Best Colleges for Students with Autism

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Best Colleges for for Students with Autism Badge

More than half of young adults with ASD do not go to college after high school. And while 35 percent will attempt to attend college later, most do not get admitted or they do but then drop out. Though many colleges and universities provide an array of services to students with learning or physical disabilities, those with ASD have needs that extend beyond the classroom, and their success in classroom is directly implicated in those needs.

But it is not dire. There are many schools across the nation that have recognized those needs and have put programs in place to secure the academic and social experience of their students with ASD. These programs go way above and beyond the services typically offered by a Disability Resource Center.

For example, in addition to providing academic advising many of the schools below provide guidance and counseling on life skills, including hygiene awareness, dorm decorum, communication techniques with peers and faculty, and more. Similarly, many of the best schools for students with ASD offer vital transition programs. Because high school is so different than college—the latter being marked by independence and self-sufficiency—many students have a hard time with the adjustment. The transition program is an effective way schools help students have a smooth passage into college life.

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Featured Colleges and Universities

Top 10 Best Colleges for Students with Autism

Rank School Location
1 Syracuse University Syracuse, NY
2 University of Alabama Birmingham, AL
3 George Mason University Fairfax, VA
4 University of Arizona Tucson, AZ
5 Kent State University Ashtabula, OH
6 Grand Valley State University Allendale, MI
7 Drexel University Philadelphia, PA
8 Appalachian State University Boone, NC
9 University of Michigan Dearborn, MI
10 University of Connecticut Storrs, CT

The colleges and universities on our ranking are just these kind of schools. They have not only recognized the diverse needs of students with ASD, and met those needs, they’ve recognized the importance of neuro-diversity on campus. They have identified and removed hurdles, and promoted self-advocacy and development across social, academic, and vocational levels. They have introduced neuro-diversity into the curriculum and given athletes with ASD an inclusive place to play. They are, hands down, the best colleges and universities in the nation for those with ASD who are eager to earn their college degree.

If you’re interested in colleges that cater to students with disabilities, please check out our ranking of the Best Disability Friendly Colleges and Universities.

What are the Best Colleges and Universities for Students with ASD?

Though some of the schools below are large, elite research universities and others are small, private liberal arts school, they all share one significant thing in common: they are the most neuro-inclusive institutions of higher learning in the country.

To identify, evaluate, and narrow such an important list, here at College Choice we started with those schools that are TPSID funded. TPSID—Transition and Postsecondary Programs for Students with Intellectual Disabilities—is a national program that provides grants to colleges and universities that are committed to serving their students with ASD. From there we analyzed which schools offer scholarships or funding assistance to their ASD students, those that provide high school to college transition programs, and those that have ASD specific centers and social groups. Once we aggregated that list we then factored in retention rates—a reflection of student satisfaction—reputation, and tuition cost.

What we concluded with, after such extensive research, are those colleges and universities that offer the best resources and services to their ASD students, ensuring they thrive both academically and socially. Our figures and information come from the university and colleges’ websites, PayScale, nationally recognized U.S. News & World Report and The National Center for Education Statistics, and from the U.S. Department of Education and Autism Speaks.

Quick note: tuition reflects in-state rates. Please check the school’s website for current out-of-state tuition rates.

  1. Syracuse University
    Location

    Syracuse, NY

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Overview

    Syracuse University is a mid-sized, research university comprised of several colleges and schools that proffer over 200 academic programs. Students earn degrees in everything from sport dynamics to performing arts, and they have the opportunity to participate in an array of internship, leadership, and study abroad programming. Indeed, Syracuse has relationships with universities across the world in over forty countries.

