Earlier this year, we produced a ranking of the 30 best colleges for students on the Autism Spectrum. But let’s face it: of the estimated 1.8 million to 2.6 million current college students with autism, many simply cannot attend large universities, no matter how innovative a school’s support systems. Many colleges and universities are just too big and overwhelming.
That’s why we’ve put together a list of the 30 best small colleges for students on the Autism Spectrum. To ensure we were compiling a helpful and accurate list, we considered factors such as the following:
- Size: Most importantly for this list, we only considered schools with a student population of 10,000 or fewer.
- Specialized Programs: We looked for colleges and universities which offer support and resources specific to students on the Autism Spectrum. In each school’s profile, we’ve provided a link to these programs.
- Overall Autism Friendliness: We also looked for additional examples of “autism friendliness,” such as buddy systems, special housing accommodations, and events meant to bring all students together. We chose colleges and universities where a student with autism will feel comfortable anywhere and everywhere.
- Scholarships and Financial Support: Many of the schools on our list offer scholarships specifically for students on the Autism Spectrum.
- The “It” Factor: Finally, we were sure to consider any other offerings notable for students with autism. Examples might include autism-related research programs, courses on autism, schools founded specifically as a place for those with learning differences, etc.
Because every student on the Autism Spectrum requires something different from their college, we have organized our list of the best small colleges for students on the autism spectrum in alphabetical order.
Garden City, New York
Though its main campus is located in Garden City, the private Adelphi University also has campuses in Manhattan, Suffolk County, and Hudson Valley. This fact makes it an ideal choice of small college for students on the Autism Spectrum who wish to remain close to New York-based family. The university’s Bridges to Adelphi program is thought to be one of the best ASD programs in the country. This is mainly due to the wide variety of services offered, including:
- twice-weekly meetings with an academic coach
- career services like resume writing and practice interviews
- one-on-one counseling.
Founded by the Poor Handmaids of Jesus Christ in 1937, Ancilla College is a two-year private liberal arts college. The college offers Associate degrees in a variety of programs and prepares students to transfer to larger four-year colleges or universities. The Autism Program at Ancilla College (APAC) has been carefully designed to assist students on the Autism Spectrum with communication skills and social interaction. The program provides mentorship, seminars, and various resources and opportunities for participating students to build social, workplace, and academic skills.
Austin Peay State University
Though it’s one of the fastest-growing universities in Tennessee, Austin Peay State University still fits the criteria for our best small colleges for students on the Autism Spectrum. The public university is home to the Full Spectrum Learning program (FSL), a fee-based program ($3,500 per semester) aimed at assisting students on the Autism Spectrum. Participating students have access to:
- peer and faculty mentors
- organized tutors and study sessions
- special classes
- support meetings, among other resources.
Unique among the schools profiled on our list, and indeed amongst the schools in the United States, Beacon College was founded specifically for students with autism, ADHD, dyslexia, and other learning differences. This small college offers a limited selection of Bachelor of Arts and Associate of Arts degrees in subjects like:
- computer information systems
Beacon’s counseling center provides students with one-on-one guidance. Peer tutors and staff learning specialists ensure each student receives the academic and personal advisement they need to succeed in college.
Amherst, New York
- critical thinking
- creative problem solving
- information literacy
- moral and ethical discernment
- civic responsibility, among other subjects
Students may then choose from 30 different undergraduate degree programs. The disability services branch of student services provides Daemen students on the Autism Spectrum with ample support, including:
- individualized transition assistance
- practice with vital life skills
- mentorship opportunities.
Dakota State University
Madison, South Dakota
Dakota State University is a public university of about 3,300 full-time students. It’s located in Madison, South Dakota. The university is perhaps best known as a National Center of Academic Excellence in Information Assurance Education, as designated by the National Security Agency. It has excellent programs in:
- cyber operations
- cyber defense
- information assurance education
- information assurance research
These programs attract quite a few students to the university, many of whom are on the Autism Spectrum. These students have access to the Strong Program. This comprehensive support program provides workshops, peer mentorship, seminars, team-building exercises, and other resources aimed at helping students with ASD find academic and personal success.
Located on small-town Ohio, Defiance College is a private liberal arts college associated with the United Church of Christ. Defiance’s ASD Affinity Program assists students on the Autism Spectrum with:
- social and personal growth
- living on their own
At the beginning of the academic year, participating students meet one-on-one with a member of the program’s staff. Here, they work out their goals for the upcoming school year. For students living on campus, some Resident Assistants have special training in knowing when and how to offer student support and intervention.
Eastern Illinois University
Despite being a public state university (which is typically known for being much larger), Eastern Illinois University is home to approximately 8,000 students. Eastern Illinois University students who are on the Autism Spectrum may participate in the Students with Autism Transitional Education Program (STEP). This comprehensive program supports and empowers anyone on the Spectrum. STEP organizes an early move-in date at the beginning of the year. It offers options for singles dorms, schedules study sessions, and even puts together personalized physical fitness programs.
