College Options for Autistic Students

Many families of children on the autism spectrum choose to homeschool. Parents are aware the high school years is the time to begin planning for a successful college transition. As the autism spectrum is wide and student needs vary, there is no one perfect college approach. Some students may be successful attending a four year college program without dedicated support services. Other autistic homeschoolers will opt to live at home and attend community college. A third option that homeschooling families may wish to consider are the growing number of support programs housed at four year colleges.

Research finds that the college graduation research for students with autism is about 38%. These low graduation rates suggest the need for careful planning. Many autistic individuals have average to high intelligence, so failure to graduate college can be a result of insufficient support and resources. Hoping to level the playing field and improve odds of graduation and career success families are increasingly looking at support programs houses on college campuses.

Autism Services Offered at Some Colleges Include:

  • Group counseling or social skills courses
  • Private dorm rooms
  • Trained peer mentors (often graduate students in counseling)
  • Academic support including tutoring and supervised study hours
  • Access to psychological services if needed
  • Social support groups or networks
  • Coordination with college disability office
  • Case management services

College Different than K-12
While parents may be familiar with the sorts of disabilities services typically offered in K-12, they should be aware that in colleges do not have the same obligations. Colleges are required to follow the American with Disabilities Act. The ADA focuses on providing accommodations, not on providing free supportive services. This means that colleges are not required to offer these sorts of comprehensive programs to support students with learning disabilities.

Autism Services Vary
Because these services are not legally required they are offered only at some colleges and often the cost is not included in tuition. Most typically these programs cost between two to four thousand dollars a semester. Some programs are primarily focused on the freshman year and others operate for all four years. While these programs may add significantly to the cost of college, they can make the difference between college success and failure.

College Programs For Students With Autism
Here is an overview of some of the most well known college support programs for students with autism. Eligibility guidelines vary by program. Many require a separate application and they make their admissions decisions separately from university admissions.

Marshall University: The College Support program located in West Virginia has been in existence since 2002. It provides student support in four areas: planning, academic support, social support and independent living. Prior to the student beginning college parents are involved in working with the staff and student in planning. Marshall also offers a summer college transition program for students on the spectrum. A promotional video program for the program provides more detail.

Rochester Institute of Technology: Spectrum Support Program is one of the largest programs in the country provides support to “highly capable college students on the autism spectrum.” The program utilizes trained graduate students to act as peer mentors.

St. Joseph University: The ASPIRE program located at St. Joe’s operates in conjunction with the Kinney Center for Autism in Philadelphia. Students enrolled in the program meet weekly with a staff member case manager and also work with Peer Mentors. Students have access to academic supports such as supervised study hall and social supports such as social skills training.

Texas Tech: CASE – Connections for Academic Success and Employment. Intensive support for students with autism and other developmental disabilities. Students work with a learning specialist who helps students coordinate with the disability office. Learning specialists address life concerns including friendships, self-care, communication with parents. CASE also provides career training, resume development, interview practice, and so forth. Families pay a separate fee each semester for these services.

Western Kentucky University: The CAP circle of support provides three main services: private dorm room, mentorship, and mandatory supervised studying which includes work on executive function skills like organization and study skills. This New York Times article provides a helpful overview of WKU’s program.

Fairleigh Dickinson University: The COMPASS program located in New Jersey provides a variety of supports. Prior to enrollment students participate in specialized orientation programs that involve staff from various sectors of campus. During the school year students receive: two hours of individualized academic support services, one hour of group therapy, and one hour of individual therapy. Students are also matched to an peer mentor, an upperclass student who aids in social adjustment.

The University of Tennessee, Chattanooga: The MOSAIC program is a comprehensive four year program for students with autism. Students enrolled in the course will take credit bearing courses to build up skill areas including social skills, academic skills, and career readiness. Individual academic mentoring and lifecoaching are included as well as required supervised study hours.

To learn about check out this directory of more than 60 college programs for students with autism.


  • Jason has been homeschooled since 5th grade and he’s going to need something like this if he can go to a four year college. He’s 14 is it too early to visit a program like this?

  • Hi Stacy,
    A lot of changes can happen between ages 14 and 18, but it is not too early to start to understand the range of options available. Understanding what is expected will help you plan your homeschooling too. Thanks for reading.

  • Do you know of any options on the West Coast? I live in Oregon, my son is 16 and has never been away from home more than a few days. We have a few years to plan for college; but it is coming up fast.

    • Hi Dan,
      Thanks for your question. It depends on the geographic region and individual factors like major and level of services needed. But, just generally in the West it may be good to look at University of Arizona which has a well-know learning disabilities program. The College Internship Program is a much more intensive (and expensive) level of services and is available in the region including at UC Berkeley. It may also be good to look at some smaller schools that are known for being supportive generally to students with disabilities. U of Puget Sound may be worth a visit. You can always set up visits with disability services while touring campuses. Setting up a time to talk to the disability office at a local college can be a good place to start.
      Best wishes!

