Parents' Guide to Transition

MODULE GOAL(S): This module will increase your knowledge and give you the tools to prepare you for your child’s transition from public school to postsecondary education and his or her emerging adulthood.


  1. To understand how to prepare your child for college.
  2. To examine key items in planning for the transition of your young adult child from public school to college, career, and community.
  3. To know the differences between your roles, rights, and responsibilities as a parent of a child with disabilities in public school and postsecondary education.
  4. To know what laws protect your rights as a parent and what laws protect the rights of your adult child in the college setting.
  5. To formulate a plan for helping your child reach independence and emerge into adulthood.


Over the years you’ve watched your baby grow and learn, marking each milestone, if not in a memory book, then etched in your heart. Now he or she is ready to mark one of the greatest milestones yet—college and career. Perhaps your child is currently in high school preparing for that jubilant jaunt across the stage at graduation. Perhaps your child is emerging into adulthood attempting to sort out his or her future with all the possibilities that college, career, and an independent self-determined life in the community can bring. At either stage, these most certainly are exciting times for the both of you!

However, your child is not the only one transitioning. You are too! You are entering a new phase of your life, growing older, confronting your own future as your child prepares to launch into adulthood. Over the last 12 years you’ve mastered how to assure your child a “free appropriate public education” (FAPE), learned collaboration skills to write your child’s individual education plans (IEP), and seemingly memorized nearly every section of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA 2004). Now as your child enters college and the adult service delivery systems, you leave behind the those mandated services found in IDEA for what may appear as a completely new world of “eligibility “and “waiting lists. You will hear many times, “There are no IEPs in college!” Gaining the knowledge and understanding of the civil rights laws, college systems, and adult support services will help make your child’s transition into adulthood smoother. This module addresses these important concepts for parents of high school students and college students. Here you will find answers to your many questions and resources to help you support your child as he or she emerges into adulthood and plans for college, career, and a life in the community. It will also provide you guidance for your transition into your new role and responsibilities as a parent of an adult with disabilities


Several questions are important as you think about your new role and responsibilities as a parent of an adult with disabilities. These questions will help develop strategies for communicating, supporting, and building positive relationships with your child and those in his or her adult world. These are: 

  1. What is transition? 
  2. What is my role in my child’s transition planning?
  3. What are measurable postsecondary goals?
  4. What are some of the ways to be involved in my child’s transition?
  5. What is the difference between high school and college?
  6. How do my roles change as my child moves from the high school to the college setting?
  7. What does research say about parental hovering in college?
  8. How am I going to fund my child’s college education?
  9. How can I be sure my child will not only achieve academically, but also be safe, warm, well feed, have fun, and stay healthy?
  10. What Is The Federal "Jeanne Clery Act”?
  11. What is the Campus Sexual Assault Victims Bill of Rights?
  12. What information do I want to gain when my child and I tour college campuses?

What is transition?

Transition from school refers to the time your child leaves public school and enters the adult community to live and work. It is never too early to start thinking about your child's ability to function in the adult world. Planning for this time is important as transition presents important challenges and changes for both you and your child. According to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act 2004 (IDEA)

  • Beginning no later than age 16 and updated annually thereafter, your child is educated not only for a future of employment and independent community living, but also with the prospect for continued, lifelong learning that are “results-oriented,” and outlined in terms that are measurable
  • The process is a purposeful, organized and outcome-oriented, designed to help your child move from school to employment and a quality adult life.
  • It is important to work with the schools to identify and foster as much independence, self-determination, self-advocacy, and success as possible for your child. [20 U.S.C. A, § 601, (d),(1), (A)]) Once your child is 16, or younger if appropriate, assure your child’s high school transition plan includes:
  • A statement of needed transition services that includes strategies/activities that will assist your child to prepare for postsecondary activities such as postsecondary education, vocational training, integrated employment (including supported employment), continuing and adult education, adult services, independent living, community participation, or whatever it is your child desires to do.

The statement of needed transition services based on the your child’s needs, taking into account his or her preferences and interests, and that include (O’Leary & Collison, 2007):

  • Instruction,
  • Related services,
  • Community experiences,
  • The development of employment,
  • Other postschool adult living objectives,

And, if appropriate:

  • Acquisition of daily living skills.
  • Functional vocational evaluation.

This plan will become part of your child's annually revised Individualized Education Plan (IEP). Your teen and the IEP team determines the most important activities/strategies to be addressed in any one given school year, then reviews the activities/strategies annually and refining them taking into account what has been accomplished, the current and projected future needs of your child, and emerging or changing preferences and interests.

Transition Services provide a coordinated set of activities for your teenage child with a disability that support results-oriented learning, and improve academic and functional achievement. The school district is your first contact for implementing any transition service. For your child to be successful as an adult after high school other agencies will share in the cost and services provided your child. Through a coordinated and collaborative partnership with school and community agencies, your child will begin to receive transition services by age 16 that should be:

The IEP must: 

  • Actively involve your child, your family and representatives from whatever post school services, supports or programs will be necessary in order for your child to be successful when he or she exits school.
  • Include an individual transition plan (ITP) that is a “coordinated” effort between the student, family, school, and the necessary postschool services supports, adult agencies, or programs.

Agencies that may collaborate with you, your child, and the school include, but are not limited to representatives of:

  • Community College or University Representative
  • County Mental Health Services
  • Department of Rehabilitation
  • Employment Development Department
  • Medicare 
  • Regional Disability Support Centers
  • Regional Occupational Programs
  • Social Security Administration
  • Community or State Department of Intellectual/Developmental Disabilities
  • Disability Support Organizations (e.g., Children and Adults with Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder, The Arc, United Cerebral Palsy).

Remember the transition plan

  • Is a long-range plan for your child’s adult life
  • Is person-centered with direct input by your child
  • Is not to be completed in one year.
  • Is not completed only by school staff
  • Includes all the activities that will prepare your child to make his or her dreams for the future a reality.

