Postsecondary Education Options for Students with Disabilities

Nick at a computer

Nick preparing to review the College Search page on the Think College website.

There are many paths to college for students with disabilities. Some students may want to take a traditional path, such as applying to four-year or two-year colleges. Or they may want to pursue specialized training at a vocational or technical school to earn an occupational certificate. Some students might be more comfortable applying to a college or program within a college that is specifically designed to support students with disabilities. No matter what path students choose, there are ways for them to get the assistance and accommodations they need to succeed in college.

Enrolling in Typical College Classes

With the right academic support, many students with disabilities can take typical college classes. They connect with disability services and work together to be sure that they student has the right supports to access the course. Another way students can access typical courses is to work with disability services and the registrar's office to identify courses that do not have prerequisites, meaning courses that are open to the college community. Another option is for students to audit a course. Many students first try auditing a course so that they can participate in the class but not worry about the tests and quizzes and other assignments that might make the experience difficult. Sometimes students then take the class again, but this time for credit, when they are more confident that they can meet the expectations of the course.

Massachusetts Inclusive Concurrent Enrollment Initiative

Lance working in theater workshop

Lance enrolled in the course 'Stagecraft' in the Theater Arts Department

Inclusive Concurrent Enrollment is an innovative initiative that has support from the Massachusetts legislature. The initiative works to establish college-school partnerships, so that students with severe disabilities between the ages of 18 and 22 who are not likely to meet their district's requirements for graduation can access college as part of their transition activities. As of 2012, there are seven Inclusive Concurrent Enrollment partnerships in Massachusetts. (PDF)

College Programs that Specifically Support Students with Disabilities

There are several different types of college programs that have been developed for students with disabilities. These include:

  1. two- and four-year college initiatives for students with specific disabilities only
  2. special, separate programs only for students with disabilities, housed within a two- or four-year college or university
  3. two- or four-year college or university programs with individualized supports provided for students where no specialized courses for students with disabilities are offered

How to Choose the Best Program

Jane with artist's portfolio

Jane is currently enrolled both at college and at her high school

The right college should be the one that students believe best matches their goals and preferences.

Goals Match

  • Will the program prepare you for the kind of career you want?
  • Does the college have the kinds of courses you need to take?
  • Does the program offer the variety of courses you want to take to explore many interests?

Preferences Match

  • Where the college is located: city, suburb, or rural community?

  • How many students attend the college?

  • Is housing available and, if so, what support is available for living on campus?

  • What kind of activities and sports are available for students

  • What transportation options exist for students to travel on or off campus?

  • How much does it cost for tuition, fees, and housing?

Other Considerations

  • What types of support are available to students with disabilities?

  • How do students go about requesting disability services?
  • Does the college offer special housing or health care support?
  • Are there other students with disabilities at the college who are willing to talk about their experiences?


Sara in music class

Sara is taking a college music class

For more information on college:

Kelly in art class

Kelly taking a college art class

Grace at cafe

Grace took college classes as part of her transition preparation.
Link to presentation Grace made at a local transition conference

Think College
Think College offers students, families, and teachers resources to prepare for and do well in college. One of the highlights of Think College is hearing first-hand from students with disabilities about their college experiences.

Think College Programs Database
This database is designed to help students and families look up colleges that support college students with intellectual disabilities. Additionally, this information is meant to assist students, families, and professionals in understanding the range of postsecondary education services available.

Going to College
Going to College features video clips of students talking about many different aspects of college, including planning for and applying to college, talking to professors, and requesting accommodations. This website also has a section called "My Portfolio" where students can keep track of their college planning activities. provides information for students and families about preparing to go to college. In addition to video clips of students talking about college, this website has tips for high-school students, including how to apply to college and how to learn about financial aid.

College Planning Resources for Teens
These tutorials help students prepare for college by answering common questions. Topics include getting good recommendations, picking a major, and "twenty-five tips to survive and thrive in your first year of college and beyond."

PepNet focuses on helping transition-age students who are deaf or hard of hearing prepare for their transition from high school. The website offers information on how to plan for and be successful in college, and discusses skills that are essential for campus living.