Saints Davids, Pennsylvania
Eastern University is a beautiful private school affiliated with the American Baptist Churches USA. The university offers students on the Autism Spectrum The College Success Program, which assists students transitioning into life as a college student. Examples of program support include:
- group or one-on-one mentoring sessions
- peer mentorship
- organized study sessions, among other things.
Edinboro University is a school of about 4,500 undergraduate students, the perfect size for a student looking for a small college. Edinboro students on the Autism Spectrum will find support through the university’s BASIS Program. It’s officially known as Boro Autism Support Initiative for Success. BASIS offers such assistance as:
- one-on-one academic coaching
- peer mentorship
- help with daily living skills
The program will also facilitate any accommodations that may be needed for housing, classroom learning, or testing.
New Rochelle, New York
Iona College is yet another private Catholic college to make our list of the best small colleges for students on the Autism Spectrum. The college offers more than 60 undergraduate degree programs, 45 graduate programs, and opportunities to study in Manhattan and/or overseas. Students on the Autism Spectrum have the option of participating in the College Assistance Program (CAP). This fee-based program offers comprehensive support and services to students with diagnosed learning differences.
Kutztown University is a public school. It offers its approximately 7,500 students a variety of degree programs in the liberal arts and sciences, business, education, and the arts, to name but a few. The university also offers The My Place program, a fee-based program that provides structured support to students with Autism Spectrum Disorder and other learning differences. Students in this program receive:
- weekly one-on-one coaching sessions
- participation in fun and helpful group activities
- organized study sessions, among other valuable resources.
Landmark College, located in Putney, Vermont, is another private college founded specifically for students on the Autism Spectrum and with other learning differences. As such, every member of the staff and faculty are trained for working with those on the Autism Spectrum. Each Landmark College student works with their own advisor towards academic, career, and personal goals. Social skills are further developed with help from the PEERS Program.
Students on the Autism Spectrum who are seeking a Catholic education would do well to consider Loras College. It’s the oldest post-secondary institution in Iowa. Loras College is home to approximately 1,600 students, many of whom are on the Autism Spectrum. Through the Autism Resources for Career and Higher Education (ARCH) program, these students receive a full four years of support and mentorship. During one’s freshman year, this support includes a full five-day transition-to-college period. Seniors receive additional assistance with career preparation. ARCH is frequently cited as one of the best ASD programs in the country.
Purchase, New York
Manhattanville College is home to the Pathways and Connections Program (PAC). This is a comprehensive support program for students with Autism Spectrum Disorder and other related disorders. The fee-based program provides participating students with:
- one-on-one counseling
- academic assistance
- peer mentors
- opportunities to attend social events held by nearby Purchase College’s Autism Spectrum Disorders Program
Located in Purchase, New York, Manhattanville College is a private liberal arts school of about 2,500 students.
Mercyhurst University is a private liberal arts college affiliated with the Roman Catholic Church. The university is home to the Autism Initiative at Mercyhurst, a comprehensive program designed with input from every administrative office on campus. Through the program, Mercyhurst students have access to:
- early class registration
- themed group workshops
- one-on-one guidance and mentorship.
Midwestern State University
Wichita Falls, Texas
Midwestern State University, located in Wichita Falls, is home to about 6,000 students. It happens to be Texas’s only public liberal arts school. Students on the Autism Spectrum who attend Midwestern State University find support via the Autism Support Program. This is a comprehensive program that aims to assist students both personally and academically through meetings, accommodations, and other resources. Participating students live in a specific on-campus house with two peer mentors who provide whatever help a student may need.
Like many of the other private Catholic schools to make our list of the best small colleges for students on the Autism Spectrum, Misericordia University in Dallas, Pennsylvania offers its students with autism plenty of resources and support. The university offers two different programs, a summer transition-to-college event, and a chapter of Autism Speaks U. They’re housed in the university’s Autism Center. The Autism for Lifelong Learning (ALL) program organizes individualized education plans to help students ages 14-21 with:
- living skills
- career planning
- self-advocacy skills
Similarly, the Alternative Learners Program (ALP) offers weekly meets for students as they progress through their college careers.
New Concord, Ohio
Muskingum University is a private liberal arts college located in New Concord, Ohio. It’s affiliated with the Presbyterian Church. More than 40 different majors are offered, as are nine pre-professional programs. All students complete a core curriculum based on the tenets of the liberal arts. “Muskies” on the Autism Spectrum will find any support they need in the PLUS Program. The program’s Embedded Learning Strategy is unique in that it “is designed to empower rather than rescue students.” Participating students may be required to shift their mindset. However, they will ultimately grow their social and academic skills, independence, and sense of self-direction, according to the program’s official website.