Transitions in the Family are three distinct processes that affect your family and its well-being during transition. You may face greater challenges obtaining a smooth and natural transition through these three processes if your child has intellectual or developmental disabilities (Ferguson, Ferguson, & Jones, 1988).

These processes are:

  1. “Bureaucratic transition,” as described above includes the changing of agencies from the special education/school services to the adult support agencies and professionals. Representatives of the adult agencies or support groups may be involved throughout the entire adult life of your child. This is especially true if your child has an intellectual or developmental disability.
  2. “Family life transitions,” includes all changes and/or disruptions in established routines and accepted responsibilities. As your child transitions from high school the regular rhythm of the school year and its routine of catching the special buses, IEP meetings, parent-teacher conferences along with sports and other student activities disappear and may leave a void or out-of-synch pattern of life and routine.
  3. “Status transitions” refers to the changes in status of child to adult. Graduating from high school followed by the mixed emotions of leaving him or her off at college has traditionally been a milestone for families. It has become for some a symbol of a cultural and generational change. Along with the changes within your family status, your child takes on a new adult role as defined by your family’s culture or social community. For some that step is not easily made.

What is my role in my child’s transition planning?

Your role as a parent of a transitioning high school student is very important now. In fact, states must now record the percent of parents with a child receiving special education services who report that schools facilitated parent involvement as a means of improving services and results for children with disabilities.(20 U.S.C. 1416 (a)(3)(A)).

It is also important for you to understand that college is a radical change from high school. Supports and services you and your child have become accustomed to in public school will not be the same as in college. Your child will leave behind routines and supports structured to assure not only access but also success. In college, your child will face complicated academic and social environments without the benefit of constant reminders to take medication, finish homework, go to bed at a reasonable time, and attend classes whether or not he or she feels like it. From elementary through high school, your child had benefit of structured constant interaction from teachers and your hands-on help at home. Now your child will need to rely on the self-sufficiency and self-determination skills taught throughout his or her life to independently ask for support and accommodations, meet class assignment deadlines, become involved in campus social and academic life, and care for personal necessities.

Your roles as parent of a transitioning high school student include:

~Encourage, guide, and mentor your child to be directly involvement in his or her IEP planning including leading the meeting.

This opportunity to use the skill set of self-determination will help your son/daughter advocate for needed accommodations in college or career. Remember when your child leaves high school you will take on the role as mentor for your child as he or she takes control of making life choices. Work with the teachers and therapists to identify skills you are able to reinforce at home, and which will foster greater independence for you and your child.

Ways in which you can mentor and support your child with disabilities entering the college setting include:

  • Be knowledgeable about the rights and responsibilities your son/daughter has under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Your son/daughter is responsible for using the information. Seek information if it is not readily available.
  • Prior to enrollment in college, make sure that your son/daughter has all the paperwork and current documentation needed to obtain services.
  • Once you have gathered the necessary paperwork, make copies and turn it over to your son/daughter as the first step toward assuming responsibility (make sure that you keep a copy in a safe place).

~Make sure your child’s IEP and/or general education includes the skill areas that will develop and enhance your child’s self-sufficiency, self-determination, and self-esteem. These life skills and attitudes will be vital to successful independent participation as a contributing member of society:

  • Self-help and safety
  • Social
  • Fine and gross motor
  • Communication
  • Financial Literacy

~Determine the agencies from which your child may receive support or services as an adult attend planning sessions and request their attendance at the planning sessions:

  • Community College or University Representative
  • County Mental Health Services
  • Department of Rehabilitation
  • Employment Development Department
  • Medicare
  • Regional Disability Support Centers
  • Regional Occupational Programs
  • Social Security Administration
  • Community or State Department of Intellectual/Developmental Disabilities
  • Disability Support Organizations (e.g., CHADD, The Arc, UCP)
  • Community Home Based Service agencies (group home agencies, transportation services)

~Insist on measurable postsecondary outcomes with supports and services that will lead towards the accomplishment of those goals once your child graduates or ages out of special education services.

What are measurable postsecondary goals?

Note: Services under IDEA may continue until age 21 if your child has not met IEP goals and/or graduation requirements; and the IEP team believes your child will benefit from continued special education, transition, and/or career training.

Example of Measurable Student Centered Postsecondary Goals for a Student with a Mild Disability (adapted with permission from O’Leary & Collison, 2007):

If your child wants to become a design engineer or perhaps an architect, does well in math, has good visual-hand motor ability, but may have difficulty with reading and comprehension his or her Measurable Postsecondary Goals may look like this:



Following graduation, I will attend State University and major in architecture. This is postsecondary (following graduation) and it is measurable (will attend).

Not a Goal:

I will contact the university disability support services and request accommodations for reading. This is not a measurable postsecondary goal. It is a service that needs to occur in order to help the student succeed at the postsecondary level.



Following graduation, I will work as a design engineer or someone who works with creating products, roads, or designing buildings.

This is postsecondary (following graduation) and it is measurable (will work).

Not a Goal:

I will meet with the Department of Vocational Rehabilitation to determine my eligibility for support.

This is not a measurable postsecondary goal. It is a needed activity to determine eligibility for Vocational Rehabilitation services. This does not say when the activity will occur (following graduation). This should probably occur while the student is still in high school and thus, it should not be considered as postsecondary.

Not a Goal:

I will work as an intern during the summer at a local architecture or engineering firm.

This is not a postsecondary goal. It does not say that this will occur following completion of high school (e.g. following graduation). It is measurable – will work. However, it is not the overall postsecondary goal for employment. It is a short-term employment experience that would help one become employed in an occupational area of choice, but it is not the overall long-term employment goal. The overall postsecondary goal for employment is to work as a design engineer.

Independent Living:

Following graduation, I will live in the dorm while attending college. This is postsecondary (following graduation) and it is measurable (will live in the dorm). 

