College Preparation for Autistic High School Sophmores

Published: Thursday, 09 April 2015 Written by Dawn Marcotte

Preparing for college starts long before the first admissions form is submitted or even the first college is considered. For many students planning for college starts sophomore year in high school. This is even more critical for autistic students.

According to Peterson's, one of the leading companies in college preparation and search, sophomore year is a year of preparation with the following tasks to be completed:

  • ·        Take PSAT
  • ·        Get ready for taking the ACT/SAT
  • ·        Start learning about college admission process
  • ·        Practice reading and writing
  • ·        Start the college search
  • ·        Contact  colleges that are of interest
  • ·        Get a summer job

Peterson's specializes in selling college prep books from study prep to writing college essays to an excellent print book with a list of colleges across the country. But as with the many other college search and preparation companies, autistic student's needs are not addressed.

It is frustrating as a parent to be unable to find the information needed to help students make informed choices. So here is a list of tasks for sophomore year specifically for autistic students:

Take the PSAT

This is a prepatory test for the ACT/SAT and taking this test will give students an idea if special accommodations are needed. If accommodations are used due to an IEP (Individualized Education Plan) it is a good idea to start in the fall with the process of requesting and getting approval for those accommodations in time for taking the test the fall of Junior year.

If no accommodations are used, but the student is unable to finish the test or scores poorly it is a good idea to request accommodations for the ACT/SAT.  By taking the test early and using accommodations as needed it allows for plenty of time to retake the test if scores are low. Remember the scores on the ACT/SAT influence financial aid - the higher the score, the better the financial aid.

Prepare for Taking the ACT/SAT

Colleges accept scores from either test so it may be worthwhile to consider taking both. According to the Princeton Review the ACT test questions tend to be more straightforward. The ACT also has a writing section that is optional, but required by many schools for admissions. The ACT has a science section, where the SAT does not.

In general the ACT test reflects the 'big picture' where the SAT is more specific to certain subjects. There are plenty of study materials available and many high schools offer classes to help students prepare. This is an important test, but it can be retaken so start early.

Accommodations are available for both tests for autistic students, but there is a process for requesting these. Students who have an Individualized Education Program or other paperwork in place through the school that provides for testing accommodations should not have any problems getting the same accommodations for these standardized tests. These accommodations could include:

  • ·        Longer test time
  • ·        Quieter test environment
  • ·        Having someone read the test to the student
  • ·        Using a computer to take the test

For a full list of possible accommodations check the ACT or SAT Test website.

ACT Test:

SAT Test:

Start Learning About College Admission Process

The college admission process has deadlines and paperwork. It is a good idea to understand how it works in general, when deadlines usually fall and what extra paperwork may need to be provided to get accommodations.

The National Association for College Admission Council has a free booklet available that covers a lot of important information:

Autistic students also need to decide if they want to tell the school about their diagnosis prior to being accepted. Some students may be concerned that a school will decline to accept them because of the 'extra' work that is required for them to be successful.

This is a personal decision. Students are not required to disclose for any reason and while schools should not use this as any kind of disqualifier, there really isn't any way to determine if they do or not.

There are schools that are more 'friendly' to autistic students than others. Many schools now have programs specifically for autistic students so disclosure shouldn't make a difference. (An online database of these schools is available at

Practice Reading and Writing and Organization

Practicing reading and writing is always a good idea. Part of the process of going to college requires reading a lot of material, and of course college itself requires a lot of reading and writing. However beyond the simple act of practice now is a good time to start looking at possible technologies, software or other tools that may be useful in college.

Autistic students often have trouble with organization and planning. High school is an excellent time to start practicing, and the sooner the better. There are many apps available to help students organize their assignments, but figure out a system that works for you and practice using it.

Getting assignments in on time in college isn't optional.  There are no IEP's or special accommodations that allow students to turn work in late. Therefore understanding what is expected and when it has to be done is vital. Practicing this starting in the sophomore year allows time for students to fail, while it isn't nearly as important. Failing and learning from these mistakes will help students improve their skills and the system they use. It can also be helpful to have a system in place that they are familiar with when they go to college, as this is one less 'new' thing to deal with that first day.

Start the College Search

Searching for a college is a bit more complex for autistic students. Many colleges have services to help autistic students, but current (2015) college search websites seem to ignore this need. has a college web search that includes this information, but currently (April 2015) a free membership is required.

There are also options in print books as well.

It may take a bit more legwork to find a short list of colleges, but it can be done.

Of course this is just a list right now. Ideas and needs will change before graduation, so creating a list that is divided into 3 categories is a good place to start:

·        Dream colleges - don't worry about location, finance, support services or grades, even though these colleges don't take every applicant.

·        Possible colleges - these fit into location preferences, financial needs and have support services if desired. They may not take every applicant, but take most who meet minimum requirements.

·        Definite colleges - these are colleges that take every applicant that meet basic academic requirements and meet location and financial needs.

If you have at least 3 colleges in each category it is a good place to start.

Contact Colleges & Get a Job

Contacting colleges and getting a job are suggestions that may not work for autistic students. There are skills that are important for the independence of going to college so for this summer it may be more important to do the following:

  • ·        Take drivers education/ get a driver's license- it is very hard to find a job without a driver's license in many parts of the country.
  • ·        Learn how to do laundry - this is an important life skill that many high school students don't know.
  • ·        Learn how to cook meals - not every meal will be provided in a restaurant or cafeteria.
  • ·        Learn how to grocery shop - understanding how to read labels, choose produce and use coupons are all important skills
  • ·        Practice steps to take when unexpected changes happen - changes happen a lot in adult life.
  • Learning and practicing life skills may require some extra work, but it is well worth the effort.

Getting ready for college starts early for autistic students to ensure they are prepared when they graduate. It is important to remember the life skills part of preparation as well as the academics. Starting early and progressing in small steps will help teens be more prepared for going to college, no matter when they choose to attend.


Is your student ready for college? Request our college readiness guide today to help them prepare.

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