations and support services that are available at each college of interest during the college search progress.

4. Some of the important questions to ask a representative from ODS at each college of interest includes but is not limited to:

  • What are the eligibility requirements to receive accommodations/services through the Office of Disability Services?
  • What types of accommodations and support services are available to students through the ODS?
  • Are there fees associated with any services that are provided to students through the ODS?
  • What types of general academic support services are available to all students at the college?
  • What types of assistive technology is available for students at the college?
  • How many courses do students take in a semester (or quarter) at the college to constitute being full-time?  Is a reduced course load an option if needed?
  • Are course substitutions granted to meet the academic requirements if needed?
  • Is information available regarding the graduation/retention rate of the students that are served?

5. What should students with disabilities consider as they begin thinking about the college search process?

Students are encouraged to begin thinking about the college search process early on during high school.  Items to consider include:

Requesting accommodations for the ACT and SAT:  It is a good idea for student to find out about the process for requesting accommodations for the ACT and SAT early in their high school career.  Students are encouraged to visit the SAT Accommodations information website ( and the ACT Accommodations information website (http://www/  Students are also encouraged to speak with a guidance counselor or another school official at their high school to discuss the procedures necessary to request accommodations for the ACT, SAT, PSAT and any other testing such as Advanced Placement (AP) testing.

It is recommended that students begin examining types of accommodations and services that are available at colleges of interest.  Students should also find out about the specific documentation requirements to be eligible to receive services at colleges of interest.  As students begin to narrow their list of colleges, they are encouraged to visit colleges and make arrangements to meet with a representative from the ODS at each college to discuss the available accommodations and services.

6. What should student do prior to prepare for college?

  • Research and visit colleges of interest and consider colleges that would provide the best opportunity to achieve success (i.e. college size, location, faculty/student ratio, class sizes, housing options…).
  • Contact the ODS at colleges of interest and arrange to speak with staff members to discuss the eligibility process for receiving accommodations and services as well as the specific accommodations and services that are available.
  • Make sure all of your disability-related documentation is up-to-date and that it will meet the requirements of the ODS at colleges of interest.
  • Obtain copies of your high school records including any disability-related testing that you may need for reference purposes.
  • Talk with a high school staff member (i.e. counselor, school psychologist, special education teacher) to make sure that you have a good understanding about your particular learning needs, areas of strength, and the types of accommodations/services that would be helpful to you to achieve success at the college level.  Being able to articulate learning needs and goals is particularly helpful when meeting with a representative from the ODS at colleges of interest.

7. Should a student disclose their disability to college admission offices?

This question should be addressed to a representative from the ODS at each college of interest.  In general, colleges require that students meet the standard admission requirements and submit the standard admission application materials.  However, students are encouraged to contact the ODS at each college of interest prior to submitting an application to ask about the proper procedures for disclosing a disability at the college.  There may be some circumstances in which it would be helpful to disclose a disability or medical condition to the admission office.  Overall, staff members in the ODS can be very helpful in advising students about when and how to provide information about a disability to a college.

8. Are there scholarship opportunities for students with disabilities and/or medical conditions?

There are scholarship opportunities for students with disabilities and medical conditions.  These opportunities typically have an application process and eligible students are encouraged to submit application materials.  Some scholarships are offered directly by colleges and others are offered by organizations.

9. Once in college, should students who receive accommodations identify themselves to their professors?

It is generally expected that students will accept the responsibility for speaking with their course instructors about their educational needs and about their learning accommodations.  The ODS typically provides the necessary documentation needed to notify professors.  The ODS also often provides guidance to students about the best way to work with professors.  

It is often helpful for students to speak directly with their college professors to share information about their approved accommodations and support services.  Typically, if a professor has questions or concerns after talking with a student, the professor can contact the ODS for any clarifications.