It is estimated that 10-14% of current college students have Autism Spectrum Disorder. In numbers, that’s 1.8 million to 2.6 million college students on the Autism Spectrum, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. And with current numbers from the Center for Disease Control suggesting that 1 in every 59 children are now diagnosed with autism, those numbers are set to increase in the very near future. That’s why it’s more important than ever for colleges and universities across the country to adapt, and to provide students on the Autism Spectrum with the support, facilities, and perhaps most importantly, the opportunities needed to succeed.
Of course, many American colleges and universities are already doing just that, and below we’ve profiled the 30 best colleges for students on the Autism Spectrum. To determine our ranking, we considered a variety of factors, including:
- Specialized Programs: We looked specifically for colleges with specialized programs offering resources and support to students with autism. We’ve linked readers to these programs in each profile.
- Overall Autism Friendliness: We also looked for other forms of “autism friendliness” on campus, including buddy systems, special events designed to bring all members of the student body together, housing accommodations, and more. A student on the Autism Spectrum should feel welcome anywhere and everywhere on their college campus.
- Scholarships and Financial Support: Many of the colleges profiled below offer special scholarships to students with Autism Spectrum Disorder.
- The “It” Factor: Finally, we considered any other notable offerings. Examples might include research programs related to autism, schools established especially for those with learning differences, or courses on autism as a subject, among other things.
Because every student with autism requires something different from their eventual college and that college’s support systems, our list is organized by alphabetical order.
Appalachian State University
Boone, North Carolina
Appalachian State University is home to a chapter of Autism Speaks Inc., the largest autism advocacy organization in the country. That alone makes this large public school an easy addition to our list of the best colleges for students on the Autism Spectrum. Through Autism Speaks U, Appalachian State students with autism have access to:
- special events
- various social networking efforts
- academic and career services
- counseling, and much more
The university itself also supports various research efforts regarding autism, offers courses on Autism Spectrum Disorders as a subject, and even provides eligible students with Autism Spectrum Disorders Certificates.
Beacon College is unique among schools on our list of the best colleges for students on the Autism Spectrum. Founded in 1989, Beacon College is the first accredited college established specifically for students with autism, dyslexia, ADHD, and other learning differences. Beacon offers a limited range of Associate of Arts and Bachelor of Arts degrees in subjects such as:
- computer information systems
- human services
Students are assisted in everything from academic advisement to career development by peer tutors and staff learning specialists. A counseling center offers more in-depth, one-on-one sessions.
The largest of colleges making up the Washington Community and Technical Colleges system, Bellevue College offers its students a variety of degree and learning options. Students may attend classes on campus or online as they pursue:
- two-year associate degrees
- technical degrees and certificates
- four-year bachelor degrees
Special courses designed specifically for students on the Autism Spectrum are available through the college’s Autism Spectrum Navigators program (ASN). These courses are meant to coincide with one’s regular class schedule, and cover everything from skill development to career preparation. Through the program, students also receive support through teachers and peer mentors. Uniquely, the ASN program is available to students on the Autism Spectrum at no additional charge.
Thanks to programs like Strategic Education Services (SES), elite colleges like Boston University are within grasp of students with Autism Spectrum Disorders. SES is designed to assist students with all kinds of psychiatric, attentional, and developmental disabilities. It assists students in highly individualized ways. Boston University students on the Autism Spectrum can expect to receive assistance with everything from self-advocacy, to planning and organization, to study and test taking, and everything in between. Boston University is also one of the nation’s leading institutions for research on autism.
Defiance College is a private liberal arts school affiliated with the United Church of Christ. It is home to the ASD Affinity Program. This unique program helps students with Autism Spectrum Disorders to focus on their academic success, social and personal growth, and ability to live on their own. Each year, students meet one-on-one with program staff to determine their individual goals and needs for the upcoming academic year. This meeting helps the program tailor its services to each individual student. Additionally, Resident Assistants (RAs) in the various dorms on campus are trained to know when and how to offer support and interventions.
