Exploring Your Options
Attending a postsecondary institution – a four-year college or university, a community college, or other postsecondary training program – presents new opportunities and challenges for every student. Pursuing postsecondary education allows students to broaden their social horizons while preparing academically for meaningful employment. Students with disabilities have a large array of options when it comes to choosing a postsecondary learning environment. The information and resources below allow students to explore their options, explain key differences between K-12 and postsecondary supports, and attempt to guide students and their families through the transition from high school to postsecondary education.
The Maryland Higher Education Commission (MHEC) recently created a new website, Mdgo4it, for transitioning youth who are interested in attending college. The website provides information on preparing for college, the application process, paying for school, and life on campus.
Going to College is another website designed for teens with disabilities and provides information about planning for college including selecting a college, financial aid, and picking a major. There is also a section on learning more about oneself in order to set goals, determine strengths, and develop an advocacy plan for communicating with faculty, advisors, and disability support staff.
The HEATH Resource Center (HEATH), an online clearinghouse on postsecondary education for individuals with disabilities, has developed a Series of Modules that aim to provide to students and parents on postsecondary options.
Other modules developed by HEATH include “Community College” which provides students with information on the education environment at community colleges; “College Application Process” with information on navigating the application process for students with disabilities; and “Parents’ Guide to Transition” that aims to increase parental knowledge and tools about their child’s postsecondary options.
Think College has developed a Transition Checklist designed to give family members an easy to use list of topics that should be considered when discussing the transition from high school to college. This website also includes a database of postsecondary education programs for students with intellectual disabilities.
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Preparing to pay for postsecondary education can seem like an enormous undertaking. To begin, view the “Financial Aid Fact Sheet” or visit FinAid's section devoted to students with disabilities: Financial Aid for Students with Disabilities.
There are typically four types of aid available:
1. Grants: Aid that does not usually have to be repaid.
2. Loans: Money that is borrowed and must be repaid over time (usually with interest) after the individual leaves school or graduates.
3. Work-Study: Employment that allows the student to earn money to cover some of the costs incurred while enrolled.
4. Scholarships: Aid and awards granted on account of the student’s background, academic achievement, or other criteria.
To qualify for the first three types of aid, students and their families must complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). The FAFSA calculates expected family contribution and aids colleges and universities in their financial aid awarding process. Also, by law, young men ages 18 through 25 must be registered with the Selective Service System in order to receive financial aid.
Students with disabilities should inform the aid administrator at their institution of disability related expenses that may previously have been covered by the family budget (for example: food and veterinary bills for a guide dog, batteries for hearing aids or TTY/TDD, or the cost of personal attendants). Students will be required to present documentation that supports these costs.
For more information about financial aid for students with disabilities, refer to “College Funding for Students with Disabilities” produced by the University of Washington’s DO-IT (Disabilities, Opportunities, Internetworking, and Technology) Program.
For basic information, visit FinAid’s section devoted to students with disabilities: Financial Aid for Students with Disabilities.
Students Receiving SSI or SSDI: The Tuition Waiver for Individuals with Disabilities is a financial assistance waiver for students receiving SSI or SSDI and covers the cost of tuition for 6 to 12 credits a semester at Maryland community colleges. Among the requirements, students are must complete a FAFSA application in order to be eligible for the waiver. Click here for more information about the Tuition Waiver for Individuals with Disabilities, or contact your community college's financial aid office.
Maryland Senatorial and Delegates Scholarship Programs: Members of the Maryland General Assembly award scholarships to students in their districts each year through the Senatorial Scholarship Program and the Delegate Scholarship Program. To be eligible, students must be seeking an undergraduate or graduate degree at a 2 or 4 year public or independent college or university in Maryland. Students planning to enroll on a part-time basis are also eligible to apply. For more information please visit the Maryland Higher Education Commission website or call 1-800-974-0203.