Example of Measurable Student Centered Postsecondary Goals for a Student with a Moderate Intellectual, Developmental or Cognitive Disability:

Whether your child does or does not meet any state standard for receiving a diploma has nothing to do with the writing of measurable postsecondary goals. The only thing that may change is what your child does after public school - the goal itself. If your child needs continued, special education support services, has an active IEP, and continues to receive special education services operated by the public school beyond age 18, then what your child does during this time period is not yet postsecondary. Measurable postsecondary goals need to be written for the time-period following completion of the student’s public school program. They should lead to a productive life in the community with the supports as necessary.

If your child does not met the state standards for receiving a high school diploma and needs continued special education supports and services, especially in functional life skills, his or her plan may look like this:



Following graduation (or following completion of school), I will work in my neighborhood at a bakery. This goal is both measurable and postsecondary.

Not a Goal:

I want to work in my neighborhood. I like to work in a kitchen cooking and preparing meals and need more practice at it.

This is not a measurable postsecondary goal. The process of ‘wanting to, would like to, hopes to etc. is not measurable. Specify what this person would do in the neighborhood and make sure it is postsecondary.


Following completion of school, I will audition for commercials or movies. This measurable goal is postsecondary and reflects the individual’s passion for the stage and screen. Goal: Following completion of school, I will volunteer or work as an assistant to the city park’s grounds keeper. This is both measurable and postsecondary. Volunteering can be considered ‘work’. Work does not mean it has to be paid work. 

Not a Goal:

I will meet with the Department of Rehabilitation to determine my eligibility for support.

Similar to the above example, this is not a postsecondary goal. It is a required activity needed to assure to determination of eligiblity for Vocational Rehabilitation services. This does not say when this will occur (following graduation/exit of public school). This should probably occur while the student is still in high school and thus it should not be considered as postsecondary. Rather, this would be one of the ‘activities’ that would be listed in the transition services section of the IEP.



Following completion of school, I will receive on-the-job training at Home Depot.

This is both measurable and postsecondary. Your child will receive specific training at a specific business, or for a specific career choice. 


Following graduation of school, I will audit a course on sign language at Northern Community College. Following completion of school, I will attend college part-time.

Both of these are postsecondary and measurable goals for the student planning to continue learning on a college/university campus.

Not a Goal: I will continue my education by attending the college part-time in my neighborhood.

This is not a measurable postsecondary goal as written. It does not specifically indicate an activity upon completion of public school.

Not a Goal:

I like learning and need help with reading and math skills.

This is not a measurable postsecondary goal. While it may be important to note this for the record, and is helpful in a job, the community, or independent living, it is not a postsecondary goal. It is information someone will need to help this person be successful, but it is not a goal.

Not a Goal:

I need individualized supports for learning. Similar to the above - this is not a measurable postsecondary goal. While it may be important to note this and that this help may be needed in a job or the community or independent living it is not a postsecondary goal. It is information someone will need to help this person be successful but not a goal.

Independent Living:


Following completion of school, I will live in a home with friends or roommates and receive support from the Community Adult Agency. This is measurable and postsecondary.

Not a Goal:

I will need assistance with buying food, caring for myself, and doing work around the house. Similar to the above examples - this is not a measurable postsecondary goal. While it is important to note the needed assistance in these areas in order to live independently and is good information, it is not a postsecondary goal.

Not a Goal:

I will live in a home with other friends or roommates with support from the Community Adult Agency.

This is not a measurable postsecondary goal as written. This does not indicate when (postsecondary), nor indicates what specific adult agency will provide assistance.

Not a Goal:

I will apply for Medicaid Waiver services and Social Security benefits. Similar to the above examples - this is not a measurable postsecondary goal. This is an important activity in helping one reach their goals but applying for Medicaid or Social Security is not the goal. Further, a student may apply for Medicaid or Social Security before completion of public education

~Be an informed and active participant in the development of your child's transition plan.

  • Ask to be informed about your child’s present levels of functioning.
  • Take time to identify with your child what he or she would like to do after graduation. The plan is to be individualized and person/student-centered, not program-centered.
  • Build realistic goals based on the abilities, interests, and desires of your child.
  • Make sure your child has direct input in the process of developing his or her goals for his or her life.
  • Plan for a variety of educational, vocational and employment experiences, leisure and recreational activities, independent living skills, and transportation and/or mobility training.

You want to make sure your child can make his or her way in the community, in college, and chosen career. The specific listing of activities/strategies must be individualized for your child based upon his or her needs, preferences, personal interests, and desired postschool goals.

~Work with your school counselor, special education teacher, community agencies, and others on the transition team to envision a course program for the remaining years in high school that will prepare your child to reach his or her future dreams.

What are some of the ways to be involved in my child’s transition?

Schools offer a multitude of ways in which you may participate and be informed about your child’s transition.

