Family Resources


As the parent or family member of a young adult with intellectual disability, you may have heard a bit about Think College or seen videos or articles describing how students with Down syndrome and other intellectual disabilities are attending colleges and universities all over the United States.

We put this page together to respond to the most frequently asked questions that families have about college options. Let us know if you have more questions after reviewing these resources. 

Is College Possible?

These resources illustrate students with ID accessing college.

  • Read some Think College Stories that share the perspectives of successful college students with intellectual disability.
  • Share info about college options for students with ID with teachers, parents and students with our We Can series
  • This Think College Learn module shares resources and videos that help families and students learn more about college options.

How to Prepare

Students in middle school and high school can be working on preparing for college!

How to Apply

When students are applying to attend a college program for students with ID, there is typically a different admissions process than the one used by degree-seeking students.

Unlike students who are applying to college through the standard admissions process, students will NOT need a regular high school diploma or SAT or ACT scores.  They WILL need documentation of disability and support needs. Check the website of programs you are interested in to learn more about specific requirements.

Can I afford it?

College is expensive, and paying for it is never easy. The good news is that students with intellectual disability can be eligible for financial aid even if they don’t have a HS diploma.  Students can also now save for college through the use of an ABLE account.  Others may get support from a community agency such as Vocational Rehabilitation, or recieve scholarships to help cover costs.

Learn more about these and other strategies to pay for college on our Paying for College page.

How do we find the right college?

Differences Between High School and College

The transition to college is a big one – here are some resources to help understand the most important differences.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the different types of college programs that serve students with intellectual disability?

There are around 300 programs in the United States that offer some kind of college experience for students with intellectual disability. Programs can have many different characteristics. For example, they can be part of a 2-year community college campus or a 4-year college or university campus. Some, but not all, offer residential services, either on or off campus.

Some serve students who are over 18 but still in high school for the ages of 18 to 21 (these are called “dual enrollment” or “concurrent enrollment” programs). Others may serve students who have left high school.
Programs also offer varying degrees of participation in regular college classes with students without disabilities. They may be fully inclusive, meaning that all academics, social events, and independent living support happens with students without disabilities. Other programs offer a more separate experience, where students may be on a college campus, but participate in most classes and experiences only with other students with intellectual disability.
At this time, the most common approach is a mix of both separate and inclusive experiences. In our College Search listing, we ask programs to estimate how much time is spent only with students with disabilities so that you can get some idea of type of experience that program is offering.

What are some characteristics of a good program?

Each student may have different goals for their college experience, and the best program for them is going to be the one that aligns the best with their particular goals. That being said, an understanding of what makes up a quality program can be very useful.

Think College has developed a set of standards, quality indicators, and benchmarks [PDF]. These can help you to look at several aspects of a college program, and to ask questions about how a program you’re interested in meets these standards.

Eight standards are addressed: inclusive academic access, career development, campus membership, self-determination, alignment with college systems and practices, coordination and collaboration, sustainability, and program evaluation.

How do we find the right college?

Start by reviewing program details in Think College Search. You can save a list of favorites that are the type of campus you like, in the parts of the country you are interested in and use a downloadable list to compare them to one another.
Once you have a list of solid possibilities, visit the programs' websites for more details. You may want to contact the program to ask questions or to schedule a campus visit. Many programs offer online and in-person Open Houses that can be a great way to learn more.
You can use our How To Guide on Conducting a College Search and/or the Self-Advocates Guide to Selecting a College to help decide what questions to ask when you talk to the program staff and review information on their websites.
This can all be a little (or a lot!) overwheliming. Feel free to contact us at if you need more information or help deciding on the best fit.

What are admission requirements for programs for students with ID?

In many ways, students with intellectual disability have the same or similar experiences as all other students – but the admission process is different than that of typically matriculating students.

What you DON’T NEED that other college students typically are required to have:
• A standard high school diploma. An IEP diploma, certificate of attendance or other alternative diplomas are accepted for admission into college programs for students with intellectual disability. There are also some programs that support students while they are still in high school.
• ACT or SAT scores
• College admission essays

What you WILL need:
Documentation of intellectual disability, and information on the support needs of the student. Some sort of documentation is required because there is a different admission process for students with intellectual disability, as well as special access to federal financial aid.
Programs will have different admission requirements, but typical requirements include a desire to go to college and to work after college, as well as some basic skills like ability to spend some time alone, and use a cell phone.

Do students take college classes with other students without intellectual disability?

The most inclusive programs offer students opportunities to take college courses from the course catalog, and they offer support to the students to participate in those classes. Students may participate in these classes as an audit student, or they may take them for credit.

At many programs, students have a wide array of courses they can select, guided by their personal goals and interests. Other programs offer courses that are only for students with intellectual disability. At other schools, students with intellectual disability may only choose from a select group of college courses.

This is a really important question to ask when you’re looking at a program: How many of the college courses are actually available for the students to take?

What does it mean to “audit” a college class?

When students participate in college courses, they often do that through an audit status. This means that college credits are not awarded. Students who are auditing a class can participate in all class activities, including taking tests or writing papers, to the best of their ability and with supports. Typically, the audited course has a procedure for grading and counts towards earning the credential that the program offers.

If the student does take the course for college credit, then they must meet the same standards as everyone else in the class. This includes papers, tests, and all other course requirements. All students are eligible for what is known as “reasonable accommodations” that do not modify course assignments. For example, a student with intellectual disability might ask for extended time to take a test, or to use assistive technology to help them write a paper.

Students with intellectual disability who are taking courses for credit are not allowed to modify the course requirements.

Are students with intellectual disability able to live in the college dorms with other students?

Many programs offer residential opportunities. You can find them in Think College Search using the search term “Housing.” Sometimes those residential options are in dormitories and on-campus apartments. Some programs offer off-campus housing. It’s not directly affiliated with the college, but it’s very close to campus.

Do students participate in social activities that are part of the college experience?

This is something that’s so important in the life of any college student, and where much of our learning and growing takes place. Most, if not all, college programs will offer many opportunities for students with intellectual disability to participate in those kinds of activities. There is a focus on supporting students to join clubs, use the gym, hang out in the student union, attend athletic events, and so on.

What steps are taken in these programs to ensure the safety of students with intellectual disability on college campuses?

College campuses have built in a number of strategies to keep all students safe, such as a buddy system for walking around campus, campus police or campus security, and red safety phones around campus.

I have seen the acronyms TPSID and CTP. What do these mean?

A TPSID is a federally funded model demonstration grant project. These college programs have received a 5 year federal grant to create and/or further develop their program. TPSID stands for Transition and Postsecondary Education Program for Students with Intellectual Disability.
A CTP refers to a college program that has been approved through a process created by the US Department of Education. The CTP, or Comprehensive Transition Program approval means that students with intellectual disability attending those programs are eligible for federal student aid.


Rethinking College

Rethinking College is a 25-minute film produced by Think College that explores the growing movement to include students with intellectual disability in higher education.

Watch the Trailer



Facebook Group for Parents

Think College has a Families Facebook group for family members and students to connect with each other with questions and comments about college preparation, college search and college attendance. Join this group to share stories and get advice from one another.


Ask Think College

Cate Weir presenting at the Inclusive Learning Seminar in March 2018

We have staff at Think College who can talk to you via email or  phone to  answer all your questions related to college options for your son or daughter with intellectual disabilities.  Contact us at