Moving On: The Two-Four Step

Advice to students with disabilities about transitioning from 2- to 4-year colleges

Individuals with disabilities are underrepresented in four-year postsecondary academic programs, particularly in technical fields such as science, mathematics, engineering, and technology. The documented success of some individuals with disabilities in fields where they have been underrepresented suggests there is potential to significantly increase the representation of this group in challenging academic programs and careers. Some of these individuals begin their college studies in two-year institutions.

Many of the two-year college students with disabilities who have the desire and potential to succeed in a four-year postsecondary program have difficulties making a successful transition. Challenges relate to their own knowledge and skills and to the differences between two- and four-year schools.This publication elaborates on these challenges and shares tips for success and additional resources to help students with disabilities successfully transition from a two- to a fouryear college.


Students with disabilities report special challenges in making a successful transition from two- to four-year schools. 119 students with disabilities from nineteen two-year colleges in Washington state participated in a survey conducted by DO-IT (Burgstahler, Crawford, & Acosta, 2001). Their top concerns about transferring to a four-year institution were in the following categories:

  • differences in disabled student services
  • inadequate financial support for the transferring process
  • housing and transportation
  • personal and family issues
  • differences in academic requirements

Professionals who work with postsecondary students with disabilities report a range of challenges students with disabilities encounter that negatively impact successful transitions to four-year schools. Disabled student services staff from 351 institutions of higher education participated in a survey conducted by DO-IT. They reported the greatest challenges faced by two-year college students with disabilities as they transfer to four-year schools to be the following:

  • differences in academic requirements
  • poor study skills
  • inadequate self-advocacy skills
  • inadequate academic preparation
  • financial support
  • lack of mentors with disabilities
  • differences in disabled student services

A total of forty-six faculty and staff from two- and four-year institutions of higher education from twenty-four states who participated in focused discussions of these issues (Burgstahler, Crawford, & Acosta, 2001) also reported that transfer students face challenges in the following:

  • moving away from home
  • understanding and working through the transfer process
  • securing financial support
  • meeting the admissions requirements of the four-year institution and specific degree programs
  • adjusting to differences in disability documentation requirements
  • adjusting to differences in the disabled student services offered
  • adjusting to a larger, less personal environment where it is more difficult to make friends and get to know faculty
  • meeting the academic standards of the four-year school

Knowing the challenges that students with disabilities have faced can help others create a map for a successful transition to a four-year school.

Transition Steps

Students are encouraged to take the following steps to transition from a two- to four-year school.

Map Your Path

If you want to start out at a community college or are already enrolled in one, and then transfer to a four-year school to complete your work, make the most of this college experience. There are many advantages to taking classes at the community college level. Community colleges often offer smaller class size, more time with instructors, and lower tuition. While enrolled at a community college, find out what courses you can take at the two-year school that will transfer to the four-year institution.

Choosing a college or career shouldn't be like a game of chance. It should be based on careful planning. A transition plan will help you take control of your future. Having a transition plan or map can help you make a smooth and seamless transition from a two-year to a four-year institution.

Now is the time to start looking at your options. In choosing a four-year college or university, approach this task as if you were an employer looking to hire a highly qualified employee. Think about it! In a sense, you are about to be an employer. For the next few years of your life you will be paying someone to provide you with an education and to help you obtain the skills you need for your future. In doing so, make sure you get the most for your money. Below are some ideas to consider when you are sorting through the many postsecondary options.

Make a Map

Determine your destination. Get to know yourself better by answering the following questions:

  • Where do you want to be in ten years?
  • What did you like and dislike about the two-year college you attended or are currently attending?
  • What are some of the characteristics you would like in the college or university that you will attend?
  • Do you have a specific career in mind? If so, what type of academic preparation is required to enter this career field? If not, where can you get information about career options and academic requirements? Is a technical degree, a two-year degree, or a four-year degree required or recommended?

Look at all aspects of the degree program that you choose and determine if you will be able to fulfill all of the degree requirements. Determine if your disability affects your ability to complete the requirements. If so, discuss possible accommodations prior to starting the program.