 Ways to be Involved in Your Child’s Transition
  1. Participate in PARENT WORKSHOPS on how to parent or help an adolescent with a disability during the transition years.
  2. Participate in EVENTS at school where students with disabilities share their experiences (example a high school student telling middle school students what to expect in high school).
  3. Participate in GENERAL SCHOOL MEETINGS such as back to school night or meetings for a parent-teacher organization.
  4. Participate with the school in encouraging your CHILD TO MAKE HIS/HER OWN DECISIONS and develop self-advocacy skills (for example selecting courses to take; making career choices).
  5. Participate in PARENT/TEACHER DISCUSSIONS about how your child learns best AT HOME so your child can practice good learning habits in school and home (for example: memory tricks).
  6. Participate in PARENTS HELPING PARENTS sessions that provide experienced parent as mentors for parents beginning the school transition process.
  7. Participate in TRANSITION WORKSHOPS at school on transition topics for parents (for example postsecondary planning, financial planning, financial aid for transition students with disabilities, guardianship).
  8. Read the SCHOOL NEWSLETTERS FOR PARENTS about transition activities (for example paper or internet). 
  9. Participate as a VOLUNTEER TO HELP FIND COMMUNITY OPPORTUNITIES for students with disabilities (for example community service or work sites).
  10. Participate in SCHOOL-PARENT PARTNERSHIP by serving on an advisory board, making decisions about program development, improvement, and use of resources.
  11. Participate in INFORMAL FAMILY SCHOOL EVENTS such as social events that build communication and relationships (for example open houses).
  12. Utilize the SCHOOL WEB SITE that offered information for parents (including special education and transition information).
  13. Participate in SCHOOL FIELD TRIPS planned for families to adult service providers and community agencies (for example, Department of Rehabilitation, group homes, and work support agencies).
  14. Have DAILY HOME TO SCHOOL COMMUNICATION WITH STAFF AND TEACHERS to provide unified support for your child’s learning (for example writing notes or email, daily calendar).
  15. Be a VOLUNTEER in school or school-related activities (for example chaperoning field trips, being a PTA member).
  16. Complete a FAMILY QUESTIONNAIRE for the school that provided information about your child’s current performance and your dreams for your child’s future.
  17. Participate in FAMILY LEARNING ACTIVITIES such as class assignments that your child did at home with the family (Example: Survey 3 people about their jobs or plans for college).
  18. Participate in informal PRELIMINARY PLANNING sessions with your child and the school to discuss your child’s progress and future plans before writing IEP goals (for example person-centered-planning, conversation on your dreams for the future).
  19. Participate in GROUPS that come together to discuss the needs of families during transitioning, their views of what works, and that offered advice for schools.
  20. Participate in an ADULT SERVICES FAIR/FORUM where you are able to speak with representatives of service providers to get information about future options for local adult services, services at local colleges, and/or support groups for adults with disabilities.
  21. Participate in COLLEGE FAIRS/FORUMS where you are able speak to representatives from those colleges or universities and/or hear what college life will be like for your child.

There are many other resources available within your community that will enhance the life of your child as he or she moves into adulthood. Your child's school and the Transition Team will assist you with referrals and resources.

To learn even more about preparing for your child’s transition go to The GW HEATH Resource Center ( and read Guidance and Career Counselors' Toolkit: Advising High School Students with Disabilities on Postsecondary Options. While this toolkit is written for the school counselor, you will find the information very helpful. Do be sure to share this resource with other parents and even your child’s counselor. Other resources are found in our LINKS pages. Click on the topic, “Transition from High School” to view a wealth of information gathered from other websites.

What is the difference between high school and college?

It is important that you and your child become familiar and understand the differences in the rights and responsibilities of schools and students as your child moves from high school to college. Your child will leave behind the protections under IDEA 2004 and now have to demonstrate eligibility under the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA), ADA Amendments Act of 2008 (ADAAA), and Section 504/508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.

The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) is the civil rights guarantee for persons with disabilities in the United States. It provides protection for individuals from discrimination on the basis of disability. The ADA extends civil rights protections for people with disabilities to employment in the public and private sectors, transportation, public accommodations, services provided by state and local governments, and telecommunication relay services (HEATH, 2006).

The new ADAAA retains the ADA’s definition of “disability,” but provides that term “shall be construed in favor of broad coverage of individuals . . . to the maximum extent permitted by the terms of [the ADA.]” The ADAAA also clarifies that “[a]n impairment that is episodic or in remission is a disability if it would substantially limit a major life activity when active.”

Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 states that:

No otherwise qualified person with a disability in the United States…shall, solely by reason of…disability, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving federal financial assistance” (HEATH, 2006).

Section 508 was enacted to

…eliminate barriers in information technology, to make available new opportunities for people with disabilities, and to encourage development of technologies that will help achieve these goals. (, n.d.)


Applicable laws: IDEA 2004 mandates eligible students shall receive free appropriate public education in the least restrictive environment. Some students may also receive accommodations under Section 504 and 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. Applicable laws: Americans with Disabilities Act 1990 (ADA), ADA Amendments Act of 2008 (ADAAA) and Section 504 and 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. "No otherwise qualified individual with a disability shall, solely by reason of such disability, be excluded from participation in or be denied the benefits of the services, programs, or activities of a public entity, or be subjected to discrimination by any such entity."
Parents are required to make sure child attends school to age 16. Appropriate public education is a right. Parents are under no legal mandate to send child to college at any age. Postsecondary education is not a right - students must meet certain admission criteria.
Public education is free to the family, paid by local and state taxes. Students are responsible for applying for financial aid, scholarships or arranging other types of payment. Eligibility for funding assistance may require students to attend full-time.
School districts must identify and provide appropriate special education supports and services to eligible students. Students must self-identify. Colleges have no legal responsibility to identify students with disabilities or involve parents in decision-making.
Parent or some other adult is considered the student's guardian. Student is considered his/her own legal guardian unless there is a court order to the contrary.
Parents and their children are collaborative team members involved in the decision process of determining eligibility, IEP, placement, supports, fundamental accommodations, and services. The IEP team meets regularly. No fundamental modifications are required - only accommodations. Students must identify needs and request services. No IEP exists and is not considered sufficient documentation.
School District provides and funds evaluations. Students are responsible to obtain and pay for own evaluations.
Under IDEA 2004, support and education services are funded through the public school. Under Section 504 and the ADA, colleges must provide – at no cost to the student — “reasonable accommodations” to make their programs accessible to students with disabilities. Section 504 and the ADA use the term “auxiliary aids and services” to refer to devices and services that make programs and materials available to people with disabilities.
The goal under IDEA is to assure successful postsecondary outcomes. The goal under ADA is to assure the civil right to equal access.
Students do homework. Parents, teachers, counselors, therapists, classroom aids, administrators and many others support students and encourage them to get their class assignments and homework completed. Students study. Students are responsible for seeking assistance from the Disability Services Office. Professors expect students to independently read, save, and consult the course syllabus (outline) throughout the course. The syllabus informs the student exactly what is expected of him/her, when it is due, and how it will be graded.
Provision of personal services for medical and physical disabilities are required (i.e., Personal Care Attendant). Provision of personal services are not required - however, the Disability Services Office may assist the student in advertising for such services.
Parents may access student records. Parents should expect periodic progress reports and can request a conference at any time.  Parents have no access to student records without written consent of their child. Parents should not expect college staff to provide reports on student progress or attendance. Student may sign release forms to allow staff to discuss personal information with whomever he/she chooses.
Parents may advocate for their child. The student must be a self-advocate. Parents are mentors.
School year generally runs September to June with holiday breaks in spring and winter. Summer sessions may be for remediation or enrichment. School year may be divided into 2 semesters: from September to December and from January to May, and may include shorten summer or intercessions for full course credit.
Classes meet daily, are mandatory by law, and require notes from parent to be excused. Classes may meet 1, 2, 3, or 4 times a week. Missed classes may affect grade without prior arrangements made between student and professor.
The average length of a class is 35-45 minutes. Classes vary in length from 50 minutes to 3 hours. Some may be on weekends.
Students meet daily with teachers. Classes meet less frequently, students must make arrangements to meet with teachers outside of class.
Class size is generally 30 students all the same grade. Class size may vary from 8 -100 students. Students may be from different majors, levels, and ages.
Counselors advise, fill in, and submit students’ course schedules. The school determines when the student will take the course. Counselors advise, fill in, and submit students’ course schedules. The school determines when the student will take the course. When accepted and tuition has been paid, students self- select courses, manage course conflicts, determine if they have prerequisites or alternates if the classes are closed. Students seek help from academic advisor.
Parents and students may find information at the main office building. Students are responsible for seeking out information and knowing where to go for it.
The school is responsible to inform you and your child about graduation requirements and various diploma options available Graduation requirements are complex, and differ from year to year. Students are expected to know those that apply (e.g., requirement of a foreign language for one major/one college, may not be the same for another).