    Features

    Syracuse University is home to the Lawrence B. Taishoff Center for Inclusive Higher Learning, an institute that serves students with any intellectual or developmental disability, including ASD. It was recently awarded $2 million in funding from the Department of Education through the renowned TPSID program (Transition and Postsecondary Programs for Students with Intellectual Disabilities). Because of this assistance as well as the university’s commitment to ASD inclusion through scholarships, transition programs, and social groups, Syracuse tops our list for being one of the best schools in the nation for those on the Autism spectrum. Other notable resources and services include:

    • Peer-to-peer mentoring for academic and social support
    • A bunch of classes in disability studies
    • The Disability Cultural Center
    • Student-centric academic advising
    • Access to the Center on Human Policy, the Burton Blatt Institute (provides employment resources for people with disabilities), and the Taishoff Center

    Notables

    Forbes, ARWU, U.S. News & World Report, and Washington Monthly all rank Syracuse University well, including it among the top 100 best National Universities.

  2. University of Alabama
    Location

    Birmingham, AL

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Overview

    The flagship university in the multi-school, statewide system, the University of Alabama (UA) is a public research university and is based in Tuscaloosa. It is the state’s largest and oldest public university with over 30k undergraduates enrolled in one of its many degree programs. Though UA has earned a reputation on behalf of several of its departments and programs, its College of Engineering is one of its best, as UA was one of the first in the nation to offer an engineering degree.

    Features

    One of the most important programs a university can offer to its ASD population is a transition platform that helps students move from the high school environment into the independent nature of college living. The University of Alabama has such a program; UA-ACTS promotes self-advocacy, social development, and academic success, and it provides the necessary resources and services for its students to attain these goals. Among the many individual student services the UA-ACTS program offers are:

    • Weekly check-ins for daily living skills (e.g., dorm room life)
    • Personalized academic advising
    • Guidance with regards to professor relationships and communication
    • Job employment assistance
    • Extensive mental health care
    • And more

    Notables

    The University of Alabama offers hundreds of degree programs, some of which are not offered at any other public school in the state, such as the publicly supported law school, the anthropology, social work, and Romance language departments, and more. UA is also ranked among the top 50 public universities in the nation by U.S. News & World Report.

  3. George Mason University
    Location

    Fairfax, VA

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Overview

    The largest public research university in Virginia, George Mason University was originally founded as a branch of the University of Virginia before becoming an independent university in the 1970s. George Mason is known for its research contributions in the areas of economics, law, and computer science, and it has a renowned creative writing program. Around 35k students attend George Mason.

    Features

    Among the many cornerstones of George Mason’s disability services is the Mason Autism Support Initiative (MASI), a comprehensive (though fee-based) program that gives additional, extensive support to students who are on the autism spectrum. MASI goes way above and beyond the typical resources offered by university student services. Students have access to skill-building classes and groups to develop career-readiness, social techniques, and academic skills. There are annual, monthly, and weekly activities, and peer mentoring. George Mason’s mission for its ASD community is to:

    • Promote equal access, in curricular and co-curricular activities
    • Foster relationships among faculty, staff, and students
    • Build a more accessible, diverse, and inclusive campus
    • Empower students to participate fully in the George Mason community

    Notables

    George Mason is a well-ranked university with consistent accolades from Forbes, U.S. News & World Report, and ARWU. It was also recently recognized as being one of the nation’s most active research institutions by the Carnegie Classification of Institutes of Higher Education.

  4. University of Arizona
    Location

    Tucson, AZ

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Overview

    The University of Arizona (UA) is located in Tucson and is a public, research university of nearly 45k combined undergraduate and graduate students. With dozens of research centers, facilities, and initiatives, UA receives more NASA grants than any other university nationwide. Its science, engineering, and technology departments boast equally strong numbers, and UA alumni have gone on to become Fulbright, Truman, Rhodes, and Goldwater scholars.

    Features

    In addition to scholarships and financial assistance, transition programs, and a high retention rate, the University of Arizona boasts a strong research-based approach to creating an inclusive campus. The UA Autism Collective is made up of researchers, practitioners, staff members, and students who are “seeking a spectrum of solutions.” In addition to being a research center where autism and its related neurodevelopmental disorders are studied, the collective has a number of resources, services, and educational programs in place to promote holistic health among its ASD community. Among these:

    • The federally funded Sonoran University Center for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities
    • The SALT Center (Strategic Alternative Learning Techniques)
    • Project Focus, which provides inclusive educational support
    • ArizonaLEND, a program that provides year-long leadership training
    • The Adaptive Fitness Center and a broad adaptive athletic program
    • And much more

    Notables

    Nationally and globally ranked, the University of Arizona is consistently recognized as having strong programs in education, medicine, law, and counseling, as well as a renowned Honors College.

