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Transition to Adulthood

Information Pack Series

Education Information Pack

Learn About Higher Education Options

Leaving high school and taking the next steps to further your education is a big decision and difficult for every teen. With the right preparation and support it is very doable. Again, planning is key. This information pack contains information to help you prepare for your transition to higher education.

Your Education

Post High School Education

More and more high school students with disabilities or those aging out of foster care continue their education in postsecondary schools.

You have several choices on how to continue your education:

  • Vocational and career training programs,
  • Two- and four- year colleges, and universities.

Even if you dropped out before graduation, it is possible to take a high school equivalency exam, which will give you the degree you need to continue your education. This exam is called TASC – TASC stands for Test Assessing Secondary Completion™.

Things to Know

As you get older, one of the biggest changes you will experience is that the role of your parents/guardians legally changes when you reach adulthood (legally at age 18). You can get assistance from your parents or guardians and other support people in your life, but often it becomes your task to apply to college and training programs and to request financial support and accommodations.

There are a series of laws that are in place to ensure you are not discriminated against and that you get the assistance you need to be successful. Did you know?:

  • You have the right to go back to high school through age 21 in New York Stateeven if you made a decision to drop out and then changed your mind. View the NYS Education Department website for more information.
  • There are no Individualized Education Plans (IEPs) or Committee on Special Education (CSE) meetings after high school.
  • There is no requirement that training programs or colleges provide a “free, appropriate public education.”
  • It is up to you, as a person with a disability, to achieve eligibility for and request appropriate accommodations.
  • You must meet all academic admission, program, and class requirements.
  • You must self- disclose and document your disability (at your own cost if necessary) to access disability related supports and assistance.
  • You, not your parents, must request and advocate for reasonable accommodations and academic adjustments.
  • Colleges are not required to provide personal services to you.
  • Some institutions and programs may be able to provide these services (often for a fee). This is a crucial issue when you are comparing the disability-related services available at various colleges,education/training programs and trade schools.
  • You must take responsibility for your own needs related to learning and achieving success. Visit the Parent to Parent website for more information on the law, legal protections and what they mean.

What Changes After High School?

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), which provides for individualized, special education plans, does not apply to colleges, universities, education and training programs, trade schools, (also called “post-secondary institutions”) etc.

What Legal Protections Do You Have?

Most post-secondary institutions are obligated under Title II of the American with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act to ensure that for qualified individuals there is no discrimination on the basis of disability and there is access to all programs, activities and services. However, these institutions are not required to make modifications or provide accommodations that would “create an undue burden on the institution, limit or lower essential requirements, or result in a fundamental alteration of programs, activities and services offered to all."

New Rules Let Disabled Students Progress Without Passing All Exams

New York's education policymakers expanded graduation options for students with disabilities that could affect as many as 2,200 students. Effective June 13, 2016 the Board of Regents approved new rules that will let school superintendents decide if students who met academic requirements for a local diploma, but were unable to pass every Regents exam should be allowed to graduate.This will help students to graduate that have met the state standards for graduation, but because of their disabilities were not able to demonstrate proficiency on state tests.

Things You Can Do

Get Your High School Diploma

A high school education is key for continuing into higher education. Admission to college requires either a high school diploma or successfully passing the high school equivalency exam Test Assessing Secondary Completion™ (TASC).

Types of High School Equivalency Diplomas

NYS requires (with the exception of the New Rules mentioned above) students receive either a Regent Diploma or an Advanced Regents Diploma to graduate high school.

If you didn't graduate from high school, you can take the Test Assessing Secondary Completion™ exam. The Test Assessing Secondary Completion™ (TASC). This is a new high school equivalency test that replaces the General Educational Development (GED®) exam. Visit the NYS Education Department website to learn more about TASC. If you have taken the GED but have not passed all the portions of the exam it is possible to “grandfather GED® test scores”, to use up to four (4) passing GED® sub-tests taken between 2002-2013 to count towards earning a New York State High School Equivalency Diploma.

The Career Development and Occupational Studies (CDOS) Commencement Credential has been available since the 2013-14 school year for students with disabilities. This credential recognizes each individual student's preparation and skills for post-school employment. For students with disabilities who are exiting with a regular high school diploma, this credential provides you with the additional opportunity to exit school with a credential that recognizes your work readiness skills. The CDOS is NOT a diploma. A CDOS will not get you into college. It is not the same as passing the TASC exam.

Get Career Training or College Advice

Deciding what direction to take after high school will probably include many conversations with people in your life that you depend on for helping you make big decisions. Some of the people you can talk to include: parents or caregivers; your caseworker; life skills coordinator; counselor; high school guidance counselor; tutor; teachers; older friends with similar experiences; coaches or other supportive adults; YOUTH POWER!.