It is vital your child gain the knowledge and skills to advocate for his or her rights in moving ahead with his or her education as an adult, and you are prepared for the differences between the two levels of education – high school and college. Other resources at The GW HEATH Resource Center are found in our LINKS pages by clicking on the topic, “504, ADA, & IDEA.”

To learn more, read “A Letter to You from the Assistant Secretary For Civil Rights in the United States Department of Education in Washington, DC”

How do my roles change as my child moves from the high school to the college setting?

The guiding principles for your child leaving high school and entering college are independence and responsibility. Your child is expected to take responsibility for his or her actions as well as for the consequences of those decisions. Your old role as your child’s education “case manager” ends at completion of high school. Now you must seek your child’s permission to participate in planning. But then, that’s what becoming an adult is about!

Your new role as college parent is not always easy to master. The challenge some parents face may be “letting go” to allow their children to stand on their own. You have been so involved in your child’s life through the school years. You attended all the games and chaperoned the dances. You stayed on top of your child’s IEP goals and vigilantly monitored each report card. You never missing a parent-teacher or IEP meeting, in fact you may have initiated some! Now as you pull up to the welcome gates to your son/daughter’s college, handing over control to your child can be a daunting event.

Your teen or young adult needs the opportunity to take risks and learn not only from his or her successes, but also from the failures. College professionals and professors have observed parents who micromanage their children’s lives may:

  • Fill out the college application itself,
  • Write the application essay in the pre-college years,
  • Call a professor, contact the coach, or other individuals at the colleges your child is interested in
  • Meet with the high school counselor about college plans without their child present,
  • Show up at the door of the disability supports director to demand increased accommodations,
  • Contact a professor about a grade.

College personnel and professors label these overly involved, deeply caring moms and dads “Helicopter Parents.” While these parents may have launched their loved ones into adulthood and college, they remain hovering over them much as a military helicopter would on reconnaissance, medivac, or worse yet, search and destroy mission.

While intended to be uncomplimentary, some have pride in their status as a helicopter parent. Parents rationalize just the investment in their children’s college tuition alone justifies their intense involvement.

While others worry that their young adults’ ability to think, behave, and act responsibly, especially given their disability requires added support that only a parents’ vigilance and involvement can offer. Still others feel the college processes today are just too complicated for their young adults to have them do it alone. For some it’s simply a matter of being very close to their children and finding it difficult to let go as they and their children “matriculate” into their adulthood.

What does research say about parental hovering in college?

The 2007 National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE,, an annual study of college students that sampled 9,162 students from 24 colleges and universities, indicated that:

  • Parent involvement may actually be an enriching experience for college students.
  • Parents are more involved in their college student's life than ever before.
  • Students who frequently talk with their parents and follow their advice participate more frequently in educationally purposeful activities and are more satisfied with their college experience
  • Students were satisfied with every aspect of their college experience, gained more in such areas as writing and critical thinking, and were more likely to talk with faculty and peers about substantive topics.

However the results also indicated hyper-involvement by parents was too much of a good thing as indicated by those students receiving lower grades. The key to your new roll then is to learn where the middle ground lays. Your son/daughter will experience greater benefit when you are able to know the difference between guiding and directing. By remaining involved as a mentor, your son/daughter will have a cherished and valuable resource that reaches far beyond the college years.

How am I going to fund my child’s college education?

There are many ways to fund college for your son/daughter. HEATH provides information and resources on financial aid, scholarships, and other programs. Check with a financial advisor for current and best options for your family and financial situation.

  • Savings

a. Section 529, College Savings Plans: Generally, college savings plans offer tax-deferred earnings. Section 529 plans are named after the tax code that governs them. Almost all 50 states offer the plans, and rules vary by state. Determine if your child must receive a standard high school diploma. In many cases, you don't have to be a state resident to take advantage of them; in fact, you can invest in multiple 529 plans in multiple states, if desired. Funds from 529 plans can be used at any accredited university in the country while parents maintain control of funds until their children go to college.

b. Personal Savings: Parents should start saving for their children’s college as soon as possible, starting as early as the day they are born. A financial advisor will be able to inform you of a program that is best for your family.