  5. Kent State University
    Location

    Ashtabula, OH

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Overview

    Located in Kent, Ohio, Kent State University is a large, public, research institution with multiple, regional campuses pocked throughout Northeast Ohio. With over 30k students attending Kent’s main campus and another 40k collectively enrolled in the other affiliates, KSU is one of the state’s largest universities. Further, KSU offers over 300 degree programs across all academic levels, from associate degrees to doctoral programs.

    Features

    Housed under Kent State’s Division of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, the Autism Initiatives are a collection of resources and support services that seek to include and better the lives of KSU students with ASD. For those who team up with the initiative they will work closely with a faculty or staff member, who will act as their advocate, throughout the academic year. Other groups and ways for ASD students to get involved include participation in:

    • PALS (Partnering for Achievement and Learning Success), in which a student with ASD is partnered with a neurotypical student. Each pair act as mentors and companions to one another.
    • College Success for Students with Asperger’s or Autism is a program that provides self-advocacy training, job and career assistance, and more
    • KSU’s Autism Diversity Program
    • AIREO, a research initiative that cultivates community, agency, and university collaborations
    • And more

    Notables

    Among its many rankings from U.S. News & World Report and Times Higher Education, Kent State is recognized by the Carnegie Foundation as being of the top public research universities nationwide and among those most committed to community engagement.

  6. Grand Valley State University
    Location

    Allendale, MI

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Overview

    Based outside of Grand Rapids, Michigan in a town called Allendale, Grand Valley State University (GVSU) is a large public liberal arts school that enrolls around 25k students. GVSU offers over 200 academic degrees through eight colleges and schools and more than 4,000 study abroad programs, making this large state school one that is steeped in the fundamentals of interdisciplinary and liberal arts education.

    Features

    Housed in Grand Valley’s Autism Education Center, the START (Statewide Autism Resources and Training) Project encourages and enables students with ASD on and off the GVSU campus. This program equally emphasizes the significant impact of personal training and coaching, collaboration with other networks, and the accessibility of an array of resources and services. START is not only for GVSU students, as it partners with the local community and schools to bring about higher quality of life for students with ASD. Among the features of START are:

    • Peer to peer mentoring and companionship programs
    • The Effective Practices Leadership Initiative
    • The annual START conference
    • Regional Collaborative Networks events

    Notables

    Recently GVSU was recognized by The Chronicle of Higher Education as a top producer of Fulbright Scholars. The university also holds regional rankings from Forbes and U.S. News & World Report. Finally, it is considered among “America’s Best Colleges” and is ranked (by GreenMetric World University Ranking) sixteenth in the world for its sustainability efforts.

  7. Drexel University
    Location

    Philadelphia, PA

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Overview

    Known primarily for having one of the biggest co-op education programs in the nation, Drexel University stresses the importance of hands-on learning, work experience, and field familiarity. Drexel is located in Philadelphia, is a private research university, and was founded as an industry and technology school, though they now offer over seventy undergraduate programs in a range of areas and disciplines.

    Features

    Key to Drexel’s commitment to its students with ASD is its Drexel Autism Support Program. This notably student-centric program promotes both academic and social confidence, self-advocacy, and independent living by giving students access to dozens of resources and services (noted below). Drexel is explicit in its honoring of neurodiversity, recognizing the diversity it brings to the greater community: “We value the individual along with individual differences and support personal growth through understanding our strengths and how those strengths can build and support areas of need and personal development.” Elements of the Drexel Autism Support Program include:

    • Personalized Assessment for Student Success (PASS) plan
    • PASS monitoring with the AJ Drexel Autism Institute
    • PASS case management with professional staff
    • Psychoeducational, social, and adaptive evaluation opportunities
    • Workshops in life skills, social development, academic success, and career planning
    • And much more

    Notables

    The research contributions and opportunities at Drexel are manifold and there are over thirty research centers and institutes on campus, including the Autism Public Health Research Institute. Drexel is ranked nationally by Forbes, U.S. News & World Report, Washington Monthly, and ARWU.