Division of Rehabilitation Services (DORS): DORS provides tuition assistance to eligible individuals who require postsecondary education to achieve their employment goals on an approved Individualized Plan for Employment. DORS encourages students to contact their counselor at least 60 days prior to the start of the first semester to begin the process of determining eligibility. For more information view the DORS postsecondary education fact sheet.
Scholarships for the Blind: The National Federation of the Blind (NFB) provides 30 national scholarships worth $3,000 to $12,000. Students must reside in the United States and be legally blind in both eyes. For more information including registration and additional requirements, visit NFB’s Scholarship Program website.
Scholarships for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing: The Laurent Clerc National Deaf Education Center, located at Gallaudet University, posts a list of financial assistance information for deaf and hard of hearing students.
Foster Care Recipients: The Tuition Waiver for Foster Care Recipients is a financial assistance waiver that covers the costs of tuition and fees at public colleges in Maryland. Eligible youth must have resided in foster care at the time they graduated from high school or successfully completed a general equivalency development examination (GED); were adopted after their 13th birthday; or were a younger sibling adopted with an older sibling at least 13 years old when adopted. Individuals over 25 years old are not eligible. For more information visit the Tuition Waiver for Foster Care Recipients website.
Additional Scholarships: Disaboom, a disability resource website, provides a listing of additional scholarships that students with disabilities may be eligible for.
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Understanding Your Rights and Responsibilities
Postsecondary Disability Support Services
Postsecondary disability support services are an essential component of a student’s successful transition to college. It is important for students and parents to understand the differences between high school and college. The following information and more can be found on MDOD’s fact sheet Postsecondary Disability Support Services.
While in high school students with disabilities are covered under a law called the Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA), which provided a free, appropriate public education in the least restrictive environment. Under IDEA, it was the school’s responsibility to identify students with disabilities and provide services. IDEA does not apply to colleges and universities. They are governed by a set of other laws: the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), Section 504 of the Vocational Rehabilitation Act, and other pertinent state laws. Students (not parents) will have the responsibility as a college student that they did not have as a high school student. These laws make it the student’s responsibility to request services and provide appropriate documentation of their disability. The college will determine what accommodations the student will receive after documentation has been reviewed and information has been gathered from the student. Students must be actively involved in the process.
Along with the Postsecondary Disability Support Services fact sheet, refer to the U.S. Department of Education, Office for Civil Rights’ resource entitled "Students with Disabilities Preparing for Postsecondary Education: Know Your Rights and Responsibilities.”
For information and guidance on disclosure in postsecondary education, refer to the U.S. Department of Labor, Office of Disability Employment Policy’s “The Why, When, What, and How of Disclosure in an Academic Setting after High School.”
For informationon your rights when seeking mental health services at college, refer to the Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law's "Campus Mental Health: Know Your Rights."
In order to receive accommodations at college, students must provide appropriate documentation of their disability. Schools may set reasonable standards for documentation. Some schools may require more documentation than others, but all schools will require the student to provide documentation prepared by an appropriate, qualified professional. Students will be responsible for any fees associated with obtaining required documentation.
Essential elements of documentation include the following:
- A diagnostic statement identifying the disability
- A description of the diagnostic methodology used
- A description of the current functional limitations as it relates to both academic and residential settings
- A description of the expected progression or stability of the disability
- A description of current and past accommodations, services, and/or medications
- Recommendations for accommodations, adaptive devices, assistive services, compensatory strategies, and/or collateral support services
For more information on documentation, review the University of Maryland's Guidelines for Documentation of Disability and the Association on Higher Education and Disability’s (AHEAD) Best Practices Resource . Students will need to identify what specific documentation is required from the school they are planning to attend. This is usually posted on the website for the Disability Support Services Office but may sometimes be found in academic support offices or student success centers.
Accommodations are modifications to the academic requirements that are necessary to ensure equal access to qualified individuals with disabilities. Reasonable accommodations may include extended time on tests, books in alternate format, sign language interpreters, screen readers, voice recognition, and other assistive technology. The DSS office will work with students to set up reasonable accommodations. Be aware that an accommodation cannot be provided if it creates a fundamental alteration of the coursework.