  • Student loans

This financial aid to cover school costs is borrowed and must be repaid with interest.

a. Student Loans (e.g., Stafford and Perkins loans): Federal government loans have low interest rates and do not require credit checks or collateral

b. Parent loans (e.g., PLUS loans): Parents may borrow money to cover costs not already covered by the student's financial aid package, up to the full cost of attendance.

c. Private Student Loans (also called alternative student loans): Private lenders offer loans without federal forms to complete. Eligibility for private student loans often depends on your credit record.

d. Consolidation Loan: Allows the borrower to lump all of their loans into one bigger loan from a single lender, which is then used to pay off the balances on the other loans.

  • Scholarships/Fellowships/Grants

Unlike student loans, scholarships and fellowships do not have to be repaid. Students must meet the programs’ special qualifications and criteria, such as academic, athletic or artistic talent. A few scholarships are offered to individuals with disabilities as their specific criteria.

  • Work-study Employment 

Enables a student to earn money toward a portion of school costs during or between periods

  • Funding Through Other Agencies

a. Supplemental Security Income (SSI): A federal program that provides financial assistance to people who are aged, blind, or disabled and who have little or no income and resources.

b. Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI): SSDI program allows workers and eligible dependents to receive monthly cash benefits because of a period of disability.

c. A Plan for Achieving Self-Support (PASS): As defined in, a PASS “allows a person with a disability to set aside otherwise countable income and/or resources for a specific period of time in order to achieve a work goal. Any person who receives SSI benefits, or who might qualify for SSI, or any person receives SSDI (or a similar benefit) and could qualify for SSI, may be able to have a PASS. There is no limit to the number of successful PASS plans a person may use in a lifetime.” (

d. Vocational Rehabilitation (VR): Individuals with disabilities who have an impairment that results in a substantial impediment to employment and he/she must require VR services for employment may be eligible for assistance from VR to attend college, university or other vocational training programs.

e. Individual Development Accounts (IDAs): IDAs matched savings accounts are similar to an employer match for 401(k) contributions that enable low-income families to save towards purchasing an asset - most commonly buying their first home, paying for post-secondary education, or starting a small business.

How can I be sure my child will not only achieve academically, but also be safe, warm, well feed, have fun, and stay healthy?

The safety and well-being of your children is big concern as you send them to live on their own at college, especially in light of the tragic events that have occurred on college campuses. Other worries parents have center around issues of drugs and alcohol whether used by their children or their friends and classmates. Of course, it is impossible to know when and where violence will occur and you can only hope that the social grounding you have offered your child over the years will provide a firm foundation for living a healthy, independent life because of wise choice making.

You have a tremendous influence in determining policies that address issues of safety at your child’s school. Colleges and universities encourage your participation and support by offering an array of services, information, events, and person-to-person help for parents of their college students. Participating in your child’s college parent advisory board is a great way for you to share questions and ideas with University administrators.

Another way to be proactive is to schedule college tours and visit with your child. When you arrange for your tours make sure you also schedule time with the colleges’ Disability Supports Services Office. While on your tours, ask questions not only about the college’s academic features and accommodations, but also about the safety of the campus your child will be calling “home.” When schools aggressively report crime reporting and have a low tolerance for criminal behavior students can focus on their educational goals rather than worry about safety.

What Is The Federal "Jeanne Clery Act”?

The "Jeanne Clery Disclosure of Campus Security Policy and Campus Statistics Act" was enacted in 1990. It is named in memory of 19-year-old Lehigh University freshman Jeanne Ann Clery, who was assaulted and murdered while asleep in her residence hall room in 1986. It is also known as the “Student Right-To-Know and Campus Security Act of 1990.” This law requires institutions which participate in any federal student aid programs to address the following:

  • Crime Statistics. Institutions must disclose campus crime statistics for the three previous calendar years in the following categories: homicide, sex offenses, robbery, assault, burglary, vehicle theft and arson. They are also required to provide statistics for alcohol, drug and weapons possession arrests or referrals for campus disciplinary action.
  • Timely Warnings. Institutions must, in a manner that is timely and will aid in the prevention of similar crimes, report to the campus community on crimes that are covered by this act, reported to campus security authorities, and considered by the institution to represent a threat to students and employees.
  • Policy Disclosures. In addition to the disclosure of known crime statistics, various policies such as to whom crimes should be reported and a description of the campus security arrangement are also required. Schools are also required to maintain a daily public crime log.

What is the Campus Sexual Assault Victims Bill of Rights?

Security policies must specifically address sex offense prevention. In cases of alleged sexual assault, the accuser and accused must have the same opportunity to have others present, both parties must be informed of the outcome of any disciplinary proceeding, and survivors must be informed of their options with regard to notifying law enforcement, obtaining counseling and changing academic living situations.

To learn more see: Complying with the Jeanne Clery Act:

What information do I want to gain when my child and I tour college campuses?

Below is a list of questions you and your child may want to ask when touring college campuses:


  • Are there any special support services for students with disabilities? 
  • How do these support services function and is there any additional cost charged for these services?
  • What tutoring, counseling, and support services are available on campus and how are they accessed?
  • Is health care on campus provided at a Campus Health Clinic?
  • Where do students go do students go if they have a medical emergency?
  • What are the hours at the student health clinic? What about 24-hour emergency care?
  • What does the college’s health insurance cover, and are pre-existing conditions included in the coverage? (This is essential to know before you take your child off your insurance).
  • What are the regulations regarding service animals on campus and in the dorms?


