Updated: May 29
If you are a student with autism, you may be anxious about finding a college that will allow you to thrive, both academically and socially. To ensure you are happy through your undergraduate studies, it is important you build (and apply to) a list of universities that will be fully supportive of your whole self. In order to select colleges that will best fit your individual needs, use the below considerations and ideas to evaluate universities.
Ensure Academic, Financial and Environmental Fit
Like all students applying to college, reviewing schools based on academic and research opportunities available is incredibly important. Make sure each school on your college list offers the courses you want to study, including the majors and minors available. Also, consider the structure of the courses---are the classes big or small? are they lecture, hands-on or discussion-based? Does the school offer courses that are designed to fit your learning style---are they month-long, trimester-based or semester-based? are they created for auditory, visual or kinesthetic learners?
Secondly, have a conversation with your parents about your annual college budget. Make sure the cost of attendance at each school on your college list meets your family's financial expectations. You will want to consider both tuition and room/board fees, as well as the costs associated with autism/disability-related services (if needed). While some disability services are included in tuition (e.g. extended time, quiet room, note-taker/scribe, oral examinations, use of adaptive/assistive technology), other comprehensive services may require further fees (e.g. social support programs, executive function coaching).
In addition to academic and financial fit, take an in-person campus tour of the schools you are interested in. Make sure you like the feeling/vibe on campus, and you will be able to find a group of people (staff and peers) that will make you feel welcomed and supported. During your visit, you can visit the dining halls - will you be comfortable with the food options available? Can the school accommodate any dietary restrictions? You can also visit the highly populated student areas (dining halls, libraries, study areas, resident halls) - will you be comfortable with the smells and/or noise levels? Also, take note of the transportation options to/from campus. Can you get home easily?
Review Academic Accommodations & Social Support Available
The type of student who may or may not be successful at a particular university can vary tremendously. This variance can occur based on the type and level of services offered. While some institutions offer comprehensive programming for students with autism, others take a one-size fits all approach.
To truly know if a school is right for you: Either over the phone or in-person, schedule a meeting with the Office of Disabilities Services at the schools you are interested in. In this meeting, you can ask questions about the college services and identify if they meet your specific academic and social needs. You can even bring your high school IEP into the meeting, and ask if they can review it, and identify what accommodations and programming you may qualify for (or benefit from) at their university.
General Questions for the Office of Disabilities:
What is the profile of the autistic student that typically thrives at your school?
What is the retention rate of your autistic students?
What is the academic and professional background Disability Office staff?
What is the training of the faculty and campus-wide staff about autism?
What residential accommodations may be available? Can I get my own room?
What career or interview prep services are available to autistic students?
What clubs are available on-campus for autistic students?
During the application process, can service entrance requirements be waived (e.g. foreign language requirements)?
What is the process to qualify for services? Based on my background, what services, accommodations or programming may I qualify for?
Academic Accommodation & Services Questions for the Office of Disabilities:
How are professors communicated about a student's individual accommodations and needs? Is the student required to self-advocate in each class and/or is assistance provided by support staff?
Does the college offer academic course waivers (ex: foreign language)?
Are textbooks available on tape?
What types of adaptive/assistive technology does the university have?
What is your process for scribe/note-takers for classes? Are class notes provided to students anonymously?
What is the process for obtaining extended time and/or a quiet room to take tests?
Are executive function support services available? (Is there a fee?)
Autism-Specific Support Program Questions for the Office of Disabilities:
Are social groups or social skills coaching available?
What is the student to support specialist ratio?
What is the training of the staff who aid autistic students?
Is assistance provided one-to-one or in a group?
What fees (if any) are associated with your support services?
How established is the support services program?
Are services offered based on an assigned time or drop in basis?
Are their specialized summer orientation programs available?
Due to the social, emotional, independent-living, self-advocacy, and communication challenges that exist in college, it is truly important that you take the time to assess colleges and find the right overall fit.
You got this 💪 You have incredibly strengths and colleges will be lucky to welcome you to their universities.
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Sami has worked with students since she graduated college in 2010, helping them through the full college application process---including career search, college list selection and essay writing. Sami is highly passionate about supporting students with autism, as her amazing, chatty, gymnastics-loving son is autistic.