  8. Appalachian State University
    Location

    Boone, NC

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Overview

    The most affordable school on our ranking, Appalachian State University (ASU) provides accessible, economical education to its nearly 20k students. ASU was originally founded as a teacher’s college but now offers nearly 200 undergraduate majors. It is part of the renowned University of North Carolina system and is located in Boone, NC.

    Features

    The national organization Autism Speaks, whose mission is to promote options and opportunities for individuals with ASD, has an affiliate chapter on the Appalachian State University campus. Through this program students with ASD can participate in a range of events, social networking, academic resources, career services, high school to college transition programs, counseling, and more. In addition to these practical, day-to-day services, Appalachian State University also demonstrates its commitment to neurodiversity through academic inclusion and research initiatives, such as:

    • Offering a number of classes on Autism and ASD
    • Offering an Autism Spectrum Disorders Certificate
    • Research endeavors through the Innovative Approaches Clinic
    • And more

    Notables

    Consistently ranked by U.S. News & World Report as being among the top 10 Southern Master’s Universities, ASU has also been praised by TIME, The Princeton Review, Consumers Digest, and Kiplinger’s Personal Finance.

  9. University of Michigan
    Location

    Dearborn, MI

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Overview

    The most top-ranked school on our list, the University of Michigan (UM) is a Public Ivy located in Ann Arbor. It is a large school with around 45k combined undergraduate and graduate students, a prolific contributor to research, and a member of the Big Ten Conference. UM is comprised of over a dozen colleges and schools, including those with notable medicine, law, engineering, pharmacy, public health, education, and business programs.

    Features

    Also home to an Autism Speaks chapter, the University of Michigan is a fantastic choice for students with ASD. World renowned for its medical, social work, and psychology research, UM knows how to create a campus that is at once inclusive, accessible, and chock full of resources and services. In fact, students with ASD at the UM will have access to:

    • ASD specific scholarship opportunities
    • Housing accommodations
    • Exam proctors
    • CAPS: The Autism Spectrum Self-Advocacy Group
    • Academic counseling
    • Among many others

    Notables

    As a whole, UM is nationally and globally ranked by Forbes (38th), U.S. News & World Report (27th), ARWU (17th), and Washington Monthly (21st). Many of its discrete departments are also well ranked: health care management (1st), history (6th), nursing (1st), social work and sociology (both 1st), and much more.

  10. University of Connecticut
    Location

    Storrs, CT

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Overview

    Located in Storrs, the University of Connecticut (UConn) is a land grant, sea grant, and space grant research institution. Uconn is also a Public Ivy and is home to over 32k combined undergraduate and graduate students. In addition to its main Storrs campus, UConn has locations and research facilities throughout the state and region.

    Features

    UConn’s SEAD (Students with Autism Spectrum Disorder) program ensures that incoming students with ASD have a smooth transition into college by giving them the skills, self-advocacy, and confidence needed to thrive academically as well socially. Also critical to UConn’s ASD inclusionary efforts is the Center for Students with Disabilities, which provides students with access to all the same opportunities and experiences as the rest of campus. This includes:

    • Study abroad assistance (e.g., help choosing a program, making medical and prescription considerations, what to bring with you, etc.)
    • Scholarship and funding assistance
    • Access to technology that enhances both independence and academic success
    • Research opportunities
    • Social networking such as AHEADD (Achieving in Higher Education with Autism/Developmental Disabilities).

    Notables

    UConn is a flagship university and is ranked first among all public national schools in New England. Likewise, U.S. News & World Report considers it 60th among all public universities and 20th among public universities. Money Magazine and The Princeton Review also single out UConn, for its value and affordability.

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