  • What are the largest classes you could have as a freshman or sophomore?
  • How many large classes can you expect?
  • Who teaches the freshman classes? Teaching Assistants? Graduate Assistants?
  • Is there an Honor Code? How does it operate?
  • Is there an Honors Program for talented students? How do students qualify?
  • What is the foreign language requirement for graduation? Does the college allow waivers or substitutions of courses for graduation? (This may be a critical issue for graduation for your child with a disability)
  • Where does the student go for information about registration and selection of courses? 
  • How does the college handle leaves of absence? (Especially important if absence is related to your child’s disability-- will he/she be penalized academically for the time missed? Will your child be able to obtain a tuition refund if gone for longer than a term?)
  • Can your child pick his/her academic advisor? How do current students feel about the advising system?


  • What method(s) does the school use to warn/advise students, campus personnel and families in case of a criminal assault or dangerous situation is occurring on campus? Are those methods accessible for individuals with a disability?
  • At the school you are considering where may you find statistics on crime and sexual assault for the past few years? (Are the statistics online? How easily can they be accessed? Schools are legally required to make annual reports. )
  • What is the campus sexual assault policy and can you have a copy of it? (Schools are legally required to have a policy and to distribute it to students.)
  • Do annual crime statistics include reports from the dean's office, residence life office and counseling centers?
  • How many and what type of cases were handled by the school judicial committee during the previous year?
  • Are security logs open for public inspection?
  • Are policies and penalties related to campus crime and sexual assault explicitly addressed during orientation and published by the school? Does the school have written policies and procedures for handling alcohol, drug and weapons laws? (Schools are legally required to have a policy and to distribute it to students.)
  • What resources at your school are dedicated to crime and sexual assault? (Is there a crisis center, do they have counseling, and education and awareness programs, have they moved beyond blue lights and escort services alone?)
  • Does the school provide student escorts to accompany students walking home late at night? (For those late evening classes or study sessions.)
  • What is the schools process in the provision of immediate medical, psychological, and legal aid to victims? (A requirement of the Federal Campus Sexual Assault Victim's Bill of Rights.) 
  • Do dormitories have central entrance/exit where access is restricted and preferably, monitored? If there is not a staffed reception area, an outside telephone should be available to visitors who must call a resident to gain access.
  • Are dormitories and room doors equipped with good quality locking mechanisms that are always secured, does the school use electronic-access card keys and newer campus-alert systems?
  • What training do school personnel and campus police receive to handle sexual assault? (Everyone that a student might approach, such as a resident advisor or a faculty member, should be trained. Even better, everyone on campus should be trained in sexual assault prevention.)
  • After we take the admissions tour, can we take one led by campus security?
  • Is the school monitored—in real time, 24/7—by video cameras? (Or is the video merely checked after there’s been a problem)?
  • Are there call boxes throughout campus?
  • Are there redundant forms of security, like cameras, call buttons and rotating patrols?
  • Does the school offer self-defense classes?
  • What do the local police say about college security?


  • In what way does the college president provide visible, consistent and strong leadership on the issue of alcohol consumption and abuse?
  • Is there a well-defined alcohol and drug policy? How vigorously is it enforced?
  • Is the residential staff trained to spot abuse and offer help?
  • Does the college inform you of arrests and hospitalizations related to drugs and alcohol?
  • How many students are in fraternities and sororities? (Have any been sanctioned for drinking heavily?)
  • How many students are involved in community service? (They tend to drink less.)
  • Do all members of the college community understand that the development and enforcement of effective policies has unwavering administrative support?


  • What emergency procedures are in place for individuals with disabilities?
  • Are students provided with a program for fire safety and prevention?
  • Are there smoke and carbon monoxide detectors?
  • Does the school maintain and regularly test smoke alarms and fire alarm systems, and replace smoke alarm batteries every semester throughout the classrooms, campus, and residence halls?
  • Are there sprinklers and fire extinguishers? Are there two exits? Do the windows open?
  • Do residence buildings, classrooms and other campus locations conduct regular fire drills, practice escape routes, and evacuation plans?
  • Does the furnace get annual maintenance, and is the electrical system up-to-date? INTERNET /ASSISTIVE


  • What computer service is available? Does your child need own a computer?
  • Are the dorms wired for Internet/email services?
  • What must your child do in order to access courses and college community with the use of special/assistive technology?


  • What extracurricular activities are available for students during their free time both on campus (school sponsored) and in the community? How do students learn about them? Are all activities accessible for students with disabilities?
  • Is there a Greek system of fraternities and sororities? If so, what percent of the student body participates in Greek life? Are parties open? Is there a Greek/Social Organization specifically for individuals with disabilities?
  • What other activities are there for students who elect not to participate in the Greek system?
  • Where is the central gathering place for students?
  • What portion of the student body lives on campus? What portion of the student body remains on campus for the weekends?
  • What transportation options are available to and from campus both for trips to the mall and for treks to transportation centers for trips home? Is transportation accessible? What arrangements need to be made for accessible transportation if required? 
  • Can freshmen have cars on campus? What is the fee for having a car on campus?
  • Is there accessible public transportation?
  • Is it easy and accessible to get around campus, from class to class?


  • Is campus housing units accessible for individuals with disabilities (wide halls, entry, and bathroom accessibility; gathering places)?
  • What arrangements are made for personal assistants if needed?
  • Are students guaranteed housing for all four years? What percent of students live on campus all four years?
  • What housing options exist? (Honors? Themed? Single sex? Co-ed? Greek?)
  • Is the office of residential life open to students? If a student gets a terrible roommate, can students change and how long does that process take?
  • What meal plans are available? Are freshmen required to purchase a specific type of meal plan? What kind of food does the cafeteria offer? What are the options when the cafeteria is closed? How are special dietary restrictions managed? Will the cafeteria fit your child’s dietary needs? How late does it stay open? What hours may students access food services? (Important for budgeting for food outside the meal plan).
  • What laundry facilities are available?
  • What is a school’s policy on dorm room wear and tear? Are you responsible for compensating the school?
  •  Does the school offer storage facilities? How much does it cost? (Used during summer break).