Philadelphia’s Drexel University is a private research university offering more than 70 different undergraduate degree programs. Drexel intends for students on the Autism Spectrum to feel right at home on campus, and therefore offers the Drexel Autism Support Program (DASP). Through this unique program, students receive individualized, one-on-one coaching and peer mentoring, access to seminars and developmental workshops, and any necessary help with communication and self-advocacy.
Eastern Illinois University
Eastern Illinois University is a public, state university with approximately 8,000 students, the vast majority of whom are undergraduates. University students on the Autism Spectrum have access to the Students with Autism Transitional Education Program (STEP). This is an impressive comprehensive program which aims to empower anyone with autism. The program achieves this through early move in at the beginning of the academic year, single-dorm options, regularly scheduled study tables, and even an individualized physical fitness program, to name but a few things.
Eastern Michigan University
Eastern Michigan University (EMU) is a large public research university which offers more than 200 undergraduate majors and minors. Its College Supports Program is nationally recognized as one of the best programs of its kind. Among other things, the program exists to:
- assist EMU students with Autism Spectrum Disorders
- increase training of faculty and staff regarding Autism Spectrum Disorders
- improve the coordination of university services
Students participating in the program pay an average of $6,250 per semester (plans are individualized and priced accordingly) to receive such services as:
- academic coaching
- ongoing consultations
- daily check-in
- writing support and more.
Saint Davids, Pennsylvania
Eastern University is a private Christian university affiliated with the American Baptist Churches USA. Its beautiful campus in Saints Davids, Pennsylvania is home to The College Success Program. This aptly named on-campus program aims to help students with autism find success in the transition to college and beyond. To achieve this goal, The College Success Program offers students on the Autism Spectrum:
- group meetings and one-on-one help
- study sessions and tutoring
- emotional support through peer mentorship.
Edinboro University is a one of the schools in the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education. About 4,500 students are enrolled in Edinboro, most of whom are undergraduates pursuing a bachelor’s degree. For students on the Autism Spectrum, Edinboro offers comprehensive support through its BASIS Program. Standing for Boro Autism Support Initiative for Success, BASIS provides peer mentoring, one-on-one coaching, and help with daily living skills. It also facilitates any special accommodations that are needed in housing, the classroom, or for testing.
Fairleigh Dickinson University
Madison and Florham Park, New Jersey
High-functioning students on the Autism Spectrum, and who attend the main Florham campus at Fairleigh Dickinson University, may apply to be a part of the university’s COMPASS program. The program accepts a maximum of six students each incoming class, ensuring an intimate and individualized network of support. For the first two years students will get support in the form of :
- weekly group therapy sessions
- one hour per week of individual counseling
- two hours per week of hands-on academic suppor
. As of September 2019, the fee for the COMPASS program is $7,072 per academic year.
George Mason University
George Mason University, a public research university which consistently ranks amongst the best schools in the country, is home to the Mason Autism Support Initiative (MASI). As of the 2019-2020 academic year, MASI has an annual fee of $6,600, but provides participating students with myriad resources. Run by a team of trained professional, MASI offers students with autism:
- peer mentoring
- classes and seminars on skill development
- a variety of social events
- access to a graduate student or professional to help with an individualized learning strategy.
Grand Valley State University
Located near the city of Grand Rapids, Grand Valley State University is a public liberal arts university, and one of the best colleges for students on the Autism Spectrum. One reason for this designation is the university’s Autism Education Center, home to the state-funded Statewide Autism Resources and Training Project. Better known as START, this program collaborates with various networks and researchers. They bring support and resources to students and others in the local community with Autism Spectrum Disorders. For students at Grand Valley State University, this means access to peer mentors and a buddy program, and assistance with communication and self-advocacy, among other things.
Kent State University
Kent State University, one of the largest universities in the state of Ohio, is a public research institution offering upwards of 300 different degree programs, including 250 bachelor’s degrees. The school offers a variety of autism initiatives to assist students who are on the Autism Spectrum. These initiatives include the Autism Advocates Program, which assists students with their personal and academic goals. Partnering for Achievement and Learning Success (P.A.L.S.), pairs students with a neurotypical “buddy” to help them navigate the social scene. College Success for Students with Asperger’s or Autism provides general support, job assistance, and training in skills such as self-advocacy.