    • Just an idea for those that can’t afford the intensive supports needed. I have a son that started as a dual-enrolled high school student through an Oregon Early College Program. I hired someone to provide the supports. Lots of good training online (AIMS Web) on autism and each person that worked with him had to take 20-30 hours. I tended to hire people or had strengths in my son’s weak areas and, since my son loves the outdoors, someone that loves the outdoors. I explained their role wasn’t “tutoring” but a “mentor,” “academic coach,” and executive skills trainer. He started out with 3 college credits in remedial coursework and now has around 90…He’ll still need supports when he goes to college “officially” but not as intensively. Sadly, there are few programs on the West Coast. I know that Southern Oregon University started one with a focus on executive function skills but a more holistic approach needs to be taken for many young adults on the autism spectrum to be successful.

      • Thank you for your comment MMJ. Those are great suggestions! It can work very well to start out with a single college class with support and transition gently to greater independence.

  • My son is 18 and will graduate from public high school in the spring of 2014. He very much wants to go to college (he is a very average student with a gift for writing computer code and programming); however, he believes that he is going to Harvard…we live in Central Florida. I would like to find a college with an established aspergers support system that closer than West Virginia. Marshall seems fantastic to me…but my son wants nothing to do with it.

    I need help…anyone???

    Grateful but desperate,


    • Hi Holly,
      It is hard to offer more specific advice without knowing more about the details of your situation. I can say though that whatever option is selected your son has to “buy-in” to some extent if it is to be successful. It would be good to try to work with whatever team he has in place now (school staff, psychologist, etc.) to explore options as well. There are also some summer transition programs that might be a fit.
      Best wishes,

    • Holly,
      Wondering how things worked out for you and your child as far as college. My child is 16, Aspie, and does well enough (A’s B’S and mostly with a tutor) and in general Ed classes. Did you find a program closer than Marshall that fit his needs? I am considering trying to keep him close to home the first year or two to help monitor his progress if he is agreeable but would like him to to be able to try to transition. Problem is that he needs help (reminders) with hygiene…and getting places on time and reminders to do school work in a timely manner. Would very much appreciate any info you could share. -Jeanine

  • Hi, my son is 22 and he has had a rough time holding a job. He is currently pursuing the thoughts of going to college to be a vetinarians assistant. We have pretty much got the tuition and everything figured out…but we are not going to be abl to afford the $400 a month dorm. I really do not want to start him out with a lot of debt when he gets done with school…as he has several things against him as an aspbergers kid. Do you have any idea of any sort of help….grant or anything that will help him to attend college? I would appreciate any info to make a miracle come true.

    • Hi Lois,
      It is great you are doing your research. A first step is to look at the difference between a vet assistant and a vet tech. Most often vet assistant jobs just require a high school degree and on the job training. The certified vet tech is a two year degree and students enrolled in an accredited program can apply for financial aid by filling out the FAFSA. Be warned though there are some for profit programs out there that claim to provide various kinds of certification that really aren’t very meaningful. So it is important to look at the accreditation carefully. Here’s a source that might help with that.

      One option your son might consider is working part time at a vet office. That would help him evaluate the career options and earn money for some of his living expenses too.

      Best wishes!

  • Our son is 19 and will graduate from high school this May. He has always been very adamant about attending our church university in Nashville,TN. We have visited there in the past month and spoke at length with the faculty/student adviser about accommodations we felt had to be covered and addressed should Jacob be admitted there. It was a little down-heartening because I couldn’t seem to get them to understand that Jacob is bright but when Asperger’s is added to ADHD, anxiety issues and learning disabilities, then he needs extra help. We have committed to allowing Jacob to attend at least one semester there since open enrollment was already closed when our older son found your website. What I would like to know, are there basic classes that Jacob may take this fall at Trevecca that will transfer to Marshall if we are chosen for the 2015 year? Could we get a list of them and maybe make an appointment to visit on campus. I appreciate whatever you have to offer in information.
    Sharon Morgan

    • Hi Sharon,
      It is frustrating that the local school doesn’t understand disabilities better.
      It is a smart idea to plan credits carefully if he plans to transfer. If he’s looking at Marshall I suggest calling up the College Program for Students with Autism at 304-696-2332. They may be able to help you coordinate with the Registrar’s office to plan out courses that are likely to transfer and meet requirements. They should also be able to help you set up a good time to visit. Here’s the link for the contact who arranges visits.
      Best of luck to your son!

    • I recommend you look at the University of Tennessee in Chattanooga. They have a really good autism support program.

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