College remains a hurdle for many with disabilities. Now a new study offers insight on what separates individuals with special needs who are ultimately successful in higher education from those who are not.

In interviews with recent graduates with disabilities, researchers found that students who earned degrees shared the ability to self-advocate and persevere. They also had good insight into their abilities and limitations and often cited a strong relationship with at least one faculty or staff member on campus.

Many overcame significant challenges to succeed in college, with some saying that they earned degrees even after being told by high school teachers that they were not “college material.”

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The study included interviews with 20 students with a wide range of physical, emotional and cognitive disabilities who graduated from New Jersey colleges between May 2008 and May 2012.

“The challenges students with disabilities face on college campuses are well documented but little is known about the experience of those students who successfully completed college,” said Paula Barber of Rutgers University who led the study which was published in the Disability and Work research report, a joint publication of Rutgers and the Kessler Foundation.

“To level the playing field for people with disabilities by encouraging college education and completion, it is essential to learn the factors supporting degree completion,” Barber said.