For more information on accommodations in the college classroom, utilize HEATH’s module “Accommodations: Academic and Co-Curricular Accommodations in Colleges and Universities.” The Job Accommodation Network (JAN) is a helpful resource when exploring different types of accommodations.
For information on requesting accommodations when taking the Scholastic Assessment Test (SAT), Preliminary SAT (PSAT), or Advanced Placement Program (AP) exams please contact the College Board’s website for Students with Disabilities. For information on requesting accommodations when taking the American College Testing Assessment (ACT), contact the ACT Services for Students with Disabilities. Students may be asked to submit documentation (not including the IEP) and are encouraged to apply for accommodations as early as possible prior to registering for an exam.
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The Federal Work Study Program is a federal financial aid program for students enrolled in undergraduate, vocational, and graduate programs. The program provides funds for part-time employment for students to put towards the cost of postsecondary education. Funding is based on the student’s financial need, the amount of other financial aid the student receives, and the availability of funds at the college or career school the student is attending. To apply, students need to contact the financial aid office at the postsecondary school they are planning to attend, or are currently enrolled in. Students are encouraged to apply for federal student aid as early as possible as participating schools administer the funds directly and often set the deadline for Work Study earlier than the Federal Department of Education’s FAFSA deadline.
Postsecondary education prepares students for future employment success. Beyond the classroom, internships provide college and university students with hands-on opportunities in the workforce. These experiences help students develop skills, acquire experience, and make choices about their careers. Click here for a list of internship programs.
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- Maryland Disability Higher Education Network (MDDHEN): MDDHEN is a professional group of disability support service providers from Maryland’s colleges and universities, including community colleges, which come together to work to best meet the needs of postsecondary students with disabilities.
- Maryland Higher Education Commission (MHEC): MHEC provides resources and information for all accredited postsecondary institutions in Maryland.
- Project Access: High School Transition Program for Students with Disabilities
Project Access is designed to facilitate the transition of high school students with disabilities into postsecondary education, to increase the success and retention rate of freshmen students with disabilities at Howard Community College, and to improve career counseling and job placement services for students with disabilities.
- Association on Higher Education and Disability (AHEAD): AHEAD is “the premiere professional association committed to full participation of persons with disabilities in postsecondary education.” Be sure to visit the “Students and Parents” section via the link on the left side of the home page.
- Disability.gov: The Education section of Disability.gov connects students, parents, and educators with information and resources throughout a student’s education including making the transition from high school to postsecondary education or work.
- Going to College: This website is designed for teens with disabilities and provides information about planning for college including selecting a college, financial aid, and picking a major. There is also a section on learning more about oneself in order to set goals, determine strengths, and develop an advocacy plan for communicating with faculty, advisors, and disability support staff.
- HEATH Resource Center: The HEATH Resource Center at The George Washington University is an online clearinghouse on postsecondary education for individuals with disabilities serving as an information exchange about educational support services, policies, procedures, adaptations, and opportunities at colleges and universities, career training schools, and other postsecondary training entities.
- National Center for Learning Disabilities (NCLD): NCLD provides resources and tips for the transition to school and work including information on accommodations and financial matters with a focus on students with learning disabilities.
- Navigating College: This resource guide was develooped by the Autistic Self Advocacy Network (ASAN) for students with autism who are preparing to enter higher education.
- Strength of US Campus Life: This website was created as part of the Strength of Us online community and includes information and an online forum for college students with mental health conditions.
- Think College!: Think College provides resources, strategies, information, and links on postsecondary education for individuals with intellectual disabilities. This website also includes a database of postsecondary education programs for students with intellectual disabilities.
- U.S. Department of Education, Office for Civil Rights: The Office for Civil Rights ensures equal access to education and promotes educational excellence throughout the nation. Find disability specific information and publications in the Know Your Rights section, the Reading Room, and under Questions & Answers.
- U.S. Department of Labor, Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP): ODEP provides guideposts and resources for successful youth development, quality education, and workforce development programs.
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