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Macalester College strives to provide qualified students with disabilities equal access to courses, services, programs, job activities, and facilities available through the college. Although the transition from high school to college is a challenge for any student, college life may pose unique considerations for students with disabilities.  

As family members, it is important to understand the expectations of college to provide the best support for your student. Students need to become proficient in understanding their disability(ies), as well as their strengths, interests and preferences and how to navigate various systems independently. Families are an important part of paving that way to independence and appropriate interdependence. 

We believe that in addition to accommodation provision, an important part of our role is an education for students with disabilities to learn about their unique disability impacts and self-advocacy as adult learners.

Transitioning to College

Transitioning to college can seem like a daunting task for students with disabilities and their families, but with some thoughtful planning and considering individual roles ahead of time can help! 

Differences Between High School and College

Understanding the differences and learning how to navigate this process is critical to determining what is required.

High SchoolCollege
Education is a right and must be provided in an appropriate environmentEducation is not a right; students must meet the same admissions criteria as students without disabilities
The school system is responsible for identifying a student’s disabilityStudents must self-identify in order to obtain services and accommodations
Individualized Education Plans, IEPs, are in place to discuss the student’s progressNo annual review or IEP is held; students are responsible for monitoring their own progress
Many schools provide educational and psychological testing free of chargeOnce accepted to the college, the student must provide appropriate documentation of the disability
Course modifications are made in order to facilitate student successFundamental alterations of programs or curricula are NOT required

College Student Roles

  • Know you! What are your strengths? What are your limitations?  What things have helped or been a barrier?  Be able to identify what works and what doesn’t.  
  • Attend orientation/campus events. Find information regarding campus groups/activities that support your interests and/or disability impacts. 
  • Accommodations initiate with the student once you are over the age of 18 or attending college.  Family members can be present for intake sessions, but you, as the student, are the key person in the process! What questions do you have?  Bring them to the intake!   
  • On that note, even if you don’t think you may need accommodations, meet with Disability Resources. Establish accommodations early! 
  • College students are responsible for their own study and organizational skills, but don’t have to go it alone. Time management, organization and general study skills take on an even greater importance. The Macalester Academic Excellence Center (MAX Center) is available to assist students in gaining these skills, as is tutoring. 
  • Review class expectations and read the syllabus. Professors and classes may differ regarding attendance requirements, assignments due dates, and exam dates.  
  • Know your professor. Faculty have different teaching styles that differ, but getting to know your professors for what learning they can offer outside of the class is important. 
  • College staff can’t talk with family members about a student’s academic activities unless given prior authorization by you as an adult learner. 

Parent/Family Roles

  • Your role may have changed from one of advocate, manager, supporter, and activity coordinator to support for your adult learner.  Expect connection ebb and flow from your student.  We ask students to be the primary attendees at any meetings. 
  • Assist your student with providing information on disability or documentation of your student’s disability(ies).  Refer to documentation information. 
  • Listen to your student about concerns and help them develop self-advocacy skills and articulating their disability(ies). What are their strengths and barriers to learning?  
  • Help your student identify issues and problem solve next steps,  not solve problems for them. Where can they look for information? 
  •  Specialized medical care, therapy or additional support services may be required outside of what is available at Macalester. 
  • Remember that students are responsible for notifying the Center for Disability Resources of their disability(ies) and following the appropriate processes.   We want your student to be successful as an adult! 

Confidentiality, FERPA, and the ADA

Macalester is committed to access and compliance with all relevant federal and state laws, including section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act.  Self-advocacy skills are crucial to a successful post-secondary experience and your student will need time to develop, practice and fine-tune these abilities. We take a commitment to direct student communication seriously in order to assist them in the  management of self-advocacy as well as honoring their confidentiality rights.  

As a parent or family member, it is also important to understand that the laws that protect students with disabilities are different at the high school vs. post-secondary levels. High schools are governed by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. Post-secondary institutions are governed by the Americans with Disabilities Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, which require more specific protections for student learners. 

Macalester students grades, academic records, and work with the Center for Disability Resources are protected under Family Education Rights and Privacy Act  (FERPA). In addition, some information may be HIPAA or only provided to a student or family member with a student release (e.g., Counseling Services). 

For a parent or guardian to communicate with Disability Resources regarding a student’s progress or accommodations, staff must have approval from the student. A parent or family member may provide information to us, but please be aware that we may be limited in our ability to disclose specific information without student permission. In addition, students must negotiate their accommodations and initiate any complaints or concerns, 

Additional information on FERPA can be found on the Registrar’s FERPA Resources Page

Helpful Resources