Nicholls State University
Though it’s part of the large University of Louisiana System of universities, Nicholls State University is on the smaller side. About 6,400 students call Nicholls State home. The vast majority are undergraduates. Students on the Autism Spectrum may receive support through the Bridge to Independence Program. This comprehensive program monitors participating students’ social, academic, and behavioral performances. It then provides individualized support in the form of:
- peer mentors
- campus activities
Purchase College, State University of New York
Purchase, New York
Students with autism who attend SUNY Purchase may pay to have access to the Cornerstone Program. This helpful program provides students on the Autism Spectrum with whatever support they need to attain personal and academic success at Purchase College. The program provides such resources as:
- transition-to-college support
- access to assistive technologies
- personalized guidance and strategies.
Ramapo College of New Jersey
Mahwah, New Jersey
- social and natural sciences
Ramapo students on the Autism Spectrum may participate in the ENHANCE program. According to Ramapo’s website, ENHANCE is “a therapeutic support program which takes a holistic approach and focuses on social, emotional, and organizational growth to assist those students with Autism Spectrum Disorder in adapting and flourishing in college and beyond.” Examples of support include:
- weekly group meetings
- individualized weekly appointments with the Program Coordinator
- special social events
- peer mentors, and much more.
Saint Joseph’s University
Saint Joseph’s University is a private Jesuit university and is home to The Kinney Center for Autism Education and Support. Through The Kinney Center’s ASPIRE Program, students with autism receive all kinds of support and guidance throughout the year. Indeed, ASPIRE works with both students and staff to ensure the student receives the support he or she needs in and out of the classroom. The program also puts together the College Bound Retreat for incoming freshmen each year. The two-day retreat allows students on the Spectrum the opportunity to:
- get to know the campus
- learn about the different degree options
- sign up for extracurricular activities
- try out living away from home
- attend seminars on success as a college student.
Seattle Central College
- international students
- immigrant and refugee students
- those on the Autism Spectrum
That latter group is supported by the college’s SAILS program — that is, Supported Academics and Independent Living Services. This fee-based program is $2,180 per quarter. It includes:
- personalized academic coaching
- weekly tutoring sessions
- vocational readiness training
- job placement assistance, and much more.
Slippery Rock University
Slippery Rock, Pennsylvania
At Slippery Rock University, students on the Autism Spectrum are offered ample support through the university’s ATLAS Program. Meetings, seminars, resources, and special events are routinely organized to ensure students successfully transition in and out of college. Slippery Rock University is a member of the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education and enrolls approximately 9,000 students.
St. Norbert College
De Pere, Wisconsin
St. Norbert College in De Pere, Wisconsin is a private Catholic college that focuses on the liberal arts. About 2,100 full-time students are enrolled at St. Norbert, including some on the Autism Spectrum. For these students, the college offers ongoing ASD support in the form of:
- advocacy, and more
Additionally, faculty and staff are trained by counselors on the best ways to work with students with autism.
Trinity International University
For Christian students interested in attending an evangelical Christian university, there is Trinity International University in Deerfield, Illinois. Home to undergraduate and graduate schools, a law school (located in California), and a theological seminary, Trinity International University is a very supportive place for students with Autism Spectrum Disorders. This is due in large part to the university’s Access program, which aims to assist ASD students with “academic success, social success, and spiritual growth.” Services offered in this fee-based program include:
- one-on-one mentoring
- peer mentoring
- support groups
- special social events
- organized study sessions.
University of Houston, Clear Lake
University of Houston, Clear Lake is one of four schools comprising the University of Houston System. Home to nearly 9,000 students, the university offers 97 different degree programs. For its students on the Autism Spectrum, the university organizes the Connecting to College program (CtC), which provides any student who needs it with additional support both academic and personal. CtC is an off-shoot of the university’s Center for Autism and Developmental Disabilities. Its services are provided in cooperation with:
- Counseling Services
- the Student Success Center
- Career Services
- Disability Services.
University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma
University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma happens to be the state’s only public school which focuses solely on the liberal arts. The university’s approximately 900 students have 22 majors and a selection of pre-professional programs to choose from. For students on the Autism Spectrum, the school offers the Neill-Wint Center for Neurodiversity, a comprehensive program dedicated to helping students successfully transition to college. In addition to assisting students with skills related to their academic success, the program promotes the development of self-advocacy and independent living skills.
The sixth oldest Catholic university in the country, Xavier University is a private liberal arts school of approximately 4,500 students. Xavier’s X-Path Program is a fee-based program ($1,500 per semester). It provides personalized support for students with Autism Spectrum Disorder and related disorders. Participating students are assigned their own Peer Coach who assists them with:
- academic competence
- social integration
Groups, seminars, and study tables are routinely organized for further assistance.