Learn About Your Options

Consider all possible routes you can take to reach your goal as you plan your trip. Narrow down your options by identifying your four-year college choices and comparing them.

  • Where can you get information on academic programs of interest to you? What schools offer the program you need?
  • What disability-related accommodations and services will you need to be successful? In college, as well as on the job, you are expected to advocate for yourself. You should know what you need to succeed, then find out how to get it. You are the expert! Make a list of all the things that you feel are important for your school to provide. This list should include things in areas such as:
    • degree programs
    • financial aid
    • campus accessibility
    • disability services
    • library support services
    • computer and network access
    • tutoring
    • work study and internships
    • campus climate
    • transportation
    • housing
    • dining
    • child care
    • social organizations
  • What, if any, obstacles do you foresee in enrolling in and succeeding at a four-year school, such as finances, general admission requirements, housing, or disability-related accommodations?

After you've made a list of things you need to know, find the answers. The Internet can be a valuable research tool. Contact the schools and get information on general admission as well as specific requirements of the program in which you are interested.

Once you've decided where you want to end up, the next step is to figure out how you are going to get there. Contact the disability services office directly at your top choices of four-year colleges or universities that you may attend. Be specific; tell them that you are thinking about enrolling in their institution. Describe your disability and the types of accommodation that you think will work best for you. Ask them what types of documentation are required to obtain these accommodations. Every college is unique in the types of services they provide and the types of documentation they require.

Visit the campus for yourself. Don't take another person's word that the campus is accessible to you. What is accessible to them may not be accessible to you. Arrange for a campus tour. Visit the library, the dining hall, the dorms, the disability services office, the bookstore, and some classrooms.

Now you should be able to rank the schools from the one that meets your needs the best to the one that meets your needs the least. Apply to more than one school. After you receive your acceptance letters, pick the school that is the closest to your ideal. Don't let someone else choose for you. Remember, you are the expert on yourself; you know best what you need to succeed.

Once you arrive at the school, check out programs that may be beneficial and offer specialized services to you such as the women's center, minority programs, or student support groups.

Look Ahead

While you are still in college, start getting ready to transition to the work force. Use a transition plan similar to the one described above. Consider locating a job in college, internship, or a cooperative education experience in the career field you are moving toward. These experiences can help you decide if you really like this career field while there is still time to change your academic goal, provide you with real world experiences that you can put on your resume, and sometimes they even lead to job offers.

Additional Resources

Burgstahler, S., Crawford, L., & Acosta, J. (2001). Transition from two-year to four-year institutions for students with disabilities, Disability Studies Quarterly, 21(1), 25-38.

To accompany this publication, DO-IT has created a video with the same title, Moving On: The Two-Four Step; the DO-IT videos College: You Can Do It and It's Your Career provide other useful information to help students with disabilities prepare for college. To view these and other videos online and/or purchase in DVD format, consult

For information resources related to DO-IT, disabilities, assistive technology, postsecondary education, and careers, access DO-IT's website at

About DO-IT

DO-IT (Disabilities, Opportunities, Internetworking, and Technology) serves to increase the successful participation of individuals with disabilities in challenging academic programs such as those in science, engineering, mathematics, and technology. Primary funding for DO-IT is provided by the National Science Foundation, the State of Washington, and the U.S. Department of Education. DO-IT is a collaboration of UW Information Technology and the Colleges of Engineering and Education at the University of Washington.

Grants and gifts fund DO-IT publications, videos, and programs to support the academic and career success of people with disabilities. Contribute today by sending a check to DO-IT, Box 354842, University of Washington, Seattle, WA 98195-4842.

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The contents of this publication were developed under U.S. Department of Education Grant #P116B71441. However, these contents do not necessarily represent the policy of the U.S. Department of Education, and you should not assume endorsement by the federal government. Copyright © 2012, 2010, 2008, 2006, 2001, University of Washington. Permission is granted to copy these materials for noncommercial purposes provided the source is acknowledged.