  • What is the yearly all-inclusive cost including: books, tuition, fees, housing and meal plans?
  • What is the average increase in tuition, and when are tuition increases next expected?
  • What are the costs for specialized supports and services (e.g. tutors, personal assistants, transportation)
  • What is the impact of your ability to pay the full cost of attendance on the college's decision to admit you?
  • Which financial aid forms are required? (e.g., FAFSA and the CSS PROFILE, other institutional or school-specific forms and states specific forms.)
  • What percent of entering freshmen receive aid? What was the average freshman aid package? In what way is aid packaged (e.g. loans first)? May you renegotiate your aid package if you are unhappy with it?
  • If you demonstrate need, will the school be able to prepare a financial aid package that will meet 100% of your demonstrated need? Does it take into consideration any special needs required for your child based on his/her disability needs?
  • What types of payment plans exist for paying the Estimated Family Contribution?

Choosing a college is an important decision—it is where your child will spend four years of his/her life. Two major concerns parents have when their sons and daughters leave the security of home to go off to college are whether they will be safe, and whether they will do well academically. Compare your results to these questions with other schools balancing your subjective impressions with the statistic calculations and evaluations found in crime reports. A strong foundation in those first four years will set the path for success in post-graduate life. By making an informed decision, your child will access an enjoyable, safe, and fulfilling college experience.


This module discussed transition planning for your child’s post school outcomes. It described not only your child’s planning but made you aware of the changing roles you will be experiencing during this exciting stage of your child’s life. You learned that there are no IEPs in college and your child will be responsible for understanding the processes and procedures necessary for his or her access to the classroom and campus. However, with your guidance and mentorship your child’s transition into adulthood, college, career, and community life is sure to be smoother.


GW HEATH Resource Center LINKS ( provide a wealth of added information gathered from other websites and organized into many different categories. See especially:

Guidance and Career Counselors' Toolkit: Advising High School Students with Disabilities on Postsecondary Options:

Special Education Resources In Your State

Transition And Transition Planning


 Parenting & Family Resources

Financial Aid, Scholarships, & Internships

Independent and Healthy Living in the Community

Safety On Campus

Family Life Transitions


Follow these steps to help our child plan for college, career, and life in the community. (Adapted from "Guide for Parents: Ten Steps to Prepare Your Child for College", by the American Council on Education. Copyright 2008 by the American Council on Education.)

  1. Have a conversation with your child to understand what his/her future goals, hopes, desires, and expectations are.
  2. Include college as a postsecondary outcome goal of your young adult’s IEP.
  3. If college is part of your child’s plan, make sure your child is on a college predatory track.
    • Make sure your child has accommodations, supports, and services that will allow access to general education curriculum, especially if your child has intellectual/developmental disabilities.
    • Consider starting as early as middle school
    • Without the perquisite courses your child may be shut out of the opportunity, or may not realize his/her learning potential.
  4. Meet with the school career counselor and special education teacher to plan the next four years in high school, become familiar with the college admissions and financial aid processes.
    • For more information regarding high school counselors and disabilities see: Guidance and Career Counselors' Toolkit: Advising High School Students with Disabilities on Postsecondary Options (
  5. Help your child research colleges and narrow his/her options.
    • Consult one of the guidebooks listing colleges with programs and services for students with learning disabilities.
    • These books and online resources convey information about the types of programs and services available within a range of colleges and universities.
  6. Arrange a visit with a college recruiter or better yet, plan a visit to the campuses your child is considering.
    • During that visit make sure you schedule time with the Disability Support Services Office to learn how what services they have available to meet your child’s learning and living needs. 
    • Discuss the best course load for an incoming freshman and required courses for graduation for your son/daughter’s major program of study.
  7. Make sure your child takes any required college admissions tests and submits all admissions, financial aid, and–if necessary–campus housing paperwork on time.
  8. Encourage your child to enroll in a summer pre-college program.
    • Ask if the college your young adult hopes to enter offers such a program
    • Visit the HEATH website to learn what colleges are offering summer pre-college programs.
  9. Start saving early and become familiar with the various resources for funding your child’s college education.
    • The HEATH website offers publications and links to inform you about financial aid, scholarships, fellowships, and internships for students with disabilities.
    • Subscribe to the HEATH News Feeds. HEATH announces new scholarships, news items, updates and announcements of special interest relating to postsecondary education, career and technical education, and young adults with disabilities on this page.
  10. Participate in a college parent-orientation program or parent reception often presented at the same time as your child’s summer pre-college program or on move-in day at the college. 
  11. Take the College-Board’s Helicopter Parent Quiz:


The next few years preparing for your child’s transition into adulthood will be full of hope, expectation, and promise. This module addressed important concepts for parents of high school students and college students. Resources provided here help you support your child, as he or she emerges into adulthood ready to take on the plans you make for college, career, and a life in the community.


Coburn, K. L., & Treeger, M. L. (2003). Letting go: A parents' guide to understanding the college years (4th ed.). New York: Quill.

Ferguson, P. M., Ferguson, D. L., & Jones, D. (1988). Generations of hope: Parental perspectives on the transitions of their children with severe retardation from school to adult life. The Journal of the Association for Persons with Severe Handicaps, 13, 177-187.

O’Leary, E., & Collison, W. (2007). Revised transition services: Helping Educators, Parents, and Other Stakeholders Understand postschool outcomes, course of study, coordinated set of activities Unpublished Draft.


This document made possible in part by the support of The HSC Foundation, a Washington, D.C.-based foundation dedicated to expanding access and success in education beyond high school. HEATH is affiliated with The George Washington University Graduate School of Education and Human Development. The opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of The HSC Foundation. No official endorsement by the Foundation or of any product, commodity, service or enterprise mentioned in this publication is intended or should be inferred. Permission to use, copy, and distribute this document for non-commercial use and without fee, is hereby granted if appropriate credit to the HEATH Resource Center at the National Youth Transition Center is included in all copies.