How to Start the College Search for Students With Disabilities

The college search process can be daunting; if you're a student with a disability, there are additional considerations to keep in mind. Check them out.

Transitioning to college is a daunting task for anyone. Leaving home, picking a major, finding new friends, and acquiring more freedom is a lot to swallow. If you’re a person with a disability looking for colleges, you’ll be saddled with these responsibilities along with the challenge of managing your condition solo for the first time. These four tips will help you find a school that supports you every step of the way.

Examine your relationship with your disability

Not everyone is comfortable with their disability—and that is perfectly okay. You are entitled to your own opinions, but you should know the symptoms of your condition(s) so you can effectively communicate your needs in your new environment. This may mean initiating a conversation with your parents, medical professional, or disability counselor to understand your weaknesses and put a plan in place if something goes wrong. An important facet of adulthood is owning your identity, disability included. In order to truly feel comfortable in your new environment, you should identify if any of your future schools have counseling services. Having a helping hand to ease the newfound stress will ensure peace of mind.

Related: Top College Search Tips for Students With Learning Differences

Understand the type of schools you’re considering

Previewing the size of the student body and the scope of the campus is a good way to rule out potential colleges. Some students with disabilities prefer a small setting to ensure they (and their accommodations) won’t get lost in the crowd. Other students need a small campus due to mobility issues. Still others may enroll in a large university hoping to find a supportive community or like the idea of not being the only student with a disability on campus.

When touring a campus, consider how you feel when you finish. Are you invigorated or tired? Do you feel at ease with your surroundings, or are you utterly overwhelmed? Does the campus comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)? Do they have wheelchair access ramps or other equipment? Do they allow service animals? Now imagine yourself in these surroundings on a snowy Thursday evening during finals week. Are you still confident in your ability to navigate campus safely? Think about the campus in all conditions and evaluate your comfort level accordingly.

Related: Colleges Where Students With Learning Disabilities Can (and Do) Make It

Meet with the disability office

When scheduling a campus visit, try to find information about student support services and book an appointment with a counselor. Students should treat this appointment like an interview—you have a right to know how you will be treated for four-plus years. You and your parents should prepare a list of questions to gain as much insight as possible. Ask how many students on campus have a disability or if there are any organizations specifically for students with disabilities. How much experience does the department have treating your condition(s)? Are there appropriate facilities and services available (e.g., tutoring centers, hospitals, note-taking programs, etc.)?

Something else to note is the difference between disability-specific programs and services offered at a college. For example, Gallaudet University, in Washington, DC, is the world’s only university exclusively for the deaf and hard of hearing. Another disability-specific program is the University of Arizona’s Strategic Alternative Learning Technique (SALT) Center that caters to students with disabilities, making their transition easier. All colleges offer accessibility services to some extent, though some are less comprehensive than others and may require additional fees. 

Gather necessary documentation

In high school, educators are required by law to follow a student’s 504 Plan or Individualized Education Program (IEP). Colleges are not required to follow these guidelines. To enroll in a college’s accommodation programs, a student must provide updated documentation. Depending on the disability, functionality reports are performed by a psychologist or diagnoses are confirmed by a medical professional. Colleges will confirm what documentation students need on a case-by-case basis.

Related: College Search and Scholarship Resources for Students With Learning Disabilities

Finding a dream school for a student with disabilities may take a little extra legwork, but your comfort in the long run is worth the struggle. Just remember that there is a school out there for everyone!

Now that you're all prepared, start your college search today on CollegeXpress!

Like what you’re reading?

Join the CollegeXpress community! Create a free account and we’ll notify you about new articles, scholarship deadlines, and more.

Join Now

ADA campus resources college search learning disabilities students with disabilities tutoring

About Paige Miller

My name is Paige Miller, and I am currently a senior in high school who plans on studying at the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism at Ohio University next fall. I consider myself a “chronic dreamer” who hopes to advocate for the betterment of all minority groups.


Join our community of
over 5 million students!

CollegeXpress has everything you need to simplify your college search, get connected to schools, and find your perfect fit.

Join CollegeXpress


High School Class of 2021

CollegeXpress helped me find the school I am currently attending by consistently sending me emails of other schools. This allowed me to do research on other schools as well as the one I am in now!

Farrah Macci

Farrah Macci

High School Class of 2016

CollegeXpress has helped me in many ways. For one, online searches are more organized and refined by filtering scholarships through by my personal and academic interests. Due to this, it has made searching for colleges and scholarships significantly less stressful. As a student, life can already get stressful pretty quickly. For me, it’s been helpful to utilize CollegeXpress since it keeps all of my searches and likes together, so I don’t have to branch out on multiple websites just to explore scholarship options.

Samantha Fils-Aime

Samantha Fils-Aime

High School Class of 2019

I love that CollegeXpress has helped me find some scholarships to apply for but also helped me succeed in school with lots of tips. I also really like how they consistently email me about webinars that teach me a lot of things from the comfort of my home!

Lu Diehl

Lu Diehl

High School Class of 2022

I never would have found the college I plan on attending without CollegeXpress! I've always been a person of ambition and have been dreaming of studying and working on my passion for law, legal studies, and political science. Washington College is where I plan on pursuing my career. My journey with my education has been difficult, and oftentimes, I was told I would never amount to much, but now I'm dual enrolled at Caroll Community College and have had experience in the fields I am dedicated to. Without the help of CollegeXpress (even in its early days), I would never have found Washington College and the information I need to apply and become a part of their community.

Maya Ingraham

Maya Ingraham

October 2021 Mini Scholarship Winner, Class of 2022

CollegeXpress has given me more confidence in my college process. With easy-to-access resources and guidance such as the CX Weekly Roundup, I have been able to find the best colleges for me. Most importantly, there’s a surplus of scholarship opportunities for every student to support their education.

College Matches

Colleges You May Be Interested In

Goldey-Beacom College

Wilmington, DE

Ohio University

Athens, OH