Overcoming OCD
Information for College Students

About Disability Accommodations

Most colleges and universities offer some kinds of accommodations for students with disabilities under certain circumstances.  These may include accommodations such as readers, quiet locations for testing, extended time or breaks during tests, tape-recorded lectures and books, or copies of lecture notes and outlines.

Many of these accommodations work well when the disability is physical (readers for sight-impaired students) or breaks during tests (which may help a student with Attention Deficit Disorder).  When you have OCD, however, the question of whether to seek special accommodations is complicated, and requires a lot of thought before you act.

Many therapists believe that people with OCD should not seek special accommodations.  They say it will take longer to get relief from OCD if those around you accommodate your symptoms.  Your primary goal must be to learn to manage your OCD so you can live happily and productively in the real world, with all its triggers and stresses.

If your college or university has a learning skills center, check out what they offer.  You may benefit from using their resources to acquire study skills, learn how to prepare for and take exams and figure out ways to decrease test anxiety.  This type of training is not a formal accommodation—it can help you succeed academically without enabling your OCD.

If your grades are slipping, however, because of your OCD, and some temporary accommodations could allow you to function in school while you get cognitive behavior therapy, it might be a trade-off that makes sense. 

At most schools, the disabilities office or Dean of Students is responsible for making these decisions.  To obtain disability accommodations at the college level, you must be prepared to:

  • Identify yourself to the disabilities office and provide documentation from a professional about your disability.
  • Document how the disability impacts your functionality, such as learning, studying, working or taking care of yourself
  • Explain your need for accommodations, modifications, aids and services to participate in the college’s programs and activities.

By law, the purpose of the accommodations must be to allow the student with a disability equal access to programs and services.  Schools may refuse accommodations under certain circumstances (for example, if it substantially changes an essential aspect of a course or if they do not understand your need for accommodations).

This means that you must get a diagnosis and documentation from your doctor or therapist, and you must understand and be able to discuss your disability.  This is being an advocate for yourself.

If you had waivers or accommodations in high school (an IEP or a 504 plan, for example), they don’t transfer because different laws apply at the college level.  Your high school plan may provide an outline of what might work at college, and be used by school administration to come up with a new plan for you.

The law also requires schools to maintain the privacy of students with disabilities.  This means it does not become part of your transcripts or permanent record at the school.

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