for Postsecondary Students
Frequently Asked Questions
What is self-determination?
Many researchers have defined the concept of self-determination.
This Web topic will use the definition developed by Martin and Huber
Marshall (1995). They define self-determination as consisting of
- Self-awareness is the ability to
identify and understand one’s needs, interests, strengths,
limitations, and values.
- Self-advocacy refers to the ability
to express one’s needs, wants, and rights in an assertive
- Self-efficacy is commonly referred
to as self-confidence—the belief that one will attain a
- Decision-making is the complex skill
of setting goals, planning actions, identifying information to
make decisions, and choosing the best option to reach one’s
- Independent performance is the ability
to start and complete tasks through self-management strategies.
- Self-evaluation includes the ability
to self-assess performance and determine when a goal or task has
been satisfactorily completed.
- Adjustment is the process of revising
one’s goals and plans to improve performance or success.
Why is self-determination important for students with disabilities
in postsecondary education?
Self-determination is a critical skill for success of students
with disabilities in postsecondary education, because after high
school graduation they are no longer entitled to the services detailed
in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act of 2004. In the
postsecondary setting, people with disabilities must disclose and
describe their need for accommodations to the Office of Disability
Services, which determines their eligibility for those accommodations.
Students with disabilities may need to advocate for accommodations
that are not readily offered. They may also need to explain their
accommodations to others, such as professors or roommates.
The elements of self-determination described above are key to
achieving goals. A student in a postsecondary setting must believe
that he or she can be successful, make decisions, act independently,
evaluate and modify performance in various situations as necessary,
and adjust goals and plans to improve performance or success.
What is the relationship between self-determination and locus
A critical factor related to self-determination is locus of control.
Locus of control relates to the location—either external or
internal—in which one places responsibility for events. When
people operate with an external locus of control, they perceive
limited control over what happens to them and believe that outside
sources are responsible for the outcomes they experience. They do
not see themselves as causal agents, but rather as passive recipients
in the events of their lives. In other words, chance, fate, luck,
and the actions of others—which are forces beyond their control—are
perceived as the causal factors in their life experiences, rather
than their own actions.
When individuals operate with an internal locus of control, they
feel they have control over what happens to them, and they can readily
see the relationship between their actions and the outcomes. They
assume the role of causal agent in their own lives, rather than
that of a passive recipient of the actions of others.
Internal locus of control is a necessary foundation for developing
self-determination skills. People with a strong sense of internal
locus of control can reflect on their strengths, limitations, and
needs (self-awareness), learn to assert their needs and rights (self-advocacy),
develop goals, and make decisions. They develop an awareness of
outside forces and internal fears, both barriers to their goals
that may limit success. With this awareness, they can take the necessary
steps to minimize or eliminate these barriers.
What can educators and parents do to encourage self-determination
among secondary school students?
Izzo and Lamb (2002) offer eight suggestions to shift the focus
of education from fostering dependence to encouraging self-determined
independence that results in positive postschool outcomes for students
- Empower parents as partners in promoting self-determination
and career development skills.
- Facilitate student-centered IEP meetings and self-directed learning
- Increase students’ awareness of their disabilities and
- Offer credit-bearing classes in self-determination and careers.
- Teach and reinforce students to develop an internal locus of
- Teach and promote self-advocacy skills and support student application
of those skills.
- Infuse self-determination and career development skills into
the general education curriculum.
- Develop and implement work-based learning programs for all students.
What can students with disabilities in postsecondary settings
do to increase self-determination skills?
Students with disabilities can work with both college disabilities
counselors and vocational rehabilitation counselors to develop a
plan to increase their self-determination skills. Frequently, community
colleges offer freshmen career-planning classes. These classes can
help students develop the independent-learning skills and personal
responsibility that are necessary for success in postsecondary education.
Students with disabilities who work with counselors to resolve difficulties
in learning or increase school success can renew a positive outlook
and create a vision for success. Personal counselors can also help
students develop realistic goals and action plans for a more successful
Students with disabilities who are contemplating higher education
should also participate in their IEP planning meetings, making their
needs and preferences heard, and practicing good communication and
problem-solving skills with the adults on their team.
Other pages on this topic:
^ Top of Page ^