Like Beacon College, Landmark College in Putney, Vermont is a private college exclusively for those with autism and other learning disabilities. Thus, faculty and staff members are specially trained in teaching and interacting with students on the Autism Spectrum. Each student has an advisor to help with academic planning and career goals. The PEERS program is beneficial for students who want to develop their social skills. Other resources and services include:
- mental health counselors
- specialized internships
- personalized coaches.
Huntington, West Virginia
Marshall University is a large public research university in the city of Huntington, West Virginia. It’s known for its top programs in business, digital forensics, and medicine, to name but a few. The university is also home to the West Virginia Autism Training Center (WV ATC). The Center helps West Virginians with Autism Spectrum Disorders pursue a life of quality. The WV ATC has a college program specifically for students at Marshall. As of September 2019, participation in the program is $4,500 per semester. Involved students receive personalized assistance in achieving their personal, academic, and professional goals.
Mercyhurst University is a private liberal arts college affiliated with the Roman Catholic Church. Upon creating the Autism Initiative at Mercyhurst, the university consulted every administrative office on campus to build the most comprehensive program possible. The result is a range of services meant to support students with autism in every aspect of their life on campus and beyond. Services include:
- early registration for classes
- one-on-one guidance
- group workshops for things like social skills, special housing options, and more.
New Brunswick, New Jersey
The largest university in New Jersey is also one of the most autism-friendly universities in the country! Rutgers is home to the Douglass Developmental Disabilities Center (DDDC), a unique ABA program which serves the needs of those on the Autism Spectrum. The DDDC offers a ton of support for students with Autism Spectrum Disorders. It also facilitates various accommodations which make life a little easier for those who need it. Examples might include:
- arranging a single dorm
- pairing students with neurotypical mentors who can help expand their social network
- arranging a peer mentor to attend club meetings with them for support.
Saint Joseph’s University
Saint Joseph’s University, a private Jesuit school, is home to The Kinney Center for Autism Education and Support. Through The Kinney Center’s ASPIRE program, Saint Joseph’s students who are on the Autism Spectrum can expect a wide range of support. Services begin the summer before a student’s freshman year, during which time he or she will attend the College Bound Retreat. This two-day retreat allows students the opportunity to:
- get to know the campus
- get a taste of what it’s like to live away from home
- learn about the various degree programs and extracurricular activities
- take part in seminars about succeeding in college and on a college campus
During the school year, the ASPIRE program acts as a vital liaison among students, professors, and staff members.
Syracuse, New York
Syracuse University is another top-ranked school which invites students on the Autism Spectrum to join its student body. The Lawrence B. Taishoff Center for Inclusive Higher Learningis a campus-based institute. It serves students with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Students with Autism Spectrum Disorders receive:
- one-on-one mentoring
- individualized academic advisement
- classes and seminars designed specifically for the differently abled
Additionally, Syracuse boasts on-campus clubs, high-school-to-college transition programs, and scholarship programs aimed directly at those on the Autism Spectrum.
University of Alabama
Thanks to programs like the ASD College Transition and Support (UA-ACTS) program, students with Autism Spectrum Disorders can safely and successfully attend a large university like the University of Alabama. The program helps students acclimate to college life on campus. It provides such services as:
- routine check-ins
- one-on-one academic advising
- guidance in communicating with peers and professors
- mental health care, and more.
University of Arizona
University of Arizona is a large public university known for its many research initiatives, and for its strong degree programs in science, technology, and engineering. Indeed, NASA gives more money to research programs at University of Arizona than it does to any other university in the country. Students with autism who have grand ambitions of working in these industries will be happy to know that University of Arizona is one of the best colleges for students on the Autism Spectrum. A number of scholarships are available to students with autism. Various transition programs have been implemented to ensure all students feel comfortable and included on campus. Furthermore, University of Arizona is home to the UA Autism Collective. This is a group of highly talented researchers and practitioners who are “seeking a spectrum of solutions” to the issues that typically accompany autism and other neurodevelopmental disorders.
