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National Center on Secondary Education and Transition: Creating opportunities for youth with disabilities to achieve successful futures.

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E-mail this pageSelf-Determination for Postsecondary Students

This Web topic explores how self-determination—the combined skills of self-awareness, self-advocacy, self-efficacy, decision-making, independent performance, self-evaluation, and adjustment—can contribute to an individual’s ability to establish and achieve his or her goals during and after higher education experiences.


Postsecondary education and training is considered a gateway to high-skilled jobs of the 21st century. Although more students with disabilities are entering higher education than in the past, the majority leave before completing their program or degree. One reason for this is that many youth with disabilities lack the self-determination skills—such as the ability to articulate their strengths and advocate for their needs—necessary for success in postsecondary education and ultimately the workplace. Without necessary accommodations, students with disabilities may become discouraged with their lack of success and may discontinue their postsecondary education.

A possible explanation for students’ limited development of self-determination is that many educators are unaware of how to help them develop such skills. In addition, students may have limited opportunities to make choices and act independently. As a result, many students with disabilities exit high school with little experience in self-advocacy, which is an important self-determination skill for negotiating new responsibilities in postsecondary education and the workplace.

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National Center on Secondary Education and Transition
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This page was last updated on January 12, 2022.