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College Success Starts with Strong Self Advocacy Skills

According to the special series “Willing, Able, and Forgotten” by the Hetchinger Report, 65% of students receiving special education services graduate on time, well below the 83% graduation rate for American students overall. Up to 90% of students with disabilities graduate high school “college-ready”, yet federal data shows fewer than 35% of students with disabilities graduate from four-year institutions within 8 years.


This data is alarming for students and their families. What can be done to ensure postsecondary success for all students? Self advocacy skills are key.


Self Advocacy is the concept of advocating for yourself. Up until age 18, parents very often take the lead role in advocacy: scheduling IEP meetings, talking with teachers and administrators, writing letters and emails, and much more. At age 18, students become legal adults; this means that colleges and universities now communicate directly with adult students and not their parents. How does a student learn to advocate for themself? It must start well before a student becomes an adult.


Learning how to speak up for yourself, making your own decisions about your own life, learning how to get information so that you can understand things that are of interest to you, finding out who will support you, knowing your rights and responsibilities, problem solving, listening and learning, reaching out to others when you need help and friendship, and learning about self-determination are all important components of self advocacy.


The Utah Parent Center outlines simple steps students can take to practice self advocacy skills.

A great place to practice self-advocacy is in your Individualized Education Program (IEP) meet­ings. With the support of your team members, students can learn ways to:

  • explain your disability to others

  • set goals for yourself

  • build teamwork skills

  • share with teachers what works and does not work for you

  • ask for accommodations

  • accept help from others

  • lead all or part of the IEP meeting


At CASE, we help students, their families, and school teams understand the importance of self advocacy skills. Our special education advocates work with IEP teams to develop self advocacy goals in IEPs as well as empower students with disabilities to advocate for themselves. CASE offers free consultations as well as direct advocacy services on a sliding fee scale. For more information, contact us at info@caseadvocacy.org.



More information and resources about self advocacy skills:

Center for Parent Information & Resources Information on Self Advocacy: https://www.parentcenterhub.org/priority-selfadvocacy/

Wrightslaw Self Advocacy Information: https://www.wrightslaw.com/info/self.advocacy.htm



More information about students with disabilities in college:


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