University of Connecticut
For students with Autism Spectrum Disorder attending University of Connecticut, the support begins on day one. While attending the freshmen seminar, students on the Autism Spectrum are paired with staff members and mentors who will guide them through the transition to life as a college student. Throughout their undergraduate career, students can continue to work with the Beyond Access program. Through this program, they can get support and direction in anything from developing the skills of daily life to preparing for a career. Joining the program costs anywhere from $1,800 to $3,600 per semester, and is dependent upon the number of hours each week a student would like to work with their trained Strategy Instructor.
University of Idaho
University of Idaho is home to The Raven Scholars Program, an individualized, supported-transition program for students with Autism Spectrum Disorders. Through this impressive program, students with autism are offered:
- daily or weekly planning meetings
- life and social skills classes
- coordination of campus services
- peer mentoring, among other things
Additionally, the student-run Autism Spectrum Alliance works to promote the education of and dispel any myths surrounding Autism Spectrum Disorders. This is done through various social events and volunteer opportunities.
University of Michigan
Ann Arbor, Michigan
A Public Ivy, University of Michigan is respected around the world for its research in the fields of medicine, psychology, and social work. Not surprisingly, the university has gone to great lengths to ensure students of all neuro types are comfortable on campus. Through Services for Students with Disabilities, Michigan students on the Autism Spectrum can receive support in the form of:
- housing accommodations
- academic counseling
- exam proctors
- scholarship opportunities
- access to The Autism Spectrum Self-Advocacy Group (CAPS).
University of Montana
As the flagship of the Montana University System, University of Montana in Missoula is a large public research university. Montana’s MOSSAIC Program is the acronym for “Mentoring, Organization, and Social Support for Autism Inclusion on Campus.” The program is designed to help any student with an Autism Spectrum Disorder feel at home on campus. For those who have language or speech issues, direct speech-language therapy is offered through the program. MOSSAIC is organized by trained professionals, but uses willing neurotypical classmates as an additional mode of support.
University of West Florida
Located on a natural preserve in beautiful Pensacola, University of West Florida is a mid-sized member of the public State University System of Florida. Through the Argos for Autism program, students on the Autism Spectrum receive one-on-one social, academic, and career support. Students with autism may also move onto campus early, an opportunity which includes two days of assistance in learning how to live on one’s own.
Utah State University
Utah State University is a large public university well known for its various research programs. Indeed, when it comes to research, Utah State University is classified as “R2: Doctoral Universities — High research activity.” Some of this research has to do with Autism Spectrum Disorders. The research is conducted via the highly respected Autism Support Services in Education, Research, and Training Program, better known as ASSERT. Utah State University students who are themselves affected by Autism Spectrum Disorders will find support via the Disability Resource Center. Examples of support and resources include:
- housing accommodations
- transition services
- help with communication and self-advocacy
- general assistance with organization and other life skills, among other things.
Western Kentucky University
Bowling Green, Kentucky
Western Kentucky University (WKU), a large public university in the city of Bowling Green, has been nationally recognized for the support systems it has in place for its students on the Autism Spectrum. For example, WKU is home to the Kelly Autism Program. This comprehensive program offers students with autism:
- job coaching
- special social activities
- one-on-one academic planning, and more
Through the program, each student with autism is assigned a mentor who helps them with navigating the campus social scenes and otherwise acclimate to life on a college campus.
Western Michigan University
Students with autism who attend Western Michigan University jump right into life on campus, thanks to the Autism Services Center. Participating students have the option of arriving to campus during the summer, weeks before classes begin. By doing this, they can to settle in, enroll in classes, and even complete a part-time work/study job designed to help them learn the campus. Once school begins, available services expand to peer mentoring through:
- the “Best Buddies program
- organized social events
- informational services such as “Dating 101” and “Test Taking Skills.”