Determine Your Skills, Abilities and Interests

Explore what you are good at and what interest you while you are still in high school or soon after high school. Tools such as career inventories and skill assessments can help you figure out what you want to do in the future. There are several websites that can help you build training and college plans. Some of these include:

  • GoCollegeNY is a free resource that will take you step-by-step through the planning process. It contains information about career, college, financial aid and money management.
  • Career Zone is the NYS Department of Labor's place to explore careers related to your strengths, skills and talents.
  • If you are a student with disabilities ACCESS-VR can help you prepare for employment, post-secondary education and community living when they leave school. ACCES-VR can provide a range of services to help eligible individuals reach an employment including assessment of skills and interests.

Deciding What College to Attend

Choosing Occupational or Career Training Programs
Based on what you know about yourself and what you have learned from skills and career inventories and school counselors, you may choose to further your education after high school by enrolling in an occupational or career training program. The schools that offer these programs are called “proprietary schools”.

These programs offer certificate or diploma programs. Students who attend these schools learn a trade or to prepare for meaningful employment. Occupational or career training programs provide training in a wide variety of occupations for persons with disabilities. For a listing of possible occupations that may help you develop your plan visit the Careers for People with Disabilities.

It is important when choosing a trade or business school that is licensed by The Bureau of Proprietary School Supervision (BPSS). BPSS monitors non-degree granting proprietary schools in New York State to make sure they deliver quality programs and provide students with the necessary skills to secure meaningful employment, and do not take advantage of them with tuition and fees.

Choosing the Right College for You
When you begin thinking about going to college you will likely have a number of questions such as:

  • When do I start preparing?
  • How do I choose where to apply?
  • How do I go about applying to a college?
  • What will I need to get in?
  • Will there be help to accommodate my needs?

There are a many online guides detailing how to choose a school, how to apply and how to get financial aid to allow you to attend a 2- or 4- year college. This section will lead you to them, and will focus primarily on what supports there are for teens aging out of foster care and students with special needs.

Preparing for College
Most students are encouraged to start seriously thinking about going to college in their junior year of high school. Some wait until it is almost time to graduate. The sooner you start, the better off you will be. The first step is thinking what you want to do in the future. You may also choose not to go to college straight out of high school or to go part time. The Youth in Care website provides a step-by-step guide on what you need to think about and do to prepare for an apply to colleges.

Once you figure out what you might want to do in your future, there are several things you'll want to do when preparing to go to college. These include:

  • Taking the right classes so that you can graduate from high school;
  • Taking college entrance exams; and
  • Exploring your options. College fairs give you the opportunity to speak to college admissions representatives about things such as campus life, academics, financial aid, and admissions requirements. You can find a calendar of upcoming college fairs on the NYS Higher Education Services website. Talk to your caseworker or other supportive adults about your interest in attending and any needs like transportation.
  • Visiting college campuses - If there is a college you are interested in attending, talk to your high school guidance counselor or contact the school and make arrangements to go to the campus and take a tour. Schedule an appointment to visit the student disabilities office at the college, program or trade school your interested in. Ask questions about accessibility, reasonable accommodations, documents required to substantiate a disability and the need for academic adjustments, health services, and student life activities.
  • Taking college classes before you matriculate or sign-up for a degree program.

Choosing Where to Apply
Deciding where you want to go to college requires answering some questions for yourself. Use this Questions to Consider When Preparing for College document to answer important questions to help with your decision-making process.

Community/Junior Colleges vs 4-Year Colleges
At a two-year college, you can earn an Associate Degree. You can attend full-time for two years or you may decide to take a few courses at a time. At a four-year college, you can earn a bachelor's degree. Many students begin at a two-year college on the path to a bachelor's degree at a four-year college. Choosing this path can be beneficial financially as community colleges are generally less expensive and it also gives you college experience and time to decide if a 4-year college is for you.

Community colleges can be a good fit for:

  • Students who would be more comfortable living at home, being close to home and close their support network
  • Students who need additional training or certifications: and don't need a four-year degree for their profession - for professions such as mechanics or dental assistants.
  • Students who are concerned with the cost of higher education. At community colleges the cost of tuition is lower. Many junior colleges cost less than two thousand dollars each semester to attend full time. This gives students the chance to prepare for the financial demands of a 4-year university if they plan on transferring.
  • Students who can benefit from a more flexible schedule. If you plan on working while attending school, or have to be available for medical appointments, for example, community college is the better option. The workload may be lighter than a state school or private university and attendance is not usually required.
  • Classes may be smaller. In a smaller class, professors have the opportunity to learn more about their students. Likewise, students will find their teachers more accessible and can get assistance when they need it.
  • At many of the public community colleges in New York State, existing structures on campus have been modified with regard to accessibility. Among those modifications are reserved parking spaces, curb cutouts, building approaches, wheelchair ramps, enclosed walkways, electric doors, lowered pay telephones, lowered drinking fountains and first-floor bathrooms.Community colleges in New York State also offer other services to students with disabilities through their Disability Services offices. View SUNY and CUNY colleges on our mapping tool and see what disability services are available for each school.
  • Many community colleges are making it easier for students with learning disabilities to pursue a higher education by offering transition and support programs that promote success. Check out the Community College Review website to learn more.
  • Research finds community colleges may play a particularly important role in fostering transition into productive lives for individuals on the autism spectrum. Check out to learn about colleges that offer training and certification programs as well as individualized and group support services to individuals on the autism spectrum.

View this webpage to learn more about the pros and cons of attending a 2-year college.

Individualized Education/Distance Learning
Many students with disabilities feel that studying online will be the solution to their accommodation needs. Programs such as those offered SUNY Empire State College provides students an opportunity to pursue their academic goals in a flexible and challenging environment. Students can take a single course, or earn their entire undergraduate degree online. Opportunities include:

  • Associate and Bachelor's Study Options.
  • Study onsite at one of 30 locations across New York State, online through the Center for Distance Learning or both.
  • Blend different modes of learning to meet your needs.
  • Guided Independent Study.
  • Work one-to-one with a faculty mentor in-person, online or by telephone whenever it's convenient.
  • Online Courses that include access to faculty, fellow students, and other online resources — from anywhere in the world.
  • Study Groups: You can participate in periodic small-group meetings with other students.
  • The ability to attend weekend seminars to explore topics in depth in a group setting (note: not applicable to all programs of study).
  • The ability to cross register—to take some classes at other accredited colleges for a more traditional classroom experience.
  • Accommodations for Online Courses.

While many students with disabilities feel that studying online will be the solution to their accommodation needs, studying online solves some problems, but may create new ones. You may need different accommodations. You should enroll in an online course only after you have taken the time to carefully consider the requirements of the study and your strengths and weaknesses.

College Entrance Exams

In order to apply, many colleges and universities will ask for standardized test scores as part of the application process. Two of the most popular tests with colleges and universities are the SAT and ACT exams. There is also the PSAT which is a practice test you take before taking the actual SAT. Visit Go College NY to learn more about SAT and ACT exams.

Your high school guidance office should be able to provide information about requesting reasonable accommodations needed to take college entrance exams (SAT, ACT) and Advanced Placement (AP) exams. Plan ahead, as documentation of the specific accommodation is required by the testing service up to one year in advance.

How to Apply for College

Every college has a unique application process. Be sure to understand the requirements well and allow enough time to complete and submit your applications. The types of college applications include:

  • Common Application - More than 300 colleges across the country participate in the Common Application, an online application system in which the student's information is entered once and can be sent to multiple colleges.
  • SUNY & CUNY - Applications for the State University of New York (SUNY) and City University of New York (CUNY) allow for applying to more than one college within each system.
  • Unique Applications - Some colleges have their own application forms. These may be available on their websites or through links emailed to prospective students.

Cost of Applications
There are fees associated with applying to college. If you are applying to several colleges those fees can add up. College application fees average $35 to $50 or more, applying to several colleges can be expensive for any student.

You may be eligible for college application fee waivers. In some cases, individual colleges have specific policies, income guidelines and forms used to determine fee waivers. Students of families experiencing financial hardship may be eligible for waivers of their college application fees.Both the College Board and National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC) provide waiver request forms that can be completed by eligible students and are accepted by many colleges. Learn more about student fee waiver eligibility. Also the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC) has an "Application for Fee Waiver Form" that you can download from their website. This website also has information about who is eligible to use the form, requirements for completing the form, and frequently asked questions. Students who previously received a fee waiver from the College Board for the SAT will receive four application waivers directly from the College Board through their College Board accounts.

Students who did not take the SAT, as well as those who did but are applying to more than four schools, can use the NACAC Request for Application Fee Waiver This form is completed you with the help of your high school counselor. The State University of New York (SUNY) and the City University of New York (CUNY) require use of their own waiver request forms.

  • The State University waives the $50 application fee for up to four college choices. Learn more about SUNY application fee waivers on SUNY’s Application FAQs webpage. SUNY does not accept any other type of fee waiver, including waivers distributed by the College Board or any other organization.
  • Students request CUNY fee waivers from their counselor/college advisers at their high schools. They is a very limited quantity of CUNY fee waivers are provided to high school counselors/college advisers to be distributed to current students with the greatest financial need. Contact CUNY admissions at 212-997-CUNY (2869) or
  • For students who have been in foster care The College Board accepts fee waivers from eligible students who took the SAT. Test-takers who received an SAT fee waiver may qualify for up to four college application fee waivers. If you are a foster youth in care, learn more by visiting the Youth in Care website.

Application Deadlines
Each college sets its own application deadline. Some colleges may have different deadlines for different programs, with some applications due as early as October of your senior year in high school. In addition there are special types of application deadlines:

  • Early Action: Early action plans allow students to apply early and receive an early response from the college. You do not have to commit to the college until the May 1 deadline and are non-binding.
  • Early Decision: Early decision plans also allow students to apply early and receive an early response from college, but the decision is binding — a student who is accepted as an early decision applicant must attend the college.
  • Regular Admissions: The deadline date may be in December or January, and notifications are distributed before the end of March. Accepted students have until May 1 to make a decision.
  • Rolling Admissions: There is no set deadline. You can apply anytime during the college's admissions period, typically September through July. Applications are reviewed as received. HESC’s website has detailed information on application types and deadlines.

How to Pay for College

One of the biggest questions you probably have is "How will I pay for college?" Financial aid is money that's available to help you pay for college or career school. Aid can come from both federal or state government, the college you plan to attend or a nonprofit or private organization.

Financial aid is available in several different forms:

  • Federal Student Aid
  • New York State Tuition Assistance Program (TAP)
  • Other New York State Aid
  • Institutional Aid
  • Outside Scholarships and grants
  • Loans

NOTE: In order to receive financial aid you must apply for it every year you attend college.

Paying for college most often requires piecing together financial support from a variety of different sources. Always start with money you do not have to pay back before taking out a student loan. Grants and scholarships do not have to be paid back. Use the Federal Student Aid Office website to create a FAFSA ID and learn the steps you need to take to apply. These are their steps:

Complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FASFA) online at Be sure to go to this website, there are similar websites that charge a fee to help with this application. It is a free application to determine if you are eligible for federal financial aid and the amount you are qualified to receive.

This application gives you access to these types of aid:

  • Step-by-step assistance is available as you complete the form.
  • If you can't fill it out online, ask your high school counselor for a paper copy. The FASFA is available in English and Spanish.
  • If you are a youth-in-care or a former youth-in-care, view the Leaving Foster Care Information Pack Education section to learn more about Foster Care and secondary education and or training.

Types of Federal Aid Available

  • Federal Pell Grants are usually awarded only to undergraduate students who have not earned a bachelor's or a professional degree and does not have too be paid back.
  • Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant (FSEOG) is a grant for undergraduate students with exceptional financial need.
  • Federal Work-Study jobs help students earn money to pay for college or career school.
  • Work-Study jobs allows graduate and undergraduate students to work part-time on or off-campus while enrolled in school.
  • If you have an intellectual disability, you may receive grants from the Federal Pell Grant, Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant, and Federal Work-Study programs if your Comprehensive Transition and Postsecondary (CTP) Program is at an institution of higher education (a college or career school) that participates in the federal student aid programs. The following three institutions have CTP Programs:
    • New York Institute of Technology in Old Westbury, NY
    • Monroe Community College in Rochester, NY
    • Roberts Wesleyan College in Rochester, NY
  • TAP helps eligible New York residents pay tuition at approved schools in New York State. An annual TAP award can be up to $5,165. Because TAP is a grant, you don't have to pay it back. Students who are disabled, as defined by the 1990 Federal Americans with Disabilities Act, do not have to be in full-time attendance to be eligible for Tuition Assistance Program payments. Young people who have been in foster care are eligible for New York State aid to attend higher education.
  • Explore Aid from the Colleges You are Considering - Individual colleges, particularly private colleges often have their own list of grants and scholarships that are targeted towards special groups of students. They receive endowments and alumni donations earmarked for specific student populations – including individuals facing particular challenges. Once you have narrowed the list of schools that seem to meet your needs, it is beneficial to look at the list of scholarships they offer and see if you may be eligible.
  • Investigate Outside Scholarships - Students with disabilities and students who have been in foster care may also qualify for a number of unique scholarships targeted at a specific disabling condition or life experience. As you piece together your college-funding package, consider each of the groups you belong to, as possible sources of aid. For example, if you are a disabled minority studying technology at a U.S. college, or have been adopted from foster care, each of these unique personal characteristics – or any combination of them, might open financial aid doors for you.

The following scholarships and grants can minimize or eliminate the need for student loans:

  • Disability advocacy groups have contribute generously to educational causes benefiting disabled college students. provides links to many scholarship opportunities for people with disabilities. This Top10OnlineColleges website provides information and links for scholarships for students on the autism spectrum. In addition, be sure to check out Community for Accredited Online Schools - Scholarships & Financial Aid for Students with Disabilities.
  • Foster Care to Success: America's College Fund for Foster Youth offers a variety of supports for students having been in foster care or aging out of foster care. These take the form of scholarships and grants, and assistance in applying as well as academic and social support. With this program you have access to young people in similar situations to talk to.
  • Foster Care Maintenance Payments - If you are currently a foster youth and attending college away from your foster care setting, the foster care maintenance payment may be available to help pay for your college room and board. Be sure to check with your caseworker for more information.
  • If you are on the the autism spectrum, check out these scholarships that support students with autism.

Student Loans

Loans are money you borrow to pay for college tuition. It is money that must be repaid with interest —even if you don't complete college or find a job after college. There are many different types of loans available, it is very important to know your options to ensure you are taking on the least amount of debt possible. Be sure to exhaust all free student aid in the form of grants and scholarships -- that's money you don't have to pay back.

Types of Student Loans

  • Federal Student Loans are available to most students and parents and have low, fixed interest rates and multiple repayment options. Federal loans include:
    • Direct Subsidized Loans
    • Direct Unsubsidized Loans
    • Direct PLUS Loans
    • Federal Perkins Loans
  • Private Loans are loans from a bank or other lending organization. First see what is available to you from federal and state grants, scholarships and loans. It's important to understand all the terms associated with a loan before you choose one. Be sure to determine how much you will be charged to borrow money (interest rates), when you have to pay the loan back, loan limits, repayment options and prepayment penalties can vary a lot depending on who is lending the money (underwriting the loan).

How to Be Successful in College

Tips for Success

  • Develop strategies, study skills, and a network of support!
  • Attend class.
  • Arrive on time, pay attention, and participate in class discussions and activities.
  • Talk to the instructor. Ask questions.
  • Complete and check all work. Turn in neat and clear assignments.
  • Monitor your progress. If you begin to fall behind, ask for help.
  • Stay in contact with the office of disability support services and your professors.
  • Remember you have to apply for financial aid each year.
  • Arrange for personal care assistance and/or visiting nursing services through a local agency. Your current physician may be able to help with a referral to a physician where you are attending school.
  • Above all seek out people who will support your being successful (friends, professional staff, faculty, etc) and don't be afraid to ask for help.
  • identify a local physician and, if necessary, a vendor for medical equipment and supplies.

Adapt these tips to fit your unique learning style and needs. Ask friends and classmates about the techniques they use. Never be afraid to try a new method. And, remember that you are responsible for your success. View these college survival tips.

Tips for Students with Disabilities:
  • Decide what to disclose about your disability and the need for accommodations. This may be shared at the time of visits, on applications, or after acceptance.
  • Provide clear and concise information. Documentation may include an IEP, a 504 Plan, the Student Exit Summary; relevant medical, psychological, and academic reports; and, anything else that explains your specific needs as related to your disability.
  • Examine individual situations to determine the approach that is in your best interest and what the administration needs to know to arrange reasonable accommodations and academic adjustments. Remember that it takes time to put modifications and assistive technology into place and it is your responsibility to provide necessary documentation in a timely manner.
  • If you are disclosing information related to your disability, you must self-identify to appropriate personnel and professors or instructors. Each institution has a process for this. Keep copies of your disclosure attestation, the records provided to document your disability, and your requests for reasonable accommodations.
  • Stay in contact with the office that oversees accommodations for students with disabilities and let them know what is working successfully. Seek assistance early if any accommodations are not working.
  • For those with chronic medical conditions, make key people (e.g., residence adviser, roommate, professor, instructor, classmate,
    on-site nurse) aware of your medical condition and your needs during an emergency.
  • Consider carrying a portable health document that includes important health and medical information.

Adapted by©2012 Parent to Parent of NYS, prepared with assistance from N. Hinkley,
Employment and Disability Institute, ILR School and Cornell University

NOTE: If you are enrolled in a private training program and you believe that the school is in violation of your agreement with them, contact the Bureau of Proprietary School Supervision (BPSS). BPSS investigates student complaints and conducts comprehensive investigations of schools to assure compliance with Education Law and Commissioner's Regulations.

Developed by the Council on Children and Families and Funded by the Developmental